Saturday, 28 June 2014

America's Cup

One of Auckland's tourist attractions to which Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB succumbed during their recent visit was the opportunity for a hurl round the harbour on an America's cup yacht.

America's Cup yacht at mooring
Long suffering readers of these witterings will recall that there is a bit of a sailor in FB - so they may understand the thrill he felt stepping aboard such a boat and helping sail her.  Grinding up the sails with the huge 2 man winches and taking the helm for a few tacks as she creamed along at 9 knots in no wind at all.  Just like being given a spell from the Nursery End at Lords.

9 knots in no wind at all.  This is a vessel built for speed.  She is 80ft long with a mast towering 113ft into the blue Auckland sky. She weighs 24 tons, over 20 of which is in the form a lead bulb hanging about 12ft below the keel.

She came second in the challenge series in 1995.  The America's Cup structure is such that boats race for the honour being the challenger who then races against the Cup holder.  In that year, the USA was the holder and NZ the challenger - a challenge which was successful.  For many years the America's Cup challenge was a huge driving force in NZ.  A route to establishing identity for a small distant country.  Also a route to exploiting its great yachting heritage - Auckland is not for nothing described as the City of Sails.

NZ successfully defended the Cup in Auckland 2000 but lost it in 2003.  In the most recent race in 2013 NZ was the unsuccessful challenger in San Francisco.
FB takes the helm

The America's Cup may be the oldest sporting trophy in existence - it was first awarded in 1851 - 31 years before the Ashes Urn.  The race has a a unique structure.  The holder of the Cup gets to set the venue, timing and rules for the next competition.  The specifications of the boats allowed to compete therefore continually change as the holder seeks to consolidate some design advantage or other.  As a result there has been as much litigation over the years about design details as there has been sailing.

The rules for the 2017 Cup were published by the San Francisco team during FB's visit in NZ.  There is great controversy in NZ as to whether they will mount a challenge this time. It is too expensive.  The rules are twisted too much.  Crew and designers are being poached by others.   All the fun of money driven international sport.

There is a residual bitterness about how they lost the last series - NZ only needed one more win but the American challenger then brought GB Olympic hero Ben Ainslie into their set up and won all the remaining races. FB knows how the Kiwis feel.  It is like a cricket team struggling in the middle asking a spectator who just happens to be there that day to play as 11th man - he turns out to be a domineering bat and unplayable bowler.  It would be sad if the next race was without the New Zealanders, they have been the heart and soul of the event for the last 2 decades.

Praying Mantis on the waterfront
The boat that FB sailed was recognisable as a yacht.  It has a sleek hull and big triangular sails.  Sadly the America's Cup has gone all IPL.  The crews wear helmets and body armour. The design choice is now a twin hull, with a fixed wing sail. This not only provides drive but also lift so that the at speed the hulls lift out of the water maintaining contact only through the slightest of foils.  They may reach speeds of 45 knots, but they have no soul, no beauty no grace. They are black mantis-like creatures from another planet.  do they fly rather than sail?

Nevertheless the races are thrilling.

FB has noticed that Sir Ben Ainslie wishes to mount a GB challenge. He has been schmoozing teh Duchess of Cambridge for support.  As if she had anything to offer.  FB is disappointed that Sir Ben has not been in touch.Given his extensive America's Cup yachting experience; given his knowledge of the wind from his long career of bowling against it, FB is sure he could bring something to the GB challenge.  He awaits the call.
Ainslie and Kate - can they do without FB?

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Bruce

Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB return from their visit to Australia and New Zealand to find a heightened state of excitement and celebration throughout their native land.

Not in response to their return.  Far less because of the early elimination of England from the World Cup. Significant though each of these events is.  But there is something else that is stirring the Scottish pulse.

For this week marks the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which took place on 23 and 24 June 1314.  A new Visitor Centre is is operation at the battle site with all manner of technological wizardry to entertain, divert and bring the event to life.  A re-enactment is on the menu with re-enactors from all parts of the world promised.

The earliest known image of the battle 

Battle reenactment is never a thing that FB has quite got to grips with. It seems largely to involve camping and dressing up while at some time running from one end of a damp field to the other waving some weapon like thing or other.  It is a strange way altogether to spend a weekend.  Although, as Mrs FB points out with characteristic acuity, this is rich coming from someone who dresses up in pads, spends half the weekend wondering how he missed another straight one and the other half in the solitude of deep fine leg.  Chacun à son goût, you might say if you were so inclined.

