Thursday, 25 December 2014

A Christmas XI

Fantasy Bob wishes his world wide readership, all three of them, a very Merry Christmas.
Bogart, Newton and Rubinstein -
poor against short pitched bowling

But that is the limit of his goodwill.

Here is a Christmas quiz question:

What do Isaac Newton, Humphrey Bogart and Helena Rubinstein have in common?

A complete inability to play short pitched bowling is not the answer FB is looking for - correct though it may be.

The answer is that this illustrious three are all Christmas babies.  (Although the Hollywood studios tried to change Bogart's because they couldn't have it that a specialist villain could be a Christmas baby). So it is Happy Birthday to them.

Of course there is no proof that 25 December was the actual birth date of Jesus Christ. The first recorded instance of Christmas being celebrated on that date was in 336AD during the reign of Emperor Constantine. There are suggestions that the date was chosen as part of a strategy to Christianise pagan Roman religions - it was the date of the Roman festival Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (no less) celebrated at the midwinter solstice.

But there are many other birthday boys and girls today - many of whom will spend the day lamenting the unfairness of their parents causing them to be born on a day which means that they must suffer the injustice combined Christmas and birthday presents.

There are also cricketing Christmas babies.  Here is Fantasy Bob's Christmas XI - although he has cheated a bit by including players born on Christmas Eve or Boxing Day.  (Not in batting order)

Alistair Cook (25-12-1984) - 109 Tests, 8423 runs @ 46.02.  England's record run scorer and century maker. This year's Christmas and birthday present has been to be relieved of any responsibility for England's failure to win the 2015 Cricket World Cup.

Marcus Trescothick (25-12-1975) - 76 Tests, 5825 runs @ 43.79.  FB's favourite England opener of recent years - a tragic victim of mental illness which cut short his great Test career.

Simon Jones (25-12-1978) - only 18 Tests, 59 wickets @ 28.23, as a series of injuries prevented him becoming one of the greats.  Made an unforgettable contribution to the 2005 Ashes triumph with his mastery of reverse swing

Hedley Howarth (25-12-1943) - 30 Tests, 86 wickets @ 36.95, New Zealand's leading slow bowler of the time was often used in long spells to stem the flow of runs. At Lord's in 1973, he sent down 70 overs in the second innings, finishing with 4 for 144.

Colin Cowdrey (24-12-1932) - 114 Tests, 7624 runs @ 44.06, everyone knows how he came out to face the W Indies quickies with his arm in plaster. The first player to appear in 100 Tests, which he marked with a century against Australia in Edgbaston in 1968.

Geoff Allott (24-12-1971) - 10 Tests, 19 wickets @ 58.47, New Zealand seamer who once batted for 101 minutes without scoring. This was the longest duck in Test history and helped New Zealand to a draw against South Africa in Auckland in 1998-99.

Clarie Grimmet (25-12-1891) - 37 Tests, 216 wickets @ 24.21, didn't play Test cricket till he was 33, but went on to become the first bowler to take 200 Test wickets.  His leg spin partnership with Bill O'Reilly is reckoned among the greatest bowling partnerships of all time.

Rohan Khanai (26-12-1935) - 79 Tests, 6227 runs @ 47.53, honorary Aberdonian the West Indian great made 55 in his first one-day international and the same score in his last, at the age of 39, when his support to Clive Lloyd helped to win the first ever World Cup final, at Lord's in 1975.

Barry Wood (26-12-1942) 12 Tests, 454 runs @ 21.61.  He played his 12 Tests spread over seven seasons, making 90 on debut against Australia in 1972, but he never played more than three in a row. A gutsy opener he delivered consistently for Lancashire for whom he scored over 17,000 runs.

Matthew Wade (26-12-1987) 12 Tests, 623 runs @ 34.61, 36 dismissals.  At 16, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer at the age of 16 he required two cycles of chemotherapy to defeat the illness. His big break arrived when Brad Haddin was forced to miss the 2012 Test series in the West Indies due to personal reasons and Wade grabbed the chance with a 106 in the third Test. An ankle injury cost him his Test spot in India a year later and a run of poor form meant he was axed from the one-day side too.

Mark Lathwell (26-12-1971) - 2 Tests, 78 runs.  Potential unfulfilled - at the end of 1993 he was named the Cricket Writers' Young Player Of The Year.  Hyped as England's great batting hope he played 2 Tests against Australia in 1993 and failed through nerves.  His form collapsed and he drifted out of teh game before he was 30.  

FB's Christmas XI - clockwise from top left - Khanhai, Grimmet, Wood,
Lathwell, Howarth, Allott, Cowdrey, Cook, Jones, Wade, Trrescothick

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Twas the night before Christmas

'Twas the night before Christmas, the square it lay cold
Not a cricketer played, not a ball could be bowled
There’s ice on the wicket, there’s frost in the deep
And all junior members should be fast asleep

Wrapped up and cosy in warm little beds
With dreams of the morning going round in their heads
And Santa Claus just can't come soon enough
For he's going to bring lots of cricketing stuff

Juniors excited wake long before dawn
But please avoid trouble this Christmas morn
On going to bed they should be told that
4 a.m.'s not the time to knock in a bat

A full day of practice with new gear is planned
Though fast balls in the kitchen have sadly been banned
For last year a speedy full pitched in-swinger
Hit Grandma hard as she cooked Christmas dinner

As Grandma collapsed she was given the news
Grandma you are plum - out leg before goose
The advice to play forward wasn't really a help
Only Christmas good-will prevented a skelp

So this year all cricket must stay in the hall
By edict of Grandpa, there'll be no hard ball
Anyway Grandma's prepared for her lads 
Before she starts cooking she'll put on her pads

But let's leave the juniors all dreaming their dreams
For it's down at the ground where ev'rything gleams
A proud doughty groundsman has given his best
The square's been repaired and the surface top dressed

For Santa will come to kids of all ages,
As long as they've not done something outrageous
And the proud doughty groundsman's been good all year
So he waits for that visit as morning draws near

While darkness descends and the stars light the sky
He leaves out for Santa a special mince pie
And just before turning in for the night
He makes sure his stocking is hanging in sight

Then the doughty groundsman lays down his sweet head
Dreams of shiny new mower in its shiny new shed
There'll be a warm welcome for Santa Claus there
Just as long as he keeps his sleigh OFF THE SQUARE

Monday, 15 December 2014

Christmas Cards

As the modern world proceeds in its helter-skelter T-twentified manner, FB finds that previous years are no longer a sound guide to what he can expect during the Christmas season.  Time was when every surface at Chez FB was covered in Christmas cards.  But now e-mails, tweets, and other devices have stemmed the once endless flow through his letter box.  Those sparkly ropes with little pegs which Mrs FB purchased years ago at an eye watering price remain empty.   A sad reminder of Christmas past.

