Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Cricketing Year - 2015

Fantasy Bob has dutifully immersed himself in the reviews of the cricket year that are all pervasive at this time of year.  
He has been stirred by the elated descriptions of the recapturing of the Ashes, the Australian World cup triumph, Scotland’s qualification for the WT20, and Scotland’s women's deeds in Malaysia. 
He has been McCullumed, Broaded, Rooted, Smithed and Hazlewooded until he knows not whether he is coming or going. (Not much change there, FB's long suffering handful of readers will think.) 
He has bid sad and fond farewells to Tyson, Benaud, Rice, Close and many others who paid their final visit to the crease. 
His blood pressure has been raised to danger levels reading about the ICC’s plans to exclude associates from future world cups. 
    In all it has been a year full of highs and lows for the cricketer with much to live long in the memory.

    Vainly however has he searched those miles of text for a single reference to the most important cricketing story of 2015.  Sadly he concludes that the legions of commentators and bloggers, pundits and analysts, critics and theorists have been guilty of a collective oversight on a grand scale for which there is no explanation.

    It is therefore up to FB to correct this failure by calling to notice the heroic achievement of the Carlton 4th XI in winning their league - the highly prestigious Division 7 of the East of Scotland Cricket Association and gaining promotion to the even more prestigious Division 6 of the East of Scotland Cricket Association. 

    This was a triumph in adversity in facing down the impossible odds of taking to the field under FB's idiosyncratic version of captaincy.  So incisive was his captaincy that when, after a poor start to the team's campaign in which they lost 3 out of the first 4 fixtures, FB departed on an Italian sojourn, the team unselfishly dedicated a series of 4 consecutive victories to his absent memory.  Not even his return to the helm could undermine their collective momentum and the prize of the league flag was duly grasped with one match to go in the schedule. 

    2015's victorious skippers
    Readers wishing to understand the full grandeur of this world beating season might wish to review the match reports on the website of the go ahead Edinburgh club.  They should be warned - this material is not for the faint hearted or even those lacking a decent Encyclopaedia.  Readers may struggle to work out why these reports give such prominent mention to Gustav Mahler, Aristotle, BB King, Mary Queen of Scots, Bob Dylan, Richard Strauss, Bertrand Russell, Epictetus, Sir Van Morrison, Walt Whitman, Henry VIII, TS Eliot and the Lady Boys of Bangkok.  What exactly did they do on the field?*

    FB sometimes wonders about this too but he guesses that it is just one of the wonders of cricket in 2015.

    *FB apologises to those of his handful of readers if some recognise this attempt at a joke from his remarks at the end of season dinner of the go ahead Edinburgh cricket club.  He felt safe in repeating it here for he was sure that none there had stayed awake long enough to hear this passage. 

    Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    And Then There Were None


    Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB worked off the excesses of Christmas by watching the excellent TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's compelling murder mystery.
     
    Before assuming his athletic posture on the sofa FB observed, 'For once this could be interesting for cricketers.  Agatha Christie was a great enthusiast for the game.  There is a tree on boundary at Barton CC in Torquay which is called Agatha Christie's Oak since it was there that she sat on many an afternoon watching her father play and sometimes scoring the match.'

    FB's enthusiastic hope that the programme might make some reference to this background was met with some indifference by Mrs FB.  As she dipped into the Milk Tray, her thoughts lingered on the prospect of Aidan Turner's shirt failing in its primary role at some point to reveal his celebrated torso.  FB recalled her breathless suggestion during a bare chested episode in Poldark that these rippling abs suggested he could bowl a lively fast medium.  Sadly the show did not present evidence to support this suggestion, its cricketing content being non-existent. 

    FB digresses.  To return to And Then There Were None.  As is the way of these things, Mrs FB's hopes were fulfilled as the shirt duly failed at a critical point in the mystery.  However FB's hopes were cruelly dashed yet again as the programme's cricketing potential was disgracefully ignored.
     
    This was clearly an opportunity lost by the show's producers, who had updated a number of aspects of the original story.  They might have looked more closely at the poem which provides a motif throughout the story, describing how the guests lured to the deserted island by a mystery host meet their grizzly fate one by one. 

    Agatha Christie's original verse is now politically incorrect - the poem was revised to refer to Indians and in the TV adaptation to soldiers. 

    This is a great failure on the part of the producers.  For it is clear that Agatha Christie took her inspiration from her early experiences on the boundary at Barton CC and really tells of a struggling cricket team.  One by one they meet their untimely end at the hands of a mysterious fast bowler and a sinister leg spinner. 
     
    What a great basis for a mystery drama - failing shirt or not.

    Ten little cricketers playing down the line;
    One missed a yorker and then there were nine.
     
     Nine little cricketers tried to play it late;
     One got a bottom edge and then there were eight.
     
     Eight little cricketers why aren’t there eleven;
     One missed the team bus and then there were seven.
     
     Seven little cricketers will always walk on nicks;
     One hung out his bat and then there were six.
     
     Six little cricketers kept the game alive;
     The fast bowler bounced one and then there were five.
     
     Five little cricketers playing for the draw;
    One swung across the line and then there were four.
     
     Four little cricketers holding out till tea;
     The leg spinner turned it square and then there were three.
     
     Three little cricketers hope the bounce is true;
     One got a shooter and then there were two.
     
     Two little cricketers think about a run;
     Yes, no, yes, oh, sorry ....…… and then there was one.
     
     One little cricketer left all alone;
     He’s gone to the bar and now there are none.

    An opportunity lost.

    Thursday, 24 December 2015

    Fantasy Bob's Christmas Appeal

    Christmas time
    and many parents find themselves coming under intense pressure from their children for a new playmate. 
    A furry, fluffy new companion. 

    But Fantasy Bob asks you to think hard before giving into such pleas.

    For the excitement that comes on Christmas morning with that new little playmate; the thrill of feeding him, or taking him for walks, wears off all too soon.  

    And every January, rescue homes all over the
    country face the sad task of taking in hundreds of the rejected and unloved.  

    It is heartbreaking.

    So, this Christmas, 
    Fantasy Bob asks you please to remember

    A DOUGHTY GROUNDSMAN IS FOR LIFE NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS


    A Doughty Groundsman can be a wonderful companion for all the family. 
     He is not a toy.

    Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    A Christmas Carol for Cricketers

    Marley was out: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

    Old Marley was out - dead as a door-nail. Scrooge knew he was out. Of course he did.  Call him for a quick single? Bah! Scrooge had stayed firmly in his ground. 'Quick singles are humbug!' he said to himself. 'Marley just wanted to keep strike. Humbug!'

    Marley stomped angrily to the pavilion.  He was on 49 and looking good.  He had pushed the ball wide of cover's left hand.  He had called clearly and was at the bowler's end before he realised that his partner, his skipper, Ebenezer Scrooge had not moved.  The throw came in - even the wicket-keeper's fumble could not avert the inevitable.

    Marley glared at his skipper as he passed.  'Some skipper you are,' he muttered, 'that's the third time this season you've run me out. That's the last time I play for this club.'

    Scrooge had once been a talented batter, a fine timer of the ball.  But  that was many, many summers ago.  As his career lengthened his obsession with his average grew year by year.  He lay awake at night dreaming no longer of the ball speeding to the boundary, but of the red ink against his name in the scorebook.  It was the greatest phrase in the English language.  E Scrooge* not out................ It was worth any sacrifice.  And if his teammates couldn't see that, well, 'Bah, humbug to them.'


