Friday, 30 December 2016

Memento Mori

The pundits of the press are convinced that 2016 has been the Grim Reaper’s most successful year ever as celebrity after celebrity has been taken from our midst. 

The cricketer must look soberly at these claims – 2016 may have been cruel but the Grim Reaper’s stats were better in 2015 as far as removing test cricketers from the crease of life.  He bagged 15 in that year.  It would after all be hard to top the year which seized Richie Benaud, Tom Graveney and Clive Rice. But in 2016 the Reaper had a good go – and strangely enough he dismissed exactly 11 cricketers who played at Test Level.  It is time to celebrate them.

top l-r - Carr, Maddocks, Warr, Nanan; middle Hanif, Gleeson, Crowe; bottom Ganteaume, Goddard, Higgs, Walker

 Not a bad side with a couple of true greats:

Trevor Goddard dismissed 25 November 2016 – S African skipper in the 1960s and one of the greatest all rounders ever – 41 Tests – 2516 runs at 34.46 and 123 wickets at 26.22. Goddard became an evangelist preacher after his retirement.

John Gleeson dismissed 8 October 2016 – Australian mystery spinner of the late1960s bowled leggies with an off spin grip 29 Tests 93 wickets at 36.20

Max Walker dismissed 28 September 2016 – Australian swing bowler of the 1970s - his unconventional bowling action – “right-arm over left earhole, legs crossed at the point of delivery” – earned him the nickname “Tangles” or “Tanglefoot” 34 Tests 138 wickets at 27.47.  

Len Maddocks dismissed 27 August 2016 - Australian wicket keeper who will always be remembered as the man Jim Laker trapped leg-before to complete his famous ten-for at Old Trafford in 1956, 7 Tests 19 dismissals.

Ken Higgs dismissed 7 September 2016 – fondly remembered for one of the biggest bottoms in cricket - so great a bowler for England that he has previously featured in Fantasy Bob’s blog  – 15 Tests – 71 wickets at 20.74

Hanif Mohammad dismissed 11 August 2016 – the original little master - played the longest innings in Test history - 970-minute 337 against West Indies in Bridgetown in 1957-58 - then followed it a year later with the highest first-class innings to that point, 499 – 55 Tests 3915 runs at 43.98

Donald Carr dismissed 12 June 2016 – more noted as Secretary of the MCC during the D’Oliviera controversy – a school boy wunderkind who played only 2 Tests, skippering on one occasion, but skippered Derbyshire with distinction.

J J Warr dismissed 9 May 2016 – played only 2 Tests in the 1950-51 tour of Australia and sadly retains the worst of any England Test player at 1-281.  He went on to skipper Middlesex and be President of the MCC.

Rangy Nanan dismissed 23 March 2016 - an off spinner from Trinidad at a time when W Indies were committed to a pace only attack he played only one Test taking 4 wickets.

Martin Crowe dismissed 3 March 2016 – a true great – elegance itself at the crease - and the only one of this select that FB has seen play – 77 Tests for New Zealand 5444 runs at 45.36

Andy Ganteaume dismissed 17 February 2016 – the man with the Test batting average of 112.  He had one Test innings – but couldn’t force his way into the W Indies batting line up of the time dominated the 3 Ws.  Timing is everything they say – he may have had it in the middle but not elsewhere.


Cricketers of FB’s vintage will also remember with affection Jack Bannister, dismissed 23 January 2016, who never played Test cricket but who, after a long and impressive career with Warwickshire (1198 wickets at 21.91), became a fixture of BBC’s cricket commentary team.

Jack Bannister


Sunday, 18 December 2016

Ghost of Christmas Past

There are those in the go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton who refuse to believe that Fantasy Bob was every young.

But here is a picture which confounds their scepticism.  It is of young FB - he is the one at the front, by the way - at an important meeting in his early childhood.

Readers might wonder why there is not a look of enchanted and excited wonder on the young FB's features.

For he had entered Santa's Grotto in one of Aberdeen's more prestigious stores with an appropriate level of excitement and had sat on Santa's knee with that excitement still high.

'Have you been a good boy all year,'  Santa asked.

'Yes Santa.'  FB answered with his usual complete honesty.

'And do you know what you want from Santa?'