However FB is very happy to report a hopeful sign that this trend is now being reversed.

For less than a week after Fantasy Bob reported in these pages on his and Mrs FB's stressful visit to Hamilton and Inches, the go ahead Edinburgh jewelers honoured Mrs FB and him with not one, not two but 3 identical Christmas cards, separately enveloped and delivered .

FB commends Hamilton and Inches for its full commitment to the Christmas spirit.

Although as Mrs FB observed with a pointed look at FB as he celebrated the opening of the third card , '............not as useful as diamonds or emeralds, but I suppose I've no hope of them................'

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hamilton and Inches

Fantasy Bob's dwindling readership might think that an invitation to Hamilton and Inches' champagne Christmas reception would be just the kind of sybaritic pleasure their hero would enjoy. A glass or two of fizz, a few canapes in the elegant premises of Edinburgh's premier jewelers - what could be more relaxing?

But if the tremor of excitement in Mrs FB's voice as she opened the envelop containing the invitation had raised his anxiety, her final suggestion sent him into panic.  'I might see my Christmas present there, so you should bring your credit card.'

FB knew better than to remark that his life partner's burgeoning jewelery box already overflowed with baubles, bangles and beads.  He knew that to suggest that perhaps a natural limit had been reached would be unwelcome.  But he also knew from previous forays into this emporium that a serious depletion of the disposable income for investment in empire biscuits was at risk.

Not that he would not grant Mrs FB her heart's desire.  But some emergency measures might be necessary.

As Mrs FB stood by a glass cabinet eager to inspect its contents at close hand, FB attracted the attention of an assistant who made ready with his key,

'I see Hamilton and Inches was established in 1866', he remarked to the first assistant assisting inspection of a glittering cabinet.

'Yes sir.'  The key's journey to the lock slowed perceptibly.

'You know of course that 1866 was the year that WG Grace at the age of 18 scored 224 not out.'

'Really sir...............' The key had stopped; the assistant glanced around.

'Yes, it was for the All England XI against Surrey at the Oval.'

The key returned to the assistant's pocket as he found a reason to hasten to the opposite end of the showroom.

FB dutifully consoled Mrs FB.  'Seems they're a bit busy - I'll try some one else.'

A demure female assistant passed and FB smiled winningly at her.  She narrowly survived this harrowing experience but was unprepared for his opening remark.

'I see Hamilton and Inches gained the Royal Warrant in 1955.'

'Yes sir - we are very proud of it.'

'Of course you are.  And of course, 1955 was the year that Alan Border was born.'

'Sir?' The tremble of querulousness in her voice unwittingly invited FB to elucidate.

'He played 156 Tests for Australia....................'

A frightened look.

'..........with a batting average of 50.56.'

The assistant looked around for help.  But FB had hit his stride.

'Ian Botham and Vic Marks were also born in 1955....'

The assistant was backing away.

'............and Abdul Qadir of course.'

For some reason, there appeared to be an exclusion zone around FB and Mrs FB for the rest of the evening.  Try as she might Mrs FB could not summon an assistant to indulge her.

'They do seem very busy,' said FB sympathetically, but inwardly relieved that his bank balance looked like it would survive intact.

'Oh well,' responded Mrs FB, 'I'm not sure there was anything I really wanted anyway.'

FB nodded philosophically - a calm that lasted only a moment.

'Don't forget I'm going for a girls' trip to Paris this weekend - I'm sure I'll find something there....................'

Saturday, 22 November 2014


Fantasy Bob found himself recently in the Scottish Portrait Gallery.

Scottish Portrait Gallery - Entrance Hall
Found himself......a peculiar phrase, implying some kind of out of body experience; as if part of FB had been mislaid and had been happily reunited with the rest.

Those among the handful of his worldwide readers who have been unfortunate enough to view FB's efforts on the cricket field will find nothing surprising there, for they will have concluded that parts of him have been mislaid for a long time.  Others may take the view that those parts were never there to start with.    But FB digresses.........

What, his handful of readers must be thinking, could have taken FB into such a high temple of Scotland's culture?

The fine red sandstone building is one of the finest examples of Victorian Gothic architecture to be found in Scotland.  Could it be the building itself that FB wishes to examine?  No.  Observers will see him pass through the highly decorated hallway without a look upwards,at the spectacular depiction of scenes of Scotland's turbulent history.

Museum exhibit - the Dundee match
was recreated by enthusiasts earlier this year -
FB not selected
Could it be the beguiling display in an upper gallery of material associated with the development of sport in Scotland?

For cricket has a display case all to itself with some highly engaging Victoriana, including a flyer for the celebrated Clowns Cricket match which took place in Dundee in 1879 and drew a rowdy crowd of 30,000.  So rowdy were the 30,000 that only one hour's play was possible.

Would FB pause before this item and ponder its relevance? Clown cricket matches were a regular feature of Victorian life (when without wall to wall T20 people had to make their own entertainment). There are unkind observers of FB's antics at Grange Loan who have suggested that his clownish attempts to play leg spin bowling have perpetuated this honorable tradition.  Was FB therefore seeking inspiration?

No, he passes by this case without so much as a glance.

Ian Botham by John Bellany
Perhaps he is on a search for a portrait of a significant cricketer whose rich contribution to Scotland's life is properly marked.  But the Gallery is deficient in that area.  Is it FB's objective to address this failing?

He will be aware that the sister Portrait Gallery in London contains a number of paintings of cricket greats - as well as a number of photographs.  Most notably there is a controversial 1985 portrait of Ian Botham by Scottish artist John Bellany.