    Bob Cratchit spoke to his skipper as they packed their kit.  'Skip, I thought you might give me a bat next week.'  Scrooge looked at him sternly. 'And why would I do that Cratchit?'  'Well skip, I come to every practice, I feel in good nick but I've only faced 2 balls all season.'  'And what happened then?'   Scrooge turned his piercing gaze on his gentle seamer. 'Well, you ran me out.'  Even though the whole team had seen Scrooge ignore his call, Cratchit immediately regretted his words. 'Ran you out? Humbug.  You didn't wait for my call. You'll bat 11 as usual and field fine leg - both ends.'
     
    Cratchit sighed.  It was always the same - each year it got worse.  But he steeled himself - he had something important to ask, 'Skip, you know my boy Tim?' Scrooge's gaze turned even icier.  'Well, he took 6 wickets in the juniors last week - do you think you could give him a turn in the firsts?' Scrooge paused, 'A junior?  In the first team?  Humbug. A junior?  Of all things. Hell will freeze over first before I play with a ....JUNIOR.'

    As Scrooge made his way home from the match his mood was dark.  The team may have won, but he had been LBW'd in the final over. 'Bah. Only 2 more balls and I would have had another red inker.' He slammed the pavilion door.  'Everyone saw it pitched outside leg. Why did I let that idiot Marley umpire?  Humbug.'

    As he passed the nets, he saw some of the junior members energetically  practising in the fading evening light.  He spotted young Cratchit flicking the ball dextrously from hand to hand before whipping it down the track and with the perfect googly giving his opponent no chance.  He scowled.  'You juniors,' he bellowed, 'get out of there.   Seniors only in the nets.'  'But coach said..' 'I don't care what coach said - I'm skipper - BE OFF WITH YOU.'

    Scrooge tossed and turned in his bed that night; his dismissal, the impertinence of the juniors, there was too much on his mind.  Suddenly he heard a sound.  He sat up.  He was not alone.  Standing by his bed was a white figure in full batting gear.  Scrooge was terrified. 'Fear not , Ebeneezer, I am the ghost of cricket past - come with me.'  Still fearful, Scrooge rose and followed the stranger.  They came to the cricket ground - familiar in the sunshine. 'See the young Ebeneezer .....' 


    Scrooge followed the stranger's crooked finger as it pointed to a youngster excitedly strapping on his pads.  A kindly voice was heard, 'Ebeneezer you're next in - you're first innings for the firsts but just play straight and you'll be fine.'  Together Scrooge and the stranger watched as the youngster made his way to the middle and after a careful start begin to stroke the ball with more confidence. 'Do you remember?' said the stranger. 'Yes, yes,' said Scrooge, 'my first match - I was just14 and I got 48 batting with the skipper before I got a shooter.  What a day!'  They watched on as the team cheered the youngster and to a man heartily shook his hand.

    The sun dappled image faded and Scrooge was alone tossing and turning in his bed.  The clock ticked on and suddenly he felt again a prescence - another white clad figure at the foot of the bed tossing a ball from hand to hand.  Before he could scream in terror, the figure spoke, 'Ebeneezer Scrooge, I am the ghost of cricket present - come with me.'  The figure moved and Scrooge followed.  Past the cricket ground this time and on to some houses beyond.  The ghost pointed at a lighted window. 'Watch,' he said.  Scrooge looked in and there he saw Cratchit and his family including Tim.  'Listen, said the ghost.   the youngster was animatedly talking '.................but Dad it's not fair..........why can't we practice in the evening.  No one else was in the nets.  It's just Scrooge he hates us junior members.  He never comes to junior matches.  He never gives us hints.  He wishes we weren't there.  I'm fed up of cricket - and so are my pals.  We're not going to play any more................'  The scene faded as the boy threw his bat into the fireside basket of logs.


    Scrooge lay restlessly asleep again.  A third time he woke with a start to find a white clad figure beside his bed.  This time the figure was old and bent, his eye rheumy, his hair and beard dishevelled, his white clothes stained and tattered.   He spoke in a cracked whisper, 'I am the ghost of cricket yet to come.  Follow me, Ebeneezer, follow me.'  Scrooge obeyed and followed the stranger's lead.  They came to a place that was familiar but it had changed.  An old derelict building lay in one corner of an overgrown wasteland.  A rusty tractor stood in another.  The cold wind blew litter in an untidy swirl.

    'Surely this is the cricket ground?' Scrooge asked his guide.  'It was the cricket ground, but no cricket has been played for many a year.'  'What happened, the cricket club was such a happy place.'  'Once it was but little by little it died - one by one the players had enough of the skipper and moved to other clubs.  The junior section dwindled, neglected and rejected.  Relegation followed relegation.  Matches were scratched.  No one tended the wicket that was once the best in the area and it became a minefield.  The club played its last match a year ago.  Next year this will be a brand new car park.'


    'No,' said Scrooge,  'No, it cannot be!'  The ghost replied, 'This is what will happen, unless........' The  voice began to fade.  'Unless what, cried Scrooge desperately.  but the figure had vanished and only a whisper came through the air,  '........................unless........................'


    Scrooge woke with a start.  The morning was bright and clear.  The wicket would be firm.  A fine day for batting.  As Scrooge thought of the red ink against his name, he stopped himself.


    He reached for his phone and quickly pressed the numbers in.  'Cratchit,' a voice answered. 'Bob,' said Scrooge, 'can you open the batting today?'  'No problem, skip,' came the reply.  'And your boy, Tim, we could give him a chance - wicket looks like it'll take some spin.' 'Yes - he'll be ready.'  'Tell him to come down early - he can bowl a few at me in the nets.........a fiver if he gets me out!'


    And as Tim left the field after taking 3 wickets for 25 in his first bowl for the firsts, Scrooge smiled kindly, shook the boy's hand warmly and looked around the ground, the ground he loved and would go on loving. 


    Tim looked at his skipper, turned to his pals and shouted out, 'God bless us everyone....................'

    'Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him...it was always said of him that he knew how to keep cricket well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.'


    Monday, 7 December 2015

    The Turner Prize 2015........................

    But is it art?


    Zulfiqar Babar appeals for James Anderson's wicket
    Pakistan v England 2nd Test
    Dubai
    26 October 2015

    Thursday, 3 December 2015

    Tossed Away

    Long suffering readers of these pages will know that there is little that can excite Fantasy Bob's interest more than the protocols of the toss.
    
    A classic toss
     Bill Lawry and Ray Illingworth
    Melbourne 1971
    So they will not be surprised that he has read with alarm the recent announcement that the powers that be have decided that there will be no mandatory toss in either division of the English County Championship in the 2016 season.
    With a rising sense of panic, he spent a few anxious hours tracking down the highest executive authorities of the East of Scotland Cricket Association. Eventually he traced a spokesman to a pool side sun lounger in one of the more exclusive resorts in the Canary Islands. To his relief FB was able to extract an assurance that there were no plans to replicate this development in ESCA's lower leagues.

    For it is in those leagues that FB's tossing skills are the stuff of legend. They have been an essential part of the cricketing education of the many junior players who have grown up under FB's so called captaincy. Notwithstanding this experience, they have for the most part grown into upstanding members of the community. But collectively they cannot envisage a cricket match without the preceding ritual of FB striding to the middle with his opposite number only to return minutes later with the wholly expected news that he had lost the toss again.