'Yes.  A Gray Nicolls Scoop.'

'Dinna be daft, loon - it hisnae been invinted yet fitiver it is.'  Santa's accent slipped nearer the Aberdonian belying his claim to be from the frozen north. 'Ony thing else?'

'A guide to how to play leg spin bowling.....' said FB on the verge of tears.

'Nae chance - it'd be wasted on you onywye.  Hae a couple o' tin sodjers playing bagpipes...an' mak sure an' smile for the phottie.'

Is the look on FB' face of a dream broken - an illusion shattered?  Even at that young age the threat of leg spin bowling hung heavy over him.

His scepticism about the claims made on Santa's behalf may have begun on that day.  These deepened shortly afterwards when an older child told him  'Santa - he's really your Dad.'  FB looked wide eyed at this world shattering revelation.  He failed to comprehend it.  He should be proud of course but how could his Dad get round all the children in the world?  He only had an Austin 7.


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Farewell Preston Mommsen

Fantasy Bob joins the rest of the cricketing world in wishing the now former Scotland skipper Preston Mommsen every success in his new career following his retirement from international cricket.

Preston has led the Scottish cause with distinction and success for the last couple of years. His recognition as Associate Cricketer of the Year 2014 was a towering achievement. His tussle earlier this year with powers that be in the ICC and their shameful ignoring of associate cricket made him the stuff of legend. (FB modestly suggests his own account of this incident on this link remains definitive.)

Only he can know the level of challenge that this role presented. FB is fairly sure that whatever stresses and difficulties there were in leading Scotland in the CWC and the World T20 Cup, they pale into insignificance compared to the challenge he faced previously when a member of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton. For it was there that he unwittingly assumed the task of improving FB’s non-existent batting prowess. As the unfortunate few who have misguidedly followed these witterings over the years will know, this is a challenge that over the years has defeated the cream of Carlton’s coaching elite.

Undaunted Preston accepted the challenge. At the next club night, he lobbed a few gentle throw downs and keenly watched his new charge’s less than balletic attempts to put bat on ball. 

His histrionics over, FB looked up expectantly, waiting for the magic hint, the secret to correct that small flaw in his technique that would unlock a succession of quick fire half centuries. 

He tried to jolly his stern faced new coach along, ‘That felt pretty good.... I hit at least one of those.... just about.’ Preston nodded in that inscrutable master batsman way. FB engaged again, ‘Well, maybe my stance is a bit too open.’ 

The coach nodded again. He carefully chose his words, ‘Well.... Bob.... what I suggest..... is that you try..... to open your eyes a bit.’  FB was perplexed. ‘What both of them?' he croaked incredulously. ' At the same time?’  

While FB never looked back (even with more than one eye open), and now watches the ball all the way down the wicket until he misses it, the grit that entered Preston's soul during these challenging served him well as he continued to grace the international stage and call out the closed eyes in the game's governing body.

Well done Preston.


Saturday, 29 October 2016

Toxic

Fantasy Bob has noticed a blizzard of publicity around the newly published book by Mitchell Johnson in which he describes as toxic the dressing room atmosphere in the Australian team under the captaincy of Michael Clarke.
Clarke and Johnson in happier times

As FB well knows, as publishers vie for the Christmas trade, a skipper is always at the mercy of this type of sensationalist revelation as this extract from a forthcoming volume of memoirs shows:

Yeah I remember the first time when I'm a junior cricketer and I have to play under Fantasy Bob's so called captaincy like it was yesterday.  Course, I should have guessed what was coming when my Dad leaves my kit at the gate.......yeah, like I had to carry it to the dressing room myself - and I'm like I'm shocked - I mean if your Dad can't carry your kit into the dressing room what are Dads for anyway.....but he's like I'm off laters buddy ........so I drag my bag to the dressing room and the atmosphere was...well I'd never experienced anything like it...the linament that Fantasy Bob is slapping on .....made my throat catch .....made my eyes water...Dad is well right to scarper it was like toxic...like the Government should do something about it or something.....so I sit beside the other juniors... we're all holding our breath...the kid on the end is turning purple already....then I'm looking around cos my Dad's said I could learn from listening to the older players ....like he knows anything.... cos all there is is a lot of chat from FB about Gustav Mahler... so I text the junior next to me to ask him who this Mahler man is...is he like the opposition opening bowler or something... but my pal texted back to say he's just some old guy from some sixties band....like the Beatles or something...then FB is up and says time for the toss and we can all breathe again and this other senior player says better get ready to field then...me: I thought we would bat - him: you don't know FB, last time we batted first he had had hair on his head....so we go out to field and FB like says to me you just stay close by me ...OK I says you want to chat about bowling changes to me ...no he says I want you to run after the ball when I miss it...so like finally he asks me to bowl and I say like I'll have 3 slips and a gully... and he's like OK everyone on the fence ...and I get 3 wickets from catches in the deep... and then I'm like batting and FB is at the other end and he says you run when I call and I'm like thinking doh he can't run at all what's he on about... but he calls me for three runs at least once an over and I'm like well shattered but I score the winning run....