The painting has that remarkable painterly quality - it bears no resemblance at all to the sitter.   In this it resembles FB's own attempts at portraiture. Perhaps, therefore, FB is contemplating offering his own representations of Carlton's greats to the Gallery to fill the obvious gap in their collection?

No, he pays scant attention to the places his work could grace the walls.

Instead his readership will follow FB to the Gallery's very pleasant cafe and finally understand the great service he is undertaking.  For FB is nothing if not diligent in seeking out empire biscuits of distinction.  And those in the Portrait Gallery are of Test Match Quality.  Carefully shaped and eschewing the jelly tot or glace cherry, they are topped with dried raspberry. Sublime.  FB brings the biscuit to his lips and everything is transcended..........

So, it was an out of body experience after all.

A portrait of perfection.

Saturday, 15 November 2014


Lower league cricketers can be forgiven for feeling a bit underwhelmed.
Guided by the junior members

A ten year journey covering billions of miles of empty space with a coquettish spin around a couple of asteroids, not to mention Mars, to catch a flying bit of rock 2.5 miles across, would seem a challenge.

However compared to the trick of finding an unfamiliar away ground with the assistance of 6 junior members in the back of the car, it looks like simplicity itself.  Notwithstanding that each junior member is plugged into his own i-Phone, giving the mission more computing power than was necessary to land on the Moon, this is the mission that is fraught with danger.

The junior members' confidence in knowing which is right and which is left is repeatedly examined under the most testing conditions.  In obscure parts of the universe exits from roundabouts have to be carefully counted, if the mission is not going to spin off into deep space, travelling inexorably, out of the range of radio telescopes, beyond the powers of steering correction or recall.  Even Twitter can't reach.  To infinity.  And beyond.

Fantasy Bob has conducted such frightening missions many times.  His success is a triumph of the human spirit. The stuff of heroism.  Unregarded and unlauded.

But land on a comet with a unique post code and you're all over the media.  FB is beyond jealousy and congratulates the successful team.  He is not sure why 10 years ago they thought it was a good idea to pick this particular 67P for an away fixture, but he supposes the fixture committee had their reasons. But having gone all that way the team must be disappointed.

Scientists seem to think that comets may have brought water and other matter to earth.  But there is still a hotly contested dispute in the scientific community as to whether comets could have brought cricket to Mother Earth.   This mission gives no comfort to those taking this view - 67P does not look a promising venue for cricket.  Must the mission therefore be deemed a failure?  Anxiety is running high in the committee room as the Tweets pour back to Earth.

No evidence that a wicket has been prepared
FB has often had such a sinking feeling on landing for the first time at an away venue.  The pavilion has seen better days, and its rickety door seems firmly closed.  The outfield looks a bit unkempt and there is little evidence of a wicket having been prepared.  There is a sinking feeling, batteries are running low on the collective i-Pod and it is difficult to check directions.  But just as their patience is at an end, a shambling grey-beard in an ill-fitting tracksuit wanders in the gate, opens the pavilion and slowly begins the miraculous task of transforming this hostile environment into something approaching a cricket ground.

And for a few hours FB and his junior colleagues can put the cares of the world behind them - until they have to prepare for the return journey...........

Will evidence of a doughty groundsman be found on 67P, and give some succour to the theory?  FB awaits the confirmatory tweet.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

For your tomorrow

Remembrance Day, cricketers everywhere humbly fall silent for two minutes, thinking of all those bowlers and batters who, for this tomorrow, gave their today.
As the silence ends, there is little more fitting than this rendition of Flowers o' the Forest by Isla St Clair

I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

The Wall

Fantasy Bob is reminded that it is 25 years since the Wall came down.

Celebrations at the founding of the German Cricket Federation

On 9 November 1989, after several weeks of civil unrest, the East German government announced that all GDR citizens could visit West Germany and West Berlin. While this lead to great celebrations and euphoria with souvenir hunters chipping away at the Wall's structure, the wall's actual demolition did not begin until Summer 1990 and was not completed until 1992.  German reunification, was formally concluded on 3 October 1990.

A fact of equal, indeed possibly greater, significance but which is frequently overlooked by historians of those stirring times, is that the German Cricket Federation was officially founded in 1989.

It was not that cricket was unknown in Germany - East or West - prior to that date. Berlin CC existed in the mid 19th Century and the first governing body was formed in 1912 (separating from the pre-existing German Football and Cricket Federation).  Touring teams visited regularly, including a team from Edinburgh in 1900 (FB has had to assure sceptical junior members playing alongside him at Carlton's All Star Fourth XI that he was not a member of that tour).

 Dan Waddell
will speak at the 
Cricket Society of Scotland 
 Glasgow and Edinburgh
 12 and 13 January 2015
However the middle of the 20th Century did not see the game prosper - Adolf Hitler is not regarded as a supporter of the game (he is said to have considered a game in which players used leg pads effeminate).
Nevertheless there were efforts by some devotees to develop the game.


Earlier this year FB enjoyed Field of Shadows by Dan Waddell  a charming account of a 1937 tour to Berlin by a nomadic English team - the Gentlemen of Worcestershire.   Amongst other detail the book records how the team found itself having to give the Nazi salute prior to its first match, and the propensity of the home skipper for punching his players when they dropped catches. There was also some speculation that a British spy was added to the touring party by the Foreign Office.

Local media coverage
Whatever the tour's objectives, it did not succeed in averting the slide to conflict.  But hope springs eternal and the book finishes with a wistful account of the Berlin players in 1945 shyly approaching the British occupying authorities, bat and ball in hand, looking for players to join them.

More recent  and happier times have seen cricket in Germany prosper although like many countries it is dominated by ex pat arrivals to the country rather than home grown players. It is working hard to improve and is currently ranked 37th participating in ICC Europe Division 2 and World Cricket League 7. Scotland's own Steve Knox was coach to the national side in 2014 - FB has not heard whether he has found his skipper punching his players is still an issue.

The Wall - 13288 Test runs @ 52.31; 36 Centuries
Cricketers may have joined the celebrations at the demise of the Berlin Wall and its sure path to Steve Knox's appointment. But they would only have been saddened by the more recent demise of an equally famous Wall.