    'Are we batting or bowling,' his team mates would ask him with eager faces.
    'Definitely,' he would respond confidently, 'but I'm not sure in what order.'

    For FB would be so overcome by the emotional strain of his certainty that heads would come up being shattered, that he failed to pay any attention to his opponent's decision.

    The toss is therefore a matter of importance to FB.  It gives his cricketing day a sense of purpose.  For, as many who have either played with or watched him, there is absolutely no purpose in anything else he does on the cricket field.  To coin a current phrase, the removal of the toss would therefore represent an existential threat.  Who knows where it would lead?

    It is said that the change has been implemented to encourage the development of spin bowling and discourage sides from preparing overly seam friendly wickets.  FB understands that instead of the toss the visiting team will have the choice of whether they want to field first. If they don't wish to take up that option the toss will take place - so they could end up fielding anyway which seems to defeat the object of the exercise - or does it?  Who knows? FB can't decide. It's a bit of a toss up.

    Tuesday, 24 November 2015

    Carmen


    Fantasy Bob supposes it is his own fault. He just didn't think it through. The unintended consequences. Long suffering readers may recall how he and Mrs FB enjoyed the opera at La Scala and how Mrs FB's enjoyment of the occasion was greatly enhanced by the appearance on stage of a horse and a donkey. 

    For Mrs FB's equine obsession matches, and may well exceed,  FB's fondness for cricket.  For her, the appearance of a horse in any situation brightens the day and gives it new meaning.  Many times as FB negotiates a particularly tricky country road she will suddenly say from the passenger seat, 'Look at that lovely bay.' 

    Early in their relationship this confused FB, for he seemed to be nowhere near the sea-side.  However little by little he gained an understanding.  'Look at that lovely bay, what a lovely boy.'  FB maintains a dignified silence; he knows what is coming next.

    'Hello, lovely boy - what a lovely field of grass you have.'   FB admires Mrs FB's persistence in attempting to have a conversation with a horse from behind the closed window of a passing car.  He accepts no blame - the suggestion having been made that even this interaction is an improvement on his conversational skills has not been verified

    So he is aware of his life partner's predilections. But he failed to take into account how they had been heightened by the experience at La Scala.

    So when they made their way to Edinburgh's Festival Theatre for a performance by Scottish Opera of Carmen his researches had left him unprepared.  He had established beyond reasonable doubt that there is little of cricketing interest in the opera - it being written by a Frenchman was probably a sound indicator of that. So his expectations were not particularly high. 

    But Mrs FB was on another tack, and as she perused the synopsis she said,  'Ah, Act I -  a square in Seville.   Now they should be able to get some horses into that.'

    FB looked with a certain trepidation into her eyes.  She went on 'Remember we went to Seville and there were horses everywhere -  those lovely Andalusians.'  FB had to concede this point and she continued, 'Oh yes I am sure they'll use some Andalusians here.'

    Her speculation was silenced as the lights went down and the orchestra started up.

    As the curtain fell on the Act she said,  'Well that was disappointing - they could easily have a had a horse there.  Perhaps in the next Act.'

    Sadly, for Mrs FB the next Act came and went, with no horsey interest.

    She perked up over the interval prosecco, noting from the programme that the next Act would see the arrival of Escamillo the toreador.

    'Now any bull fighter worth his salt will have a horse - I imagine he will enter on a beautiful white Analusian.'

    FB did not wish to quell her enthusiasm as the lights darkened again.

    'They must be saving the horse for the Final Act,' she said containing her disappointment at the horse free third act.  'After all, it is set at the bull ring.......'  She looked towards the stage eagerly. 

    But there was no horse - not even a stray bull fight poster with a picture of a horsepeeling off the set. There was no bull either, for that matter.

    Mrs FB spent the journey home questioning the artistic sensitivities of the Director. 'The whole thing was crying out for a horse,' she remarked several times.

    FB might have responded by saying that he understood her pain.  He might have described the many times he had sat through a performance that could have been lifted to a new level by a simple cricketing reference.  He might have shared with her theatrical directors of international reputation had eschewed such artistic insight.  He might have shared how his hopes had been repeatedly dashed - even the trip to La Scala had not helped restore them for cricket had been ignored there too. He might have gone on, but she had that far away look in her eye - already she was imagining her next trip to La Scala orher next conversation through the car window with a passing horse. 

    Tuesday, 17 November 2015

    Storm Abbi

    Fantasy Bob is sure that his remaining handful of worldwide readers will join him in wishing the Scotland women's cricket team every best wish for their forthcoming participation in the ICC Women’s T20 Qualifier in Thailand. The team depart Scotland's storm-battered shores this week and after a couple of warm up games get down to the business of the competition proper with a match against Papua New Guinea on 28 November.

    FB's particular good wishes go to the quartet of players from his own go ahead Edinburgh club Carlton. Great girls all.  Three of them have had the misfortune of playing in his company and even worse under what he laughably describes as his captaincy.   He is sure that they have learned much from him - in particular how not to play leg spin bowling.

    Carlton's 4 - from top left - Annette Drummon, Katie McGill, Abbi Aitken, Ollie Rae
    The skipper of the side - all rounder Abbi Aitken - is also affiliated to Carlton but she has had the good sense to resist FB's invitations to join his adventures in the lower leagues of the East of Scotland Cricket Association.  She feels that she knows enough about facing leg spin bowling without seeing FB's practical demonstrations of how not to do it.

    Abbi hails from Montrose - a town that FB is familiar with mostly from passing through it on his childhood journeys from Aberdeen to, well practically everywhere else.

    Abbi is not the first sporting icon or great all rounder to come from Montrose.  Henry Waugh Renny-Tailyour played rugby and football for Scotland and also played first class cricket when his army duties allowed.  He played in the first FA Cup Final in 1872, finishing on the losing side. He also was on the losing side in 1874 but finally got a winner's medal in 1875 - when he was also on the scoresheet.  In 1872 he also represented Scotland against England at rugby - the match was played at the Oval.  In 1873 he played in the first Scotland - England international in England, again at the Oval and had the distinction of scoring Scotland's first international goal. Rumour has it that his selection owed much to his convenient location in London for the Scottish authorities could not afford to transport the full complement of players from Scotland. This is a selection policy on a par with that which has ensured FB continued selection on account of his big Volvo being able to transport a full team of junior players and their voluminous kit to away fixtures.
    Renny-Tailyour's cricketing achievements are more modest - he played only 28 first class cricket matches with no great distinction but also turned out for Aberdeenshire and Strathmore.

    FB is sure that Abbi will seize the mantle of greatness from this illustrious forebear.

    Readers may have wondered if there was any point to FB's recital of Mr Renny-Tailyour's long forgotten achievement.  They might think themselves fortunate.  For FB was planning to link Abbi and Storm Abigail which has just done pounding Scotland's cricket grounds.  He was perfecting all manner of jejune remarks about how another storm Abigail was about to be released on Thailand. But his researches suggest that Abbi is not an Abigail, she is simply an Abbi, so readers can mutter merciful thanks as they as spared the full horror of what FB might have produced.

    So here's the best of luck to Abbi and all her teammates. 

    FB is sure they will do everyone proud!!

    FB will be following the Scotland team's progress in the run up and during the competition on Twitter: @Wildcatscricket he is sure that his handful of readers will do likewise.