Like most Scottish people FB absorbed the wonders of Bannockburn at his parents' and grandparents' knee.  It is a fine tale of the underdog beating the bully; of a fight for freedom and identity.   The celebrated single combat between Robert the Bruce and Henry de Bohun, who charged at Scotland's King and when the two passed side by side, had his head split by Bruce's axe, lived long in FB's childhood memory - even though his childish ears first heard the name of Scotland's great commander as Robert the Bruised.  What bruised him, he wondered.  Was this a risk of playing with battleaxes?  
Victorian image of R the B -
note absence of cricket gear
To anyone called Robert, Scotland's great leader, be he Bruce or Bruised, would be an inspiration.  So it was with FB.  Or should have been.  However it became clear from FB's youthful researches that Robert the Bruce was not a cricketer.  A bitter disappointment for FB and his first encounter with the often repeated finding that heroes can have feet of clay and the Bruce receded in FB's echelon of role models. Just as well, since acts of individual bravado with axes were not encouraged in the playground of his school.

The site of the Bannockburn visitor centre, and the well known statue of the Bruce, is probably not the true site of the battle itself.  One of the candidates as the true site is about a mile away - roughly in the area where FB played cricket against St Modan's High School FP on many occasions when that club took their place in the East of Scotland leagues.  Although still active, the club no longer take part in those leagues.  

St Modan's most famous former pupil was Billy Bremner, another Scottish hero although he did not turn out for the cricket team.  Nevertheless, surely the Bremner and the Bruce would put something in the air and inspire FB to great acts of leadership or heroism.  FB's long suffering readers will know better than to raise the question.

Just as Robert the Bruised was not a cricketer so Bruce is not a common cricketing name.  Only one member of the Bruce clan has played test cricket -William Bruce  played in 14 Tests for Australia between 1885 and 1895 scoring 702 runs at an average of 29.  His relationship to Robert is not known. Sadly he took his own life in 1925 as drink and business difficulties overwhelmed him.  

Bruce French
More players with the Christian name Bruce have played, though not that many. Kiwis predominate; there is only one Bruce who has turned out for England. Wicket keeper Bruce French played 16 Tests between 1986 and 1988 - his opportunities limited by the arrival on the scene of Jack Russell.

And even in Scotland Bruce are few and far between.  Ayr batsman Bruce Patterson played 3 ODIs and 12 First Class matches for Scotland between 1988 and 2004.  And that's about it.

So all in all the excitement about Bannockburn this week may pass cricketers by. They will therefor be grateful to FB for reminding them of its happening.

Saturday, 7 June 2014


A visit to Sydney was a big risk for Mrs FB.  Particularly since a visit to tour the cricket ground had been pre-arranged.  Talk of cricket was unavoidable.  She would just have to bear it and a tour of the Opera House would compensate.

But for a couple of days she could think she was safe.  She had suggested that she and Fantasy Bob visit an old friend of hers up country during their short visit to Australia.  Her friend is a horse person and lives in a small horse and cattle town in northern NSW. Conversation would surely be dominated by important matters like fetlocks and withers.  She had lost count of the number of times that FB had excitedly pointed out a cricket ground to her as the train made its way through the countryside.   As the train drew into the small station of Dungog, she leaned forward in anticipation. Relief was at hand.

Rush hour traffic in Dungog NSW

FB's worldwide readership will already be ahead of him at this point.  They will recognise that Dungog may well be celebrated for its annual rodeo and for having the first continuously operating enclosed cinema in the whole of Australia - the James Theatre has been in existence for over 100 years.  

But they will know that its more important claim to reknown is as the birthplace of Doug Walters, legendary Australian batsman of the 1960s and 70s.  His name is still revered locally, and in a fitting tradition the pavilion at the local cricket club is named after him.  Talk of fetlocks therefore was abandoned as FB dragged Mrs FB off in search of this hallowed building.

For KD Walters was just about everyone's favourite Australian player throughout his Test career from 1965 to 1981.  In 74 Tests he made 5357 runs at 48.26 - in the words of EW Swanton 'if he ever played a dull innings I never saw it.'   He scored a century in his first Test innings, against England at Brisbane and followed with another century in the next Test.  He rapidly gained a reputation as a man of the people - he seemed carefree, down to earth, a man who liked a beer.  The Australian crowds loved him - so much that the Hill at Sydney Cricket Ground became known as the Doug Walters Stand - a name which stuck until its more recent corporatised redevelopment with  rows  of plastic seats.  It was Walters who became the first batsman to score a double century and a century in the same Test; it was Walters who brought up his century by hitting the last ball of the day from Bob Willis for 6 at the Gabba in 1974; and it was Walters who borrowed a bicycle to pedal round the boundary when he was put at deep third man at each end by Ian Chappell as punishment for oversleeping.

Signed photo in SCG museum -
thanks for your support
Doug Walters
All this and more came to FB's mind as he looked out from the pavilion over the ground where Walters first took up a bat. Maybe just a little of that greatness would rub off on FB.  Perhaps one day the crowds at the Grange Loan headquarters of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton would rename their famous hill 'The FB Stand.'

The FB Stand....FB's eyes misted over - it has that ring to it, he thought to himself.

'Are you going to stand there all day with that stupid look on your face, or are you coming for lunch?'

His reverie was broken, the mirage of the FB Stand receded.  But the memory of KD Walters still burns bright.