Yeah.  Like it was well toxic.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

Volvo


Alien territory for FB
It is a few weeks now that silence has reigned in Fantasy Bob’s household. No more the regular sound of a thump of a body falling closely followed by an agonised shriek of ‘For goodness sake! Did you really have to leave that wretched kit bag just where I am bound to trip over it!’

Mrs FB has been able to set her foot where she will with minimal risk; for her consort’s cricket kit has been neatly stowed for the winter and no longer spreads itself menacingly across her path. Not that FB has got any thanks for his heroic efforts.

Indeed, the dust had hardly settled on the season and he had barely recovered from his efforts at kit stowage when she observed, ‘The car has almost 150,000 miles on the clock.’ As a statement of fact, FB had to acknowledge that this was incontrovertible. But his observation that this compared more than favourably even to the number of first class runs score by Sachin Tendulkar merited a more engaged response from his life partner. It was as if he had said nothing, for she went on, ‘We need to think about a new one.’

A linguistic philosopher of more skill than FB might have observed that the use of the word think in this sentence was inappropriate since the force of the remark clearly indicated that the speaker was determined on the action described. That linguistic philosopher would also have needed considerable courage to pit himself against the illocutionary force of the utterance. For it was immediately revealed that Mrs FB had worked hard since the season end to establish that there was an ideal vehicle available in a near by show room. 'And we're test driving it this afternoon,' she concluded.

So it was that FB found himself in the alien environment of a car show room feigning understanding as Mrs FB engaged the salesman in a detailed discussion of the relative merits of automatic transmission with manual override, now fitted as standard, and the all wheel drive option, also now fitted as standard.As the salesman reached the climax of his presentation describing the rain sensor, now fitted as standard, FB met his eye. For there was one vital issue that had not been addressed. 'Very interesting - but do you know how many junior cricketers and kit this motor can carry?' If the salesman heard the deep sign from Mrs FB he was not distracted. Instead he swiftly consulted his notes, 'There are 575 litres of luggage space but fold down the rear seats and you have 1,600 litres.'

How many junior cricketers can be fitted in this space?
This would have been extremely helpful had FB known how may litres a junior cricketer consists in. But he did not. And there was no junior cricketer readily available at that moment to be subjected to measurement. Direct investigation was necessary. Making use of the power opening system on the key fob, now fitted as standard, FB raised the tail gate. He was still uncertain - what did 575 litres of kit bag look like? There was only one thing for it. He climbed in and measured his length. The sotto voce 'Oh for goodness sake.' from Mrs FB was below his aural threshold. He scrambled out and powered the tail gate closed again.

'575 litres?' he said, as he collapsed in exhaustion from his efforts. 'Well, I think it should be enough.'

A financial arrangement having been transacted, FB and Mrs FB returned home. As they moved off, Mrs FB remarked, 'I suppose this means that you think you have another season in you?'

That linguistic philosopher might again have queried whether the use of the word think in this context was wholly appropriate. Hope might have been more relevant. But there was no linguistic philosopher available. And hope, in any case, springs eternal.  It is now fitted as standard.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Another ICC Discussion

Another day, another ICC discussion..............

This week the CEOs of the ten Test playing nations met in a special workshop in Dubai. Important issues about the future structure of the game, including a two tier test structure, were on the agenda.  A subsequent statement advised the media that this option was no longer on the table but said that ‘there is an appetite from the ten full members for more context around all three formats of the game’.