    Tuesday, 10 November 2015

    Hats

    Fantasy Bob has recently had minor surgery to his forehead. 'Checking for any remaining brain cells,' as one wag put it.  Ha, ha.

    Having completed their gory deed, the medics swathed him in what seemed to him a disproportionately sized bandage.  FB suspects they did this for comic purposes.  However he has got the better of them by disporting himself  in a rather smart beanie, thus hiding the bandage and displaying his unswerving loyalty to the Scottish rugby team.  Wearing his hat throughout the business day has stimulated a mixture of amusement curiosity and fashion criticism from his colleagues.

    Thus festooned he sat watching the annual Festival of Remembrance last weekend.  It is always a humbling experience to be reminded of so many sacrifices - sacrifices that still continue. FB finds the hymns and the military band music stirring, significantly more so than the contributions of such as Rod Stewart and Pixie Lott.

    He is never sure exactly what it is that the producers of these shows think such artists bring to this event.  However his general scepticism of such contributions was challenged when the smooth baritone of Gregory Porter gave a splendid rendition of Amazing Grace.  FB had never heard of Mr Porter, far less seen him, but he became an instant fan.  For this was a  performance of the highest class.

    Gregory Porter with hat giving it laldie at the Albert Hall
    Or was FB just drawn to Mr Porter because he habitually sports a distinctive headgear - a bulbous cap kind of thing which looks like it has a hood under it.  Perhaps no quite so stylish as FB's millinery, but distinctive nonetheless. Apparently Porter started wearing this peculiar rig a number of years ago and explains, "I've had some surgery on my skin, so this has been my look for a little while and will continue to be for a while longer. People recognize me by it now. It is what it is."

    It is what it is.  As FB says when his headgear is pointed at.

    Perhaps if Rod Stewart has worn similarly interesting headgear, FB would have felt affinity and would be showering his praise on him.  On the other hand, pigs might fly.

    Thursday, 5 November 2015

    Nigella

    Many cricketers have observed on the remarkable similarity between Fantasy Bob and Nigella Lawson who returned to our TV screens this week.
    Hard to tell her and FB apart.....

    'It's uncanny..........,'  they say to each other.
    '.........they might have been separated at birth................'
    '...........yes, neither of them has a clue against leg spin bowling..........'
    '.......only Nigella Lawson is slightly better.'

    At that point the comparison rather breaks down and the conversation proceeds in other directions - either extolling Ms Lawson's dress sense in the kitchen or lamenting over the pointlessness of yet another bowling spell by FB up hill against the wind.

    Nevertheless, FB has frequently, and with some success, sought inspiration from Ms Lawson's recipes.  Not he hastens to add, on the cricket field, although some commentators have suggested that Ms Lawson's often stated view that cooking is a metaphor for life finds an uncanny parallel in FB's own belief that a spell up the hill against the wind is a metaphor for something similar.

    FB therefore dutifully placed himself in front of the TV screen for the return of his heroine.  He had resigned himself to the probability that there would be little of interest from a cricketing perspective. However he was confident there would be compensations for this oversight.

    But he was unprepared for what came next.  After traipsing round some smart London street philosophising to the camera - without offering the cricketer any insight into how to bat positively on the variable wickets so frequently found in lower league cricket - Ms Lawson repaired to the kitchen to prepare her favourite breakfast.

    It was at this point that  FB began to part company with his heroine.  She put forward a radical alternative to any conception that FB would accept as breakfast.  For FB, breakfast consists during the months of summer time in fruit muesli occasionally with a topping of yoghurt, and during the winter months porridge, shamefully eaten a la sassenach (ie with milk and brown sugar).

    Why either of these is not good enough for La Lawson is a mystery to FB.  Rather than explain herself on this point - which would have been a suitable topic for another monologue as she traipsed around yet another fashionable street - she proceed to prepare an avocado, mixing it with a larder-full of stuff - dill, lime juice, salt, ginger and goodness knows what else - then spreading it on a piece of toasted German bread, topping it with some radish.

    Radish?This is breakfast?

    No wonder she can't play leg spin bowling.

    Tuesday, 27 October 2015

    Another Fine Mess

    Many who have watched Fantasy Bob's efforts on the cricket field will have wondered what his early cricketing influences might have been.

    As FB puffs his way up the hill against the wind, they will confidently exclude the possibility that he has taken anything from the athletic power of Fred Trueman's bowling action; as FB swings his bat in a mighty heave missing the ball by a country mile, they will discount the chance that he has based his technique on the grace and balance of Ted Dexter's cover drive.

    Instead they may note FB's timeless combination of slapstick and frustrated ambition and say to themselves, 'Another fine mess - this man was surely exposed to Laurel and Hardy at a young age.'

    Norman Gifford
    in action for Worcestershire
    And they would be correct. For Laurel and Hardy were a huge part of Fantasy Bob's childhood. FB's Dad was a dedicated fan. At many children's parties a projector would be set up to show some of their shorts. Their output was regularly on regularly on TV. There were even occasional reruns at the cinema.

    However it is many years since FB has seen them at work. So it was a delight to discover that newly restored versions of two classic Laurel and Hardy films were on show in Edinburgh this weekend. FB duly spent a most enjoyable afternoon in the company of the greatest comedy duo ever as they went through their timeless routines in Way Out West and Towed in the Hole. Test Match Quality.

    Laurel and Hardy made 106 films together. The only failing in this golden catalogue of mirth is that none of them contains any cricketing material.

    FB concedes that Hardy may have had an excuse, being a native of Georgia, but there is no similar let off for Laurel. For Stan Laurel was born Ulverston, then in Lancashire, and spent a significant part of his childhood in Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Cricketing country.

    Gary Pratt congratulated by teammates
    after running out Ponting
    Ulverston's most celebrated cricketing son is Norman Gifford, a class left arm spinner who played 15 Tests between 1964 and 1973. He was unlucky to be at the top at the same time as Derek Underwood and missed out a more extended run in the side.

    Bishop Auckland is the home of Gary Pratt whose place in cricket's annals is secure by virtue of his appearance as a sub-fielder during the Trent Bridge Test of the 2005 Ashes in which capacity he ran out Ricky Ponting 'Quick, quick oh he's gone I think........'

    So the potential for Stan Laurel was there. And this seems to have been recognised by the creators of the Laurel and Hardy comic strip that featured in the UK comic book Film Fun which ran throughout the 1930's and 40's.  Cricket's loss was the world's gain.

    Frame from Film Fun

    Sunday, 11 October 2015

    The Annual Dinner

    At the end of the Hundred Acre Wood CC's last match of the season,  Rabbit, the team's self-appointed skipper and opening bat, who was an animal of strong opinions and frequently cross, addressed the team.

    The Annual Dinner of the Hundred Acre Wood CC

    'Now I expect you all to attend the dinner,' he said crossly, waving his arms in his most captainly fashion. 'It is important that you show your support.'

    'I don't wear a support',  from a dark and gloomy corner at the back of the room came a voice which sounded suspiciously like Eeyore's.

    Rabbit crossly ignored the snigger that went round the room and waved his arms a bit more vigorously.

    'There will be prizes for the best batter and best bowler.'

    Pooh, who was the team's wicket keeper listened hard.  He quite liked the word dinner - it generally meant that there would be food available.   And food was always of interest to Pooh.  And Pooh was sure it must be very nice to get a prize. For he had nothing against prizes as far as they went.  He just thought that they didn't go far enough.