Rahul Dravid made his first class debut in 1990 and played his final match in January 2012. He was given the name the Wall as part of an advertising campaign by Reebok in 1997, which was near the start of his glittering Test career.  The same campaign also coined The Assasin for Azhar and The Viper for Kumble, but only Dravid's nickname stuck as his technical excellence and powers of concentration saw him become the essential base to the Indian batting line.  His record is incomparable.  He really was the Wall.

Dravid also played for Scotland in 2003 - and one of his fellow batsmen, studying the Wall from the other end, was Steve Knox.  

Berlin - Walls - Cricket - it's all connected.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

An Investment Piece

Fantasy Bob recently entered the world of haute couture.  This was not a faltering attempt to curry favour with Mrs FB by adding to her collection of Chanel tops.  No, this was an innocent and unknowing brush with high fashion.

An investment piece
The coming of winter excited Mrs FB's long-running campaign that FB's wardrobe was in need of reinvestment.  His valiant claims that his present coat should be considered fashionably threadbare, finally withered before Mrs FB's scepticism.  'Big Issue sellers are not fashion icons,' she decreed, and FB had no alternative to a shopping expedition.

Shopping inspires in FB much the same feeling as when he faces leg spin bowling.  His stomach churns, his upper lip perspires, his eyes glaze over, his hands tremble.  He knows he shouldn't swing at the first thing he sees, but he can't resist.  Disaster generally follows.

Maybe FB got lucky this time.  Containing his apprehension, he bravely strode to the wicket and headed for a High Street store renowned for its military medium approach to these matters.  He duly made his purchase and returned home with only minor damage to his nervous disposition.

As he unpacked his new garment, he read for the first time one of the small library of labels which hung from it.  It told him that he had purchased an article from.......... 'a perfectly edited wardrobe of the season's latest looks, stylish investment pieces and brilliant basics..............'  An investment piece. His breast swelled with pride.

An investment piece.  The scales fell from FB's eyes.  He had not previously looked on his wardrobe as a treasure trove of liquidisable assets.

Babe Ruth's shirt
He soon discovered that dizzying sums are available for the right investment piece.  A dress worn by Marylin Monroe in The Seven Year Itch had realised $4.6 million in 2011.

Perhaps FB did not have satin gowns to match that invesment piece but even sporting items have commanded sums which could keep FB in empire biscuits for his life time.

Although cricket clothing has not commanded high prices,  a 1920 New York Yankees shirt worn by Babe Ruth was auctioned for $4.4 million.  So the market may emerge.

Surely FB could come up with something to command a premium price at the better auction houses of the world.  But his phone calls to Christies and Sothebys leave him to conclude that the market is not quite ready.  Which means that there is an unparalleled opportunity for FB's worldwide readership to get in before the market matures.  They could make a killing.

FB is offering by private sale unique investment items from his wardrobe.  These will only increase rapidly in price.  He invites bids for 2 priceless lots:

Lot #1 - FB collection of single socks, curated over many years with love and skill.  These are the socks that stayed loyal to FB through thick and thin while others wandered off who knows where. Make no mistake this collection is world class.

Lot#2 - The second lot is a set of Carlton cricket shirts bearing the logos of successive sponsors. These are shirts that have produced the world famous inswinger and have born the crumbs from a thousand cricket teas.  Unparalleled in the annals of sporting memorabilia.

Market experts are watching developments with interest.  One of them told FB that he'd never seen anything like it............................

A sample of the world class collection

Sunday, 26 October 2014

God Only Knows

For reasons best known to themselves, the BBC has prepared a remake of the Beach Boys great song God Only Knows. As if the original could be improved upon.

In the way of these ventures, it includes a dizzying array of singers, each given one line of the song. There seems no reason for this, other than to reveal FB's inadequate grip on the fashions of the day in popular music. For, as each shiny new face looms out of the screen Mrs FB asks, 'Who's that?', and FB has no other response than 'God Only Knows.'

FB is fairly confident that none of the singers involved is a cricketer, although he recalls the cover of his long ago purchased copy of Elton John's Greatest Hits has him, for no accountable reason, batting by moonlight. He looks the part - and FB was interested to see he takes middle and leg.
But that's about it. FB does not fully understand this - for God Only Knows and cricket are inseparably mixed in his mind.

Even before play starts FB is met with a chorus of inquiry from older and younger team members, 'FB, are you ever going to win the toss again?' 'God Only Knows.'

Many times a season a fresh-faced junior will look up briefly from his I-phone and ask FB on his crestfallen return to the pavilion, 'Bob, that was a straight one - how did you miss it?' 'God Only Knows'.

Later, after his bowling has been tonked to all parts of the ground another junior will say, 'Bob, what happened to your line and length? ' Again FB has only one response, 'God Only Knows'.

And at the end of the day, crestfallen after another runless, wicketless performance, footsore, weary, his aching back complaining at every move, he soothes his pain with a refreshing drink with Mrs FB. His team mates ask her, 'Why does he do it? Why does he turn out every week?' She looks wonderingly at her life partner and answers them quietly, 'Not even God knows that.................'

PS - the Beach Boys original cannot be improved upon as FB has said - but to hear how fine the Beach Boys were here is the vocal track of that original separated from the instrumental backing - harmony singing at its best - Test Match Quality.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Top Hat

Fantasy Bob has observed before that there is no human misery that could not be made passably better by a spot of tap-dancing.

Generally he sticks by that philosophy: while current political debate might not acknowledge the argument's merits, FB is confident that the coming UK election will see the major parties make serious commitments to tap dancing as they draw up their manifestos.

Be that as it may, FB and Mrs FB recently enjoyed a performance of Top Hat - a stage presentation of the 1930s musical which has enough tap dancing to soothe most anxieties these troubled times give rise to.

FB has never had the chance to tap dance.  Mrs FB suggests that his possession of two left feet would be a significant hindrance to any attempt.  Of course Mrs FB has never seen his nimble dancing down the wicket to dispatch the ball to the boundary, far less his floating rhythmic run up the hill against the wind.  Had she done so, she would know that her anatomical aspersion is inaccurate.  FB has two right feet.

FB has therefore always admired tap dancing in others and no one tops Fred Astaire who shone like the brightest of diamonds in the film version of Top Hat which contains several magical dance numbers with Ginger Rogers.  Not even FB's world famous in-swinger can match the perfection of their presentation of Cheek to Cheek. Test Match Quality.

Regrettably, cricketers find little to interest them in the careers of Astaire nor Rogers - any interest stimulated by the knowledge that Astaire's very first film appearance was in a 1915 silent film with the encouraging title of Fanchon the Cricket is soon dispelled when they find the action revolves around a young wild girl Fanchon (played by Mary Pickford) who lives in a forest with her eccentric grandmother who is suspected of being a witch.  Being a witch of course could be a cipher for bowling leg spin, but there is no cricketing action to verify this reading.

The score of Top Hat was written by Irving Berlin, generally believed to be another non-cricketer.   Berlin can be considered the greatest of all song writers - he wrote over 1500 many of which are as popular and fresh today as when he wrote them - despite the shocking absence of cricket references in his lyrics.  But then it has to be recalled that Berlin was writing for an American audience whose interest in cricket was limited. For commercial reasons, he had to suppress his better instincts and write cricket out of his songs.

This seems a reasonable hypothesis for FB has unearthed this early version of the lyric of one of Berlin's more enduring numbers, which could almost have been written about FB:

There may be googlies ahead
But while it's milit'ry medium
You won't look a prat
Let's face the bowling and bat

Before the seamers have fled
Before they ask us to play leg spin
And while the wicket’s still flat
Let's face the bowling and bat

(This great tune  - with its better known words - was included in the stage version of Top Hat where it sat very nicely - but it was written for another Astaire-Rogers film Follow the Fleet.)
Cheek to Cheek - perfection

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Singer Sargent's Googly

It has taken Fantasy Bob too long to visit the summer exhibition at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art on the American Impressionists, now in its last week.

  Of course, previous experience of such exhibitions had given him little cause to expect much of cricketing interest. And the presence of American in the title also reinforced his lack of expectation - American impressions of cricket are generally less than illuminating.

So he had not set his hopes high and was duly not disappointed by them being dashed.   He can report to his faithful readership that there is nothing of cricketing interest in the wide array of pictures which are full of charm, colour and sunlight and depict people and landscapes at the turn of the 20th Century.   It is a most enjoyable show.

But as he came away from the show something nagged in FB's brain.  Had he been too cavalier in dismissing the cricketing content?   John Singer Sargent's picture of his fellow painter Dennis Miller Bunker Painting at Calcot kept coming back into mind.

Dennis Miller Bunker Painting at Calcot
by John Singer Sargent
Now,  FB's worldwide readership will be familiar with Singer Sargent as a great society portrait painter and creator of what FB considers his favourite painting in the National Galleries of Scotland. Despite a long residence in England, Singer Sargent did not see fit to include cricketing subjects in his work. A grievous failure.
But in this charming picture cricket seems to have slipped in. For although the title suggests that the subject, standing to the left, is painting, his atire - his whites his blazer and his white cap - are far more appropriate for cricket.
FB is not aware of anyu other picture claiming to show painters at work when they are dressed in cricket gear.  So there can be no mistake.  Sargent's title is deliberately misleading.
The so called painter depicted is taking a few moments before donning his pads to bat in the game proceeding behind him out of the picture's frame? If so, it might be a dull game for the young lady seems to be taking no interest in proceedings. It could therefore be the tea interval.
If Bunker was painting there is no clyue as to what his painting depicted.  The game in progress may well be the subject of Bunker's painting but it has been lost from his surviving work.  (Bunker himself was an artist of some note but sadly died at the age of 29 in 1890).

There is further mystery in the painting. The location is given in the title - Calcot is a suburb of Reading. But there is no record to suggest that there was a cricket club there at the time of the painting being made - 1887. Of course there are other cricket clubs in the vicinity, but not at Calcot. The painting therefore must be painted there and not at Calcot - so why should Sargent mislead?    What was he up to?

1887 might have been an inspiring year for any cricket painter for it was the driest summer for nearly 20 years and this fact and the developmento f the heavy roller in pitch preparation meant that it was a good year for batting. Arthur Shrewsbury averaged 78.71 for twenty-three innings, beating W.G. Grace’s 1871 record of 78.25. This itself was not beaten until Robert Poore averaged 91.23 in 1899. Shrewsbury’s innings of 267 against Middlesex, at 615 minutes remains the longest innings ever played in a county match. W.G. Grace for the third time reached 2,000 runs for the season.

So there was lots to depict if only Sargent had looked.  Instead he played clever tricks pretending to show painters in action in a place where there was probably no cricket.  It's this kind of thing that gets art a bad name.

Sunday, 5 October 2014


Fantasy Bob enjoyed - and he uses the world loosely, rather in the sense that a heretic in 15th Century Spain might have been said to have enjoyed the services provided by the Spanish Inquisition - his now annual visit to the golf links this week.

Bunkers left lying around
Time was when FB's visits to the links were twice weekly.  On occasion those visits to the links would even involve a visit to the fairway.

No holiday in Scotland was complete unless FB energetically visited a course close by and undertook a charitable redistribution of golf balls by leaving them in the bushes where the local poor could find them.

It took many years until he finally concluded that hope was not going to triumph over experience, and FB became well and truly scunnered with golf.

So this week his expectations were low as he set off with playing partners.  No Ryder Cup  inspired excitement excited his walk to the place of execution.  Even that pessimistic assessment proved to be optimistic.

His first drive found a fairway bunker, so the tone was set early on.  Indeed bunkers seem to have been left lying around this course in a most careless fashion - the designer evidently benefitted from an end of season sale of bunkers at his local IKEA and just left his burgeoning stock any old where.  FB's visits to the sand were therefore more frequent than on many of his beach holidays.

Scunnered became too polite a word to describe his condition as he attempted yet another excavation from the sand.

However his round (if such a shapeless and ill formed experience can be so described) was remarkable for one factor.  He kept his ball from the first tee to the 18th green.  This is a fact worthy of headline news.  It may never have happened before.

FB's treasure trove - useless
But FB found himself wondering if it this achievement was worth the effort.  Did it have any point?

For deep in FB's hall cupboard is a collection of golf balls that would excite the envy of millions. Two full show boxes and more - garnered from FB's many visits to the rough during his years of obsession.  Occasionally thery overflow and roll into the shoes and boots that also inhabit the cupboard, but not in such great numbers.