    'Is there a prize for best wicket keeper?'  he asked.

    'Of course not.   You're the only wicket keeper, so you would always win it.  What kind of prize would that be?'

    Rabbit looked crossly at him and Pooh felt again that he must be a bear of very little brain.

    'But......,' piped up a small voice. '................but...............,' it was Piglet, who batted number 3 although as a very small animal he didn't really like fast bowling.'..................but.................,' and as a small animal he was not very bold at speaking in public. '............but..............., you always win the best batter prize.'

    'So?' said Rabbit even more crossly.  Piglet swallowed hard.  He was a back foot player and finding himself on the front foot made him feel uncomfortable.  He had no option but to swing through the line of the ball.

    'Well,' he said a little squeakily, 'shouldn't it go to the batter that scores the most runs?  I got 43 not out in one match.'

    Rabbit sighed and waved his arms again.  He was getting crosser by the minute. 'You only got that because Owl was umpire and he doesn't know the LBW law - you were really out 3 times.'

    'But you were out for nought in every innings.'

    'Only because Owl doesn't know the No Ball law.  You see the Committee has to take these things into account.'

    Eeyore looked up gloomily from packing his kit.  He was the team's slow left arm bowler and had never won a prize either.

    'Will the Committee take into account that I would have had a shedload of wickets and a couple of hattricks if the slip fielder hadn't dropped everything that came to him?'

    Rabbit felt the eyes of the team turn towards him as one.  'I couldn't help that the sun was always in my eyes.'

    He had explained many times to his team how all the best skippers stood at slip so they could read the game better.  Rabbit felt it was certainly true that at slip everyone could see you as you waved your arms in a skipperly fashion but reading the game at the same time took lots of concentration which was difficult when a bear of little brain stood beside him and continually asked whether it was nearly time for tea.

    'Who is the Committee?' asked Pooh, who thought it might be able to make sure that there was honey on the dinner menu.

    'I am, of course,' said Rabbit.  'I have to do all the work in this club.'  He added crossly in the manner of skippers everywhere.

    Pooh and Piglet make their way home from the clubhouse.

    Later Pooh and Piglet made their way home from the clubhouse.  After a long and thoughtful silence they began to speak.

    'I expect the dinner will be lots of fun.'

    'It usually is.'

    'As long as you don't expect to win a prize.'

    'And you know Rabbit really does do all the work......'

    '....even if he can't bat....'

    '.....or catch......'

    'He does do all the work.'

    'The team wouldn't work without him.'

    'Yes, he deserves a prize.'

    Saturday, 3 October 2015

    Godot

    Fantasy Bob is pretty sure that he was the only one in the audience enjoying Waiting for Godot at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre this week who took a cricketing interest in the show.

    FB urges all cricketers to see this show - it is Test Match Quality.  For this is the greatest work of the only cricketer with a mention in Wisden to have gained the Nobel prize for literature.

    Samuel Beckett was an opening left hand batsman and left arm medium pace bowler for Dublin University (which played first class fixtures from 1895 to 1926). He played twice against Northamptonshire. His performances were indifferent, with a top score of 18.

    Critics have been reluctant to acknowledge the cricketing insights within this great play. There have been interpretations existential, Freudian, Jungian, Marxian, Martian, mystical, religious, JudeoChristian, atheistic, pantheistic, absurdist and many more. But never cricketing.

    FB is stunned at this oversight. He admits that as a cricketer Godot himself is not clearly drawn. The audience is left in ignorance of his bowling action. He may not be a bowler at all - he may be a batsman. We must wait for him to find out.
    Even the most cursory reading of the text should convince the reader that it is replete with references to cricketing situations. After all, each Act closes with the lines:

    - Well, shall we go?
    - Yes, let's go.


    And the stage direction, they do not move.

    Only a cricketer could have written this - it is an acute depiction of the existential difficulty of deciding whether a quick single is on. Well worth the Nobel Prize in itself.

    But there is more, much more, of cricketing significance in all the play's most famous lines.

    Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awful

    The frustration of the fielding side unable to break a long and slow opening partnership

    - There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.

    The bowler called for his umpteenth no-ball who makes a pantomime of tying and retying his laces.

    - Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better.

    The anxieties of players knowing that the selection committee may be looking carefully at their run of low scores. Will their big car and large boot be enough to gain them selection for the coming away fixture?

    - We always find something to give us the impression we exist?
    - Yes, yes, we're magicians.


    The bowler who miraculously has landed his doosra on the spot for the first, and possibly only, time.

    - What do they say?
    - They talk about their lives.
    - To have lived is not enough for them.

    - They have to talk about it.

    The chat in the bar after the match may not live up to expectations - particularly when the man who has just scored his first half century after many years of trying tells yet again of how his top edge through the slips was in fact carefully steered by his deft opening of he face of the bat.

    - Well? What do we do?
    - Let's do nothing it's safer.
    - Let's wait and see what he says.
    - Who?
    - Godot.
    - Good idea.
    - Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.


    The players wait anxiously for the skipper to return from the toss. (We may not be able to identify Godot as a batter or bowler but we can infer that he is the skipper).

    - That passed the time.
    - It would have passed in any case.
    - Yes, but not so rapidly.


    The lower league cricketer's appreciation of his Saturday afternoon's efforts.

    - Let's go.
    - We can't.
    - Why not?
    - We're waiting for Godot.


    The skipper is late for the meet for the away match again.

    FB rests his case.

    There's a famous story of Beckett watching a match at Lord's on a gorgeous summer afternoon, with a great batsman completing a classic century. A friend turned to him and said, "It's things like this that make one glad to be alive, eh Sam?" Beckett pondered this for some time, then replied, "I'm not sure I'd go that far..."

    Beckett (second from left) with his school cricket team in 1920. 


    Monday, 21 September 2015

    La Boheme

    Mrs FB tried to avoid the subject for most of the year.  As the cricket season approached its end, many friends have asked innocently, 'Isn't it your birthday soon?' only to be met with a stare that would do credit to Medusa. Friends have got the message and discreetly changed the subject.

    FB is aware of the full facts. Mrs FB's sensitivity on this matter should be understood.  It was a special birthday.  She was 39 again.  And why not?  It seems to have suited her well for a number of years.

    But such a special birthday presented challenges to FB's limited imagination. Would another handbag be in order?  FB was sure it might be welcome, but then self interest entered the equation. Mrs FB's world famous handbag collection is rapidly restricting storage space in their modest apartments. Any additions would restrict the space available for the winter storage of FB's cricket kit.

    His inamorata may have jibed as FB returned from the final match of the season foot-back-knee-shoulder-sore, 'Surely you won't be needing all that rubbish again.'  But FB knew that for heritage purposes if nothing else, it had to command priority in the remaining storage space.  There was no room for additional handbags.  An alternative had therefore to be found.

    Many long nights were spent in research and planning.  The pieces fell into place. Proudly he told his loved one, 'I've got you something special for your birthday - a mystery trip.'  He was unprepared for the look of panic on Mrs FB's face.  'If you think I'm going to see the final matches of the English cricket season, think again.'

    Such an enticing project had never crossed FB's mind.  Instead, some weeks later, as Yorkshire put the coup de grace to their splendid season,  the happy couple were on their way to the airport.  Mrs FB was still in the dark, 'You're promising me that there's no cricket involved in this?' she said for the twentieth time that morning as they got in the taxi.