This is to the irritation of Mrs FB, who does not enjoy stubbing her toe on a Titleist NXT Tour.  FB's assurance that its soft balata cover gives maximum feel does not impress her.  Through gritted teeth she remarks,

'You should do something with your balls. Before I do it for you'

Wednesday, 17 September 2014


Wasim Akram - master of variation
Fantasy Bob has spent some of the recently completed cricket season worrying about his variations. For he has noticed in reports of top flight matches much is made of the desirability of a bowler delivering variations. Line and length is out, variations are in. Coaches look for nothing else. Commentators obsess with noticing and defining variations.

This obsession has become all pervasive.  Even the fresh faced junior members joining FB in his All Star Carlton Fourth XI have got the bug. On being invited to bowl at a critical stage in a match, the freshest faced and juniorest of them will now inform FB, 'Going to try my new variations, Bob.'

FB sighs and sets the field deeper.

 For FB finds variations are over rated.  Perhaps the intense environment of lower league cricket is not a fertile ground for them.  But even in elite cricket he sees that batsmen now expect the change up - or change down (whatever that piece of coaching speak may mean) after 2 balls of the over.  They are therefore set up for the slower one - and off it duly goes over the boundary rope.  Or the bowler's control over the delivery is so fragile that a set of increasingly embarrassing wides follows.  Some variations.  The only surprise variation these days is no variation at all.

Variations might seem a new craze, but great bowlers have always been able to keep the batsman guessing.  Shane Warne or Wasim Akram, for example, may well have had 5 or 6 different deliveries which they could bowl at will.
Anton Diabelli

But 5 or 6 variations pales into insignificance when the true greats come into view.  And the greatest of them all was incomparable.

In 1819 Anton Diabelli, who was a music publisher and minor composer in Vienna, invited a number of Austrian composers to offer a variation on a waltz theme of his own composition.  His worthy objective was to raise funds for widows and orphans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Legend has it that Beethoven, then at the height of his Test career, at first scorned the invitation thinking the theme was too banal for a composer of his talents.

Beethoven's slower one
However, whether in response to a financial inducement or just because Beethoven was that kind of guy, he eventually got stuck in and a few years later presented the world not with one variation but with 33 Variations.   Five and a half overs and not a single duplicate delivery.

No simple change-up or change-down for Beethoven - his piece is endlessly inventive and ground breaking.  The ball comes from the back of the hand, the front of the hand, across the seam, down the seam, top spin, side spin, over spin - and then some more. With good reason it has been described as Beethoven's greatest piano work and the greatest set of variations ever created.  FB is bound to agree - it certainly tops his own efforts to master the slower one.

33 Variations - that would keep any batsman guessing. 

Beethoven - greater even than Akram
This link will take you to FB's favourite pianist Alfred Brendel playing this masterpiece.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Fantasy Bob reads with interest that the ICC has banned Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal following investigation of his bowling action. Analysis showed that his arm extended beyond the legal 15 degrees in all his deliveries.  The ICC have deemed him a chucker and no greater slur is known to the cricketer.
Ajmal - bent elbow

The ICC seem to have ramped up their approach on this aspect of the game this year. A number of bowlers have been reported, banned, investigated or are undergoing remedial action including Kane Williamson, and Sachithra Senanayake.

But as far as FB knows, no bowler in the lower leagues of the East of Scotland Cricket Association has been given this treatment, although speculation about unique bowling actions is a regular part of the Saturday afternoon discourse during many games.

FB’s own action is beyond question, if only because he is unable to bend any part of his body more than 15 degrees.

FB has suffered as much as any other lower league batter from the bottom feeding chuckers, but Ajmal is something different. A truly great bowler whose reputation is now probably slurred irretrievably. There are suggestions that the attention on him is a reflection of a long standing campaign by some to outlaw the doosra altogether.  It is unfair to batters, so they say.  FB has never encountered a doosra from the business end - for which he is truly thankful - but on these grounds he thinks the straight ball should be banned too.  It is unfair to batters - well to FB at least.

Some say that it is impossible to bowl the doosra without an illegal arm bend.  Illegal or unnatural? FB's attempt to bowl a doosra in the nets rendered his shoulder and wrist out of action for weeks. FB's investigations suggest that it may be something only to be attempted by the double jointed. And there’s the rub.

Akhtar - bent elbow
Murali was investigated time after time because of contentions that his action, and his doosra in particular, was illegal. Time and again he passed the assessment and revealed startling flexibility in his wrist and fingers being able to lay his thumb along his forearm. Shoab Ahktar had a similar hyper extension of his elbow adding to his already fearsome pace.   (See this slo-mo of him throwing).

So, is there no place for the double jointed in cricket?

Which brings FB naturally on to Sergei Rachmaninov, known to all cricketers as the composer of lushly romantic piano concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Vocalise and other sundry delights. The music that swells up all through the uber-romance Brief Encounter is his, and he is Classic FM's favourite composer.

But, despite all this, was Rachmaninov a chucker?

To FB’s knowledge Sergei Rachmaninov was never seen on the cricket field.  No one has therefore seen his doosra. But on the evidence of the complexity of his piano writing, many critics contend that Rachmaninov must have been double jointed.  His joints may therefore have flexed illegally during his Paganini Variations, not to mention his doosra.  This is something that the ICC, or Classic FM, need to consider with some urgency.

It is surely time it was established beyond doubt whether Rachmaninov's doosra laden Paganini Variations was a legal delivery.

Rachmaninov - bent elbow

Until that day dawns, cricketers will wish to approach his music, and his doosra, with caution.

Friday, 5 September 2014


Fantasy Bob's longstanding membership of the League of Empire Biscuit Loyalists is not to be tampered with.  It is firm and unyielding.

Members of the League are clear in their conviction that the empire biscuit is the piece of choice in all circumstances, including imminent torture by leg spin bowling.

However FB's loyalty has recently been put under severe strain during a recent visit to the National Galleries of Scotland.

FB will spare his world wide handful of readers the fairly obvious observation that cricket is poorly served in the NGS collection of pictures.  Nor is there any representations of the empire biscuit - surely a fitting subject for artists.

Cricketers may therefore feel weary treading through its galleries, as did FB.  They may repair to the coffee bar, as did FB.