    Finally FB came clean and revealed the tickets for a performance of La Boheme at Teatro Alla Scala, Milan. Mrs FB is not one to squeal with delight, but FB is sure she squealed inwardly with delight for, if Mrs FB has a favourite opera it is La Boheme.  FB has a sentimental fondness for it too, despite its lack of cricketing content.

    Interior of La Scala Milan
    The next night they took their seats in the stalls of the famous opera house and Rudolpho and Mimi began their doomed romance.  'Che gelida manina,' he sings (You're tiny hand is an ice cream.....). She replies, 'Mi chiamano Mimì, il perché non so. Sola, mi fo il pranzo da me stessa.'  (They call me Mimi, I don't know why, I make lunch for myself.)  They sing about looking forward to the coming of spring, not mentioning that the cricket season must be on its way.

    Mrs FB had barely time to dry her eyes, when her excitement was taken to a new level in Act 2.  First a cute donkey made its way across the stage.  It was shortly followed by a full size white horse.  Both were only in non singing parts, but were still large as life. An opera with a horse in it.  FB felt the warm glow of Mrs FB's approval.  He felt securely in her good books.  Surely she won't complain so stentoriously when she trips over his cricket kit.


    But perhaps the adventure has set Mrs FB planning?  Might she now be looking for a similar tribute to FB?  Is she combing the programmes of the world's leading opera houses to find a production of the Ring Cycle with the Valkyries represented as leg spin bowlers.

    Monday, 14 September 2015

    Five Years Young


    This blog is 5 years young today.

    This is the 1012th post.

    This is significantly above the combined total of runs and wickets that Fantasy Bob has scored over the same period.  It is by some margin below the number of empire biscuits that he has consumed in that time. It is hugely below the number of references to Gustav Mahler included in FB's match reports for the 4th XI of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton. Gustav Mahler has made no appearances for that team in this - or any other period.

    Fantasy Bob apologises to any of the faithful worldwide readers who  may unwisely or inadvertently have read all 1011 up till now deserve something for their pains.  They could justifiably have hoped for a new joke at some point on that journey.

    In the life of this blog England have won the Ashes 3 times, Australia once.   By some strange coincidence this is the same outcome as during FB's own first 5 years on the planet (not that he was paying much attention to Ashes series during those years).  It was repeated between 1977 and 1982.

    Many great cricketers have passed on in those years - not least Brian Close who sadly died today. Close was an early cricketing hero of FB. It should come as no surprise to his handful of readers that FB modelled his career on Close. Obviously, he was rather hamstrung by the lack of all round cricketing ability.  Nor could he ruthlessly apply tough as nails tactical awareness to deliver results. But he could match his hero in the area of hair loss.

    Brian Close CBE

    A fifth anniversary is generally held by those who know or care about these things to be the wooden anniversary. A cricket bat is therefore an appropriate anniversary present.

    Tuesday, 8 September 2015

    Obstruction


    Fantasy Bob has been absorbing the implications of  Ben Stokes'  dismissal for obstructing the field in last Saturday's ODI.

    It been suggested many times has  that Fantasy Bob has obstructed the field.  The umpires have always declined such appeals - not least because FB has been a member of the fielding side at the time.

    FB's colleagues did not consider this a relevant consideration and lamented these decisions vigorously.  They seemed unconvinced by the qualities of calmness and stability that FB claimed to bring to the fielding side.  'But he was clearly in the way,' appealed the fleet-footed junior whose energetic pursuit of the ball to the boundary had been subject to a significant diversion to circumambulate the remarkably stationary FB.  'Clearly in the way,' beseeched a different enthusiastic junior on another occasion as the even more remarkably stationary FB failed to duck in time as the youngster's howitzer-return rocketed in from the boundary homing in unerringly on middle stump.  Invocations of the spirit of cricket availed them naught.  The umpires were unmoved.  As was FB, who FB remained on the field of play - stationary.

    FB has seen collisions between batsmen and fielders occur from time to time which disregard for the spirit of cricket might deem obstructive.  He has seen batsmen diving for the crease, usually following inappropriate calls for a quick single skittling stumps, wicket keeper and slips as they career along the ground wholly out of control.  Not so much obstructing the field as ploughing it. 

    He has seen senior bowlers, at the end of what passes for their follow through, innocently resting after the overwhelming effort of getting their delivery towards the batter's end, trampled underfoot by that same onrushing batsmen. 

    These slapstick incidents are enjoyed by all who do not see it appropriate to spoil the collective mirth by appealing for obstruction.

    Pundits have expressed concern that the incident will mean that bowlers will forever be throwing the ball at the batsman and appealing for obstruction.  The risk of this in lower league cricket is low.  For  FB has seen many attempt Mitchell Starc's feat of picking the ball up in their follow through and attempting to throw the wicket down.   The result has invariably been 4 byes, or a slipped disc or both.  There has been no need for the batsman to take evasive action* or stretch his arm out to deflect the ball* (*readers should delete according to their nationality).

    Lower league bowlers therefore generally resist this temptation.  Regrettably this common sense does not always extend to their lower league wicket keeping colleagues many of whom, even though they stand so far behind the wicket that would make the casual observer suspect that Shoaib Ahktar must be the bowler, attempt a stumping on every ball.  The ball finds itself in their gloves, whether by accident or design, and they immediately fling it at the direction of the stumps regardless of the batsman's actions.  The stumps have to be reset several times an over.   It would try the patience of an Eion Morgan.  Not to mention causing the square leg umpire extreme exhaustion as he is required to trot back and forth.

    There is therefore much to reflect on in the Stokes' incident.  One aspect of it struck FB more than any other.  Watching the incident in real time, FB would have said that Stokes was not out.  But watching it in slow motion, he thinks that it is clearly out.  He explained matters to Mrs FB at length over the breakfast  table next morning.

    'Just as well we don't have slow motion,' he remarked at the end of his extended exegesis.

    'What do you mean?' she replied showing a surprising level of wakefulness. 'Your only motion is slow.'


    Friday, 14 August 2015

    Proper Cricket

    Little did Fantasy Bob realise last Saturday when he won the toss and inserted the opposition that he and his team mates were about to witness some proper cricket.

    The scorecard will only reveal that the opener (names are suppressed to protect family and loved ones) was out caught for 0. Bad luck, readers may think. They may think again when they learn that the dismissal was in the 21st over.

    For all present, it was a cleansing experience - the perfect antidote to modern cricket’s soul destroying ILP induced obsession with instant gratification and 3 figure strike rates. For there was nothing instant and certainly no gratification .  So proper was this proper cricket that there was not even a strike rate.

    Stonewalling is a dying skill. When FB first played league cricket, victory was only possible for the side bowling second if they took all 10 wickets. Otherwise the match was a draw. And the batsman who could bat for the draw by putting up the shutters was as valued member of the team as the fast bowler and the dashing middle order batsman, only subject to more dressing room ribbing than them. Players would  also know the stonewaller in the opposition and when he strode to the wicket, the fielders in the deep would get out their deck chairs since they knew any prospect of them being called to action that afternoon had disappeared.

    Gone are those days – the side bowling second can win even without taking a wicket.  This is not proper cricket.  And the language is impoverished - the terms winning draw and losing draw, redolent with meaning though they may be, have fallen out of use. We are all the poorer.