They will overcome their sense of disappointment that amongst the array of cakes presented there, the empire biscuit is noticeable only by its absence.

It was at this low point that FB found himself with a flapjack on his plate.  FB has always tolerated the flapjack as a workaday player; a journeyman county player; unlikely ever to merit Test selection. All too often it is a solid lump of  oatmeal and vegetable fat .

Not on this occasion.  This was straight into the Test squad -  a moist fruit laden masterpiece.  It was full of apricot, prune, pumpkin seed and glace cherry.  A masterpiece.

FB has therefore formed a new organisation - the League of NGS Flapjack Loyalists.  Joint Membership with the League of Empire Biscuit Loyalists is available now.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel
Cricketers whose expectations are raised by noticing that the works of the great French composer Maurice Ravel include a song entitled Cricket have to be let down slowly. For they may open their ears for a melody celebrating line and length but instead will find an account of a day in the life of an insect.

They will feel désolé, affligé, inconsolé, désespéré, misérable, triste, affligeant, abandonné, désert, malheureux.  All a bit French in fact.  Is it this Frenchness which is a factor behind the lack of cricketing material in the works of Ravel?

Putting this apparent limitation behind him, Fantasy Bob found himself in the Usher Hall earlier this week enjoying Ravel's ravishing music played superbly by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under five-star conductor Mariss Jansons. Test Match Quality.

Mariss Jansons
On the programme was Suite No 2 from the ballet score Daphnis and Chloe. This work opens with as fine a musical depiction of dawn and early morning as has ever been written.  It will evoke the feeling in any cricketer of arriving early at the ground with a hint of dew on the grass and the golden sunlight slowly streaming over the wicket as the Doughty Groundsman (depicted by the lower strings) puts his finishing touches to the surface.

So evocative is it that FB began to wonder whether Ravel have gained his inspiration from this piece by exposure to just such a cricket ground?

Ravel made several visits to Britain during his career. His first visit was a the end of April 1909, the same year that he began work on Daphnis and Chloe and may well have caught the opening matches of the season.  Coincidence?  FB doesn't think so. (Sadly FB notes that while Ravel visited Edinburgh several times he did so only during the winter months, so it is unlikely that he took his inspiration from a morning visit to Carlton's prestigious Grange Loan HQ.)

It is less easy to track the cricketing inspiration in his later works although some of his visits to Britain coincided with significant cricketing events which may well have stuck in his mind. In 1922 he was in England shortly after Warwickshire and Hampshire took part in one of the most remarkable of all County Championship matches. After making 223 Warwickshire dismissed Hampshire for only 15, Following on, Hampshire did better, but were still struggling when a 9th wicket partnership of 180 lifted them to 521. Warwickshire needed 314 to win but were bowled out for 158 to give Hampshire a remarkable win in one of the greatest comebacks in cricket - and the inspiration behind Ravel's blues influenced violin sonata finished the year after.

Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi -
known to his pals as Nawab
In July 1931 Ravel conducted at Covent Garden at the same time as the annual University match between Oxford and Cambridge was underway at Lords.  Might he have spent the day there watching the Nawab of Pataudi stroke the Cambridge bowlers to all parts of the ground to make 238*?  His subsequent work suggests as much.   

For in 1931 Ravel completed his Piano Concerto, also part of the concert programme attended by FB. There seems little argument that the languid, elegant and beautiful second movement is a fitting tribute to this fine innings. 

The Nawab was subsequently selected for the Ashes tour in what became the bodyline series.  He scored a century in his first Test innings but struggled subsequently - both with his form, the bodyline tactic and, personally, with the skipper Jardine of whom he said,  'I am told he has his good points. In three months I have yet to see them.'  Ravel did no meet Jardine, but his music suggests he may have had similar reservations about the tactic.

Pataudi subsequently skippered India on their tour of England in 1946.  Tragically, Ravel could gather no further inspiration from the Nawab for he died in 1937, without adding to the cricket references in his work.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Runner

It may not appear so to the untrained eye, but there are a number of differences between international cricket and the elite sporting activity that Fantasy Bob indulges in throughout the summer.

Andrew Strauss denies Graham Smith a runner for cramp in 2009
- Smith had just scored 100 - Strauss said he was still able to run
One of these is the runner - someone to run between the wickets when a batsman is injured. Runners have been outlawed in international cricket since 2011, out of concern that the law was being abused.  Hard though it is for FB to envisage circumstances in which a professional sportsman might seek to take advantage of the law, there was concern that players were calling for a runner in circumstances where their injury was not life threatening - cramp at the end of an innings being the classic case.

However further down the food chain, where  cramp is a permanent condition and players are hardier and would only call for a runner when facing immediate amputation of a defective limb, the runner is still part of the game and a regular source of much confusion and entertainment.

FB is pleased that this is the case - for running was one of the skills of the game that he mastered at an early age. Indeed it was the only skill that he ever came close to mastering. Running in the field, running between the wickets, running in to bowl, running to the toilet - there seemed so many opportunities to show off his skills and team mates got tired of his endless showing off in the running department.  In the deep and distant past, so impressed were his colleagues with his prowess in the running department that FB was asked to run for injured team mates.

Sadly those days are a distant memory and while FB may still have mastery of running it is increasingly inclined towards the theoretical than the practical.

But it was not until this weekend that FB found himself on the other end of this particular stick.  He need a runner.

FB's skill at placing the field had deserted him and he found himself having to chase all manner of balls to far distant parts of the ground.  Usually he places an enthusiastic junior member beside him, who like a well trained labrador will sprint with youthful vigour after the speeding ball and return it with a pleading look in its eye and its tongue hanging out.  But junior members were occupied in other parts of the field stemming the flood of runs that was mounting against the team.  After several protracted chases FB's calf muscle decided, with remarkable common sense, that enough was enough and forced FB to sit out the final overs.

Tea has many restoring powers - it lifts the spirit and cleans the blood.  However it does not fix strained calf muscles.  So for the first time in his career FB found himself facing the prospect of batting with a runner.  He sat and contemplated the early overs of the innings, thinking to himself that this was an opportunity.  Surely without the distraction of having to sprint from end to end in his usual breathless manner a big score was in prospect.  He could see the scoreboard's gleaming figures - 50, 70, 80 and on to the unexplored uplands of three figures.   He could see the scorer running out of space in the book.