    Allot acknowledges the applause
    on breaking the record for the longest duck
    Low scoring has a time honoured place in the top level game too.  In 1999, New Zealand bowler, Geoff Allott playing S Africa at Auckland, faced 77 balls in 101 minutes before being dismissed for a duck. This is the longest completed innings without scoring in Test cricket. It stood as the longest time at the crease for no runs until March 2013, when Stuart Broad batted for 103 minutes against New Zealand before scoring a run. Broad then accelerated, in his next 35 minutes at the crease he scored 6 – and, like Allott, was dismissed having faced 77 balls.

    Both innings were key to securing draws for their sides. Sadly, Test cricket is not sophisticated enough to differentiate between winning and losing draws. All draws are the same.

    Junior cricketers in FB's side who have gorged on unnatural run rates therefore failed to understand the nostalgia that ran through FB and his more senior colleagues at witnessing this innings.   What were they on about in these repeated references to proper cricket?  FB and his wrinkled mates may not have called Allot's and Broad's efforts to mind, but there was only one name on their lips when they discussed slow scoring after the match. A proper cricketer in all senses of the word.

    Chris Tavare
    The legendary Chris Tavare played 31 Tests for England through the 1980s. His career strike rate was 30.60 ie it took him more than 3 balls to score every run he made.

    His feat of two separate scoreless hours in the same innings is unique - against Pakistan at Lord's in 1982 he scored 82 in 406 minutes facing 277 balls.  Even that was brisk compared to the 6 and a half hours it took him to compile 35 in Madras off 240 balls earlier that year.  Later the same year, he managed a scoreless hour in each innings at Perth; in the first innings he scored 89 in 466 minutes from 337 balls, positively racing along compared to the 9 he scored in his 2 hour second innings in which he faced 82 balls.

    Yes Tavare was a legend. But he was far from being the slowest scorer ever in fact he is quite far down the list. Mike Brearley was even slower. But heading this list is New Zealand’s Trevor Franklin, who career strike rate was 26.44.  Only once in his 37 Test innings did he score more than a run every 2 balls (50+ SR). But he is on the Lords honours board – his only Test hundred took him him 310 balls and over seven hours, 45 minutes of which was spent on 98. This pause was just showmanship, building up the tension, for when he finally got to three figures the crowd went wild – and then settled to sleep again.

    Proper cricket - where has it gone?

    Saturday, 8 August 2015

    Horses for courses

    On reflection, Fantasy Bob does acknowledge it was a bit of a half tracker.  And Mrs FB is not one to miss out on those.



    FB has long accepted that he takes second place in Mrs FB's affections. Despite the fact that her equine companion has done little to contribute to her jewelry collection, it retains its supreme position.

    So he might have thought a bit harder when he turned the page of his newspaper and found a report of recent research into horsey type behaviour.  But before he could stop himself his unengaged brain had done the damage.

    'Horses have a rich repertoire of facial expressions compared to other animals,' he read out to his life partner.

    She was on the front foot immediately.

    'Of course they do,' she drove through the covers on the up.  'And compared to you in particular.'  The ball slammed into the boundary boards.

    For Mrs FB has observed before that FB's unmoving facial expression can make social interaction difficult. 'Nobody knows what you're thinking.'

    FB defended himself by saying that he was rarely thinking anything, but this did not convince. He had to venture into further explanation.  'Facial expressions give away to the bowler what you're feeling,' he said.

    'Pah,' came the whirlwind pull to midwicket, 'every bowler knows that you feel sheer blind terror at every ball.'

    'Not so,' said FB, 'only at 11 year old leg spinners. Otherwise it's just mild panic.'

    FB did not feel that he had defended himself successfully.  He noted that the article reported that close scrutiny of changes in facial anatomy and muscles pinpointed no less than 17 individual movements in horses, compared to the 13 expressions used by chimps. Humans, other than FB, are capable of 27 such movements.

    Apparently horses have a higher rating than their genetic place in the evolutionary tree would suggest, which is taken as evidence of the impacts from social and ecological factors.  FB suspects that were the researchers to investigate Mrs FB's horse they might identify an even higher rating given the extensive social interaction with Mrs FB.

    FB has done his fair share of riding and enjoyed it greatly.  But he never found social engagement with his horse particularly satisfying.  Perhaps he was unlucky with the horses he was given, their facial repertoire was limited, they were buttoned up, uncommunicative.  But more significantly he found the horses unable to offer much by way of an opinion on such important matters as how to play leg spin bowling or the iniquities of the ICC's craven approach to associate and affiliate nations.   He rather gave up on attempts at conversation.

    Nevertheless, he should acknowledge horses have played an important role in cricket. For it was horses who first pulled the heavy roller, hooves clad in delicate velveteen booties, requiring of early doughty groundsmen skills in animal husbandry which have long since vanished.

    Evolutionary traces still remain, however.  Research shows that under such stimuli as junior members running over the square, the repertoire of facial expression employed by the contemporary doughty groundsman exceeds that of normal humans.

    Doughty Groundsman, horses and sheep.  Riley Oval, Perth Aus


    Saturday, 1 August 2015

    Grumpy

    Mrs FB has noticed that Fantasy Bob has not been in a good mood recently.

    'What's up, mon cherie,' she said as she looked up from carefully dusting her collection of premium handbags.

    'After all, it's not as if you forked out a hundred smackers for the Saturday of the Edgbaston Test is it?'

    FB's rueful silence only provoked her further.

    'What's wrong?  You're not still in the dumps because of your last visit to the crease you batted like a muppet for nought and guided a gentle outswinger straight to first slip........?'

    FB turned to face the wall.  The memory might still be raw but he had lived through such ineptitude before - many times.

    '............................or is it Stuart Broad and those red heeled cricket shoes that he wears......................?'

    FB merely sighed.  There had been all too much Stuart Broad in recent weeks.

    '...................or have you been reading again about the ICC's policy of providing more opportunities for associate nations such as Scotland by in fact providing fewer opportunities for them..................?

    FB slowly shook his head.

    The tears were not far off now.  Slowly, holding back a sob, he pointed.

    Mrs FB's gaze followed the trembling finger.  She saw the newspaper and understood the full horror. For there in block headlines was the full story:

    'Scottish Football Season Gets Underway Today.'

    Saturday, 25 July 2015

    Ear, ear

    Fantasy Bob returned from his recent Italian sojourn with an ear infection.  Not only was this uncomfortable but it reduced his hearing significantly.

    He strained to hear the sweet nothings that Mrs FB is wont to whisper into his ears.  No more came her seductive call, 'Must you always leave your cricket bag exactly where I am going to trip over it?'

    He felt isolated and alone, a latter day Beethoven, only without the symphonies.

    He struggled on, and for the most part managed to cope with vigorous nodding and inane grinning. Many of his friends and colleagues did not notice the difference.

    But it was on the cricket field that he faced a significant ethical dilemma - was it appropriate that he should take his usual turn umpiring in recent matches of his Carlton All Star 4th XI?   For the umpire's sense of hearing is important.

    Umpiring nirvana - players just get in the way
    and make things difficult 
    Wrapped in anxiety FB spent sleepless nights examining the issues.  He found a solution which reduced the moral hazard.   He might just be able to discern an appeal, but even so he took the precaution of loudly uttering after every ball 'Not Out' - an outcome which increasingly mystified the opposition as they watched the ball speed along the ground to the boundary.   His call 'Wide Ball - Not Out' seemed to maximise their confusion.  The skipper took matters into his own hands.  At the end of the over he approached FB and appeared to ask him something with an animated gesture.  FB's response was sound.  He nodded vigorously and gave an inane grin.  That sorted things.