This would be something all the junior members would remember to tell their grandchildren - they were there when FB scored his ton.  There was therefore competition in the ranks of the juniors for the privilege of being FB's runner.  A foot race was held to identify the fleetest of foot.

The time came, and FB and the proud young man strode to the wicket.  FB could hear the applause already. The young man position himself at square leg.  FB tapped a mark on the wicket.  He took his guard, carefully scraping the line with his spike. He would be here for some time. He surveyed the field -
extra cover was surely placed a little to square for one of FB's power and subtlety.  He took his stance. The bowler turned at the end of his run up. The keeper crouched.  Silence.

FB's membership
successfully renewed
FB is not sure what happened next.  In his mind's eye he pushed the ball gently into to mid off and his runner set off for the single.  However the ball decided not play that game and thudded into his back pad.  The umpire was unsympathetic and the finger went up.  FB renewed his membership of the primary club.

Runners?  No help to FB.  Perhaps the ICC was right in getting rid of them.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Broken Bat Mountain

Readers can be assured at this point that this is not a tedious post about  cricketing puns in film titles - like Star Waughs, or Vaughan Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.............with this assurance Fantasy Bob is confident that his faithful handful of worldwide readers who have got thus far will read on for some far more tedious.

FB supposes it must happen often.  But this was the first time he had witnessed it in his long concert going career.

The Artemis Quartet and strings
The Artemis Quartet might have recognised that they were dicing with danger playing Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet in FB's presence. For they should have known that this masterpiece had a track record of disaster - it had been the previous subject of FB's Witterings.

So about 5 minutes into the first movement the resonating harmony of the principal theme was complemented by a loud and unmistakable PING.

The first violinist's top string snapped.  A sigh went round the packed hall.  With no more ado, the quartet stopped, left the platform and presumably threw themselves on the masseurs' table.  Five minutes later they re-emerged with a full complement of strings and started again.............

FB has long thought that concerts are fraught with accidents waiting to happen - will the percussionist drop the cymbals as he returns them to their precarious stand, will the double bassist topple over as she leans forward to turn the page, will the clarinetist drop her mouthpiece and see it rolling across the platform and into the audience? Will the pianist's page turner turn the wrong page at the wrong time?

FB sits through the music on tenterhooks.  His applause at the end of the piece reflecting his relief that none of these disasters has happened.

Cricket is also stuffed with possibilities of technical failure.  The most recent and spectacular of such events occurred on 5 January this year - the third and, as it happened, final day of the final Ashes Test in Sydney.

Ryan Harris bowled round the wicket to Michael Carberry. Carberry may also have been a disaster waiting to happen in that he too had been the subject of FB's Witterings.  Putting that horror to the back of his mind for the moment however Carberry pushed gently at Harris' delivery only to find himself left with less than half a bat as it split completely.

Carberry - suffering from FB's post
Professor Rod Cross from University of Sydney’s Physics Department, who has nothing better to do with his time and excessively large brain, calculates that the ball, weighing around 160g, hits the bat at around 100kmh, generating 10,000 Newtons of maximum force for a millisecond.  In terms that FB understands this is roughly equal to 12.5 cricketers standing on the bat together.

FB has no estimate for the number of cricketers who must have stood on the snapped violin string.  Or violinists.

Without a bat Carberry was no use to England and he has never played another Test.

FB himself has been subject to the Carberry experience, when his beloved GN Scoop broke leaving the bottom half hanging by the protective skin.  It had seen many years of faithful service but was not up to 12.5 cricketers standing on it (that may be a slight exaggeration as the ball that did for it was a slow half volley.....perhaps equivalent 1.5 cricketers........).  The broken bat was duly buried with full military honours.  Like Carberry FB has never played another Test.

Howe and skipper
It was Sir Geoffrey Howe who having resigned as Foreign Secretary anticipated FB's and Carberry's trauma by remarking in his resignation speech in November 1990 that working under then PM Mrs Thatcher's leadership was

.... rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

There is no estimate of the number of Prime Ministers who have to stand on a Foreign Secretary to break him.  

Friday, 8 August 2014


Prompted by a piece in the popular press which told him that it was first published 200 years ago on 7 July, Fantasy Bob has been reading Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley.

Has nothing to say
about the station.
It is a disappointing read - it has nothing to say about the station. FB supposes it has this much in common with Trainspotting.

Not that FB is particularly interested in stations. Cricket is more his thing and neither novel really delivers much in that area either.

A cricketer’s pulse might be stirred in the first paragraph of Scott’s romance where he writes ‘Would not the owl have shrieked and the cricket cried in my very title-page?’ He should not get his hopes up. This is a tease. The next 600 pages make no further reference to cricket crying or otherwise.  In this it has much in common with Trainspotting.

Waverley was Scott's first novel and was a sensation - as in its day was Trainspotting. 

..and no cricketing interest
Waverley quickly sold out and went through multiple editions. It is generally reckoned by those who know about these things to be the first historical novel in the English language - without it Game of Thrones would not have been possible. So there. 

It is not clear, at least to FB, why Scott chose the name for his central character - a young Englishman with romantic ideals who finds himself in Scotland at the start of the 1745 Jacobite Rising and becomes part of it.  He might as well have named his hero Bradman, or Hammond, or Tendulkar.  

At that time the only Waverley was a ruined abbey in Surrey, and the adjacent borough. But so massively popular was the novel that a significant number of places were named after it, Edinburgh's principal station most of all. 

There is a Waverley in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. There is a Mount and Glen Waverley in Melbourne. There are 2 Waverleys in New Zealand and 3 in South Africa. 3 areas bear its name in Canada. There are several listed mansions of that name in the US, and over 30 locations with the alternative spelling Waverly.

Robson - a link to Waverely
Nor is Waverley without resonance to the cricketer. Easts CC play on the Waverley Oval in Sydney, close by the SCG and Bondi Beach – the club was formerly known as Waverley CC.  Its head coach is Michael Bevan and it is where current England opener Sam Robson learned his cricket.

It is here that similarities between Waverley and Trainspotting end. There are no cricket grounds named after Trainspotting.
Cricket at the Waverley Oval, NSW