    Readers will no doubt admire the elegance of FB's solution to his difficulty and suggest that this does not address the more significant hazard.  How could the Beethovenian FB detect any snick behind. FB puts his hand up (not his finger) - there was no way he could.  It is as well that FB's team mates are morally pure as the driven snow and ascribe to sporting values of the highest order. They will always walk when they nick it.  FB therefore felt confident that he was in the ethical clear.

    However his problem got him thinking that cricket umpiring does present the highest demands on the official's senses.  Although rugby or football referees have to run madly from one end of the pitch to the other while retaining enough puff to blow the whistle, the acuity of their sight and vision is not subject to similarly severe examination.  Large rugby players colliding are usually fairly visible and the collision can be heard several streets away.

    Erasmus seems to be a fellow sufferer with FB
    But the cricket umpire has to detect the slightest deviation in flight as the ball passes the bat or the faintest snick.  It is a superhuman challenge.  In the typical lower league cricket environment the umpire's auditory test has also to contend with a cacophonous symphony of background noises - bongo drummers, the sound systems of frolicking barbecuers, screaming children abandoned by their parents, barking dogs abandoned by the screaming children, squealing tyres from emergency stops caused by the barking dogs, shrieking brakes and blaring horns from traffic backed up, the excited chorus of road rage, accelerating motor bikes, decelerating motorbikes.  No wonder Beethoven declined the opportunity to be a cricket umpire.

    But FB is pleased to say that his infection has cleared.  Not only that but he has had his ears irrigated removing lumps of wax the approximate size of a cricket ball.  He now faces another ethical dilemma - is his newly restored super acute hearing fair to his team mates.  Surely there is a risk that he will now hear snicks from matches several miles away and reach a wrong decision.  He is overcome with anxiety - should he stand or not?

    Friday, 17 July 2015

    Waitrose

    Fantasy Bob's  engagement with political action has for the most part been confined to his long running campaign to secure support from the parties for legislation to outlaw leg spin bowling in lower league cricket.  For reasons which are lost to him, no party has seen fit to adopt this policy and reel in the thousands of votes it would attract.

    However a recent experience in Waitrose has agitated FB's political muscle and he is considering overt action.  Now, cricketers may well think that Waitrose is a generally good thing - and the Waitrose in Morningside, close to FB's residence, an  enhancement of the area's general amenity.  For Waitrose is the current sponsor of the English cricket team who take the field with the name of the store emblazoned across their chests.  As he passes through the checkouts FB will feel a shadow of disappointment that his contributions to Waitrose's profits cannot be redirected to the support of Scottish cricket - which is significantly in greater need than the ECB.  He also steels himself to overlook the fact that his purchases may enhance Stuart Broad's salary.  But these are not the causes of his political anxiety.

    Being under pressure of time FB sought out the constituents of the cricket tea he had to provide later in the day during a hasty visit to Waitrose in search of other comestibles.  He got the savoury.  He got some fruit.  something sweet was needed to top it off. It was then that FB was brought up short.  For search as he might in  the bakery aisle, the cake aisle, the biscuit aisle, even the foods from around the world aisle he could find no empire biscuits.

    In this day and age, this is indefensible.  For a store overtly supporting cricket to fail to have available the fundamentally important constituent of the cricket tea is beyond comprehension.  It is barbaric. Something must be done.  Cricketers should take action.

    FB notes that within a half mile radius of Waitrose there are at least 7 outlets which do stock empire biscuits.   He suggests that cricketing customers should let this guide their shopping habits.  This should bring Waitrose to its senses.

    Some of the delicacies available close by



    Thursday, 2 July 2015

    I don't want a pickle

    Bust of Catullus in Sirmione
    Long suffering readers of these pages, being widely read, are familiar with the works of the Roman poet Catullus.  Not that they will find any cricketing references in his surviving work (perhaps he addressed cricketing subjects in verses that have not survived - we shall never know).

    But the most famous quote from his work seems uncannily to have been inspired by Fantasy Bob.

    'Ave atque vale,' the opposition wicket keeper will frequently mutter as FB pointlessly scratches his guard.  Hail and farewell - a simultaneous greeting and departure.  Catullus was evidently aware of the all too transitory nature of FB's visits to the crease.

    FB was put in mind of Catullus during his recent Italian visit when he and Mrs FB spent some delightful days on the peninsula of Sirmione, a location celebrated by the poet.   Despite the overtly sexual content of much of Catullus' work, carefully selected verses were a set text when FB did Higher Latin.  Contrary to the belief of many of his junior team-mates in the Carlton All Star 4th XI, Latin was not still a living language when FB studied it although it may only recently have died.

    Sirmione is a narrow peninsula on the southern end of Lake Garda and at its tip are the ruins of a Roman villa which is claimed to have belonged to Catullus' family, even though there is no match report which provides certain evidence that he was ever there. Whatever is the historical reality, FB and Mrs FB spent a pleasant morning poking around the ruins.  Catullus was the scion of a wealthy Veronese family and the villa, which is no modest 2 up 2 down holiday cottage, but spreads over 5 acres, would seem to suggest a certain level of wealth in its owners.   The atrium alone was the size of a decent cricket square.  Not that Catullus would have made much use of such a facility, his interest in cricket being negligible.

    Just as there is no evidence that Catullus had any interest in cricket, there is no evidence that he had any interest in motorbikes. His poems do not mention them. In this he has so much in common with FB.

    Harley Davidsons in Sirmione
    So if there was one thing that Catullus might not have expected in Sirmione it was a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  For that is what FB and Mrs FB encountered on their way into Sirmione - a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  Their visit coincided with the Sirmione Harley Party, a weekend gathering of Harley owners from all around Europe.  The throbbing roar of their grand parade on Saturday afternoon could be heard all around Lake Garda.  Get your motor running..............

    FB looked hard but he did not spot any cricketers among the bikers.  There might have been a chance that MS Dhoni would be there - for the great Indian skipper has a collection of motor bikes and indeed owns a motorcycle racing team.  But Dhoni did not show.  Nor did Glen McGrath - reported as touring New Zealand on a Harley earlier this year.  FB struggled to convey his disappointment at these no shows to Mrs FB who appeared wholly unconcerned.

    MS Dhoni on bike
    He found consolation for suddenly he found himself singing to himself his long forgotten but favourite motor cycling song.

    I don't want a pickle, Just want to ride my motorsickle, 
    And I don't want a tickle, I'd far rather ride on my motorsickle, 
    And I don't want to die, Just want to ride my motorcy...........cle.

    Mrs FB's eyebrow rose.  She suggested that the sound of the Harleys was considerably more musical than FB's ululation.



    But FB was undeterred.  This great lyric is so good it could have been written by Catullus - but it wasn't.   It is by Arlo Guthrie and FB fondly remembers hearing it many times in the late 1960s on the late night progressive music programme on AFN.  He should have been reading Wisden of course but at that time progressive rock had more attractions and seemed likely to change the world.

    Hear the song on this link - with its splendid comic narrative about how the song was written and the exhortation to his audience to sing it with enthusiasm.  Mrs FB could not hold FB back.

    Sadly, Arlo Guthrie never wrote any song about cricket.  This much he had in common with Catullus.