Many struggled to understand what was meant by that statement.  Veteran cricketers muttered that they hadn’t seen so much flannel since proper cricket trousers were abandoned for polyester pyjama pants.

Fantasy Bob is here to assist.  Long suffering readers will know, from links such as this, that FB has unparalleled access to the deliberations of the organisation which guides world cricket so carefully.  He is therefore able to bring to bemused fans the following transcript of this week's proceedings.

So this two tier test structure thingy – who’s in favour?

Right, that’s six of you.  Who’s against?

..Two…three…OK four of you. A clear majority.

Yes, a clear majority.  We reject two tier tests.

( A chant is heard in the background 'Reject, Reject')

But there were six for and four against.

So?

That’s a majority in favour.

No it isn’t, India were one of the four.

Ah yes of course, then that’s a proper majority.  So no to two tiers.

(The chant is heard again 'Reject, Reject')

But the associate nations want Test cricket.

Well, they can come and watch us play any time.

No they want to play Test cricket.

What’s the matter with them?  Lots of us don’t.

(The chant is heard again 'Reject, Reject)

We need ……….

....a plan.....

 I know - why don’t we let the Associates play Test cricket………..

….with themselves…………

 ……….as much as they want……….

 ………..while we have all the ODIs and T20s………..

 ………………..and all the money….

 Now you put it in that context, 

It's brilliant!

(A new chant is heard 'More context, More context')

I’ve definitely an appetite.

Us too.

(The chant resumes 'Lunch Lunch')

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Drummo

There was a touch of sadness in the elation at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton's triumph in the Scottish National Championship yesterday.  For it marked the last appearance for the club by Gordon Drummond, one time club skipper, one time Scottish skipper, quality all round cricketer and quality all round good guy.

Those who have had the misfortune to follow Fantasy Bob's Witterings over a number of years will know his admiration and respect for Drummo.  FB will leave to others the statistical analyses of Drummo's on field contributions for Carlton and Scotland, the eulogies of his commitment to developing young cricketers at Carlton and elsewhere.  But he will share the following vignette which gives a measure of the man.

It had been a rainy Thursday afternoon.  FB had looked out of his office window at regular intervals as the sky first darkened, then lightened then darkened again.  Would cricket practice be on, he wondered?  The normally reliable airwaves were silent.  Did this mean that nets were on - or that it was so bleeding obvious that it was too wet?  FB swithered.  At 6.00 he set off more in hope than expectation.  Arriving at the bedraggled ground, he found a forlorn 13 year old and one other member of his own 4th XI going the other way - 'No point ,' they said. 'No one's here.'   FB thought he would wait on a bit just in case.  In case of what he didn't know.   Just in case.

Then Drummo, Scotland skipper at the time, purposefully entered the gate.  Did he notice that FB was the only one there?

'Come on then, Bob,' he said.  'Get those pads on.  Too slippy to bowl but I'll give you a few throw downs.'

A few throw downs proved a Drummoesque understatement.  An hour later, Drummo had gently pushed and prodded at what passed for FB's technique.  His uncontrolled forward lunge had been grooved into a fair imitation of a cricket shot. FB has never looked back.

FB was not a fledgling international, not a junior with potential - just another club cricketer needing a bit of help.  And Drummo was more than willing to give it, with every bit as much care and attention as he would in preparing for his next international.

And that is why there will always be a place in Carlton's 4th XI for Drummo should he ever feel the urge to don the whites again.

Well played Gordon - you'll be greatly missed - don't be a stranger.

Drummo at the heart of things in Carlton's triumph


Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Cosi Fan Tutte

In his long and thoroughly undistinguished cricketing career, Fantasy Bob has served under a wide range of captains.  For the most part these have been amiable and admirable souls - some even verged on the competent.  Every so often however he has come across a skipper who sees the lower leagues as an opportunity to demonstrate to the world his own radical thinking - as if the world (or indeed the players under him) were taking any interest.


FB thinks of those skippers  who have tried to persuade him that to play leg spin bowling he should avoid closing his eyes;  those who have commanded him to field short leg to a bowler who has an uncertain grasp of length and have queried his taking cover behind the square leg umpire; those who invite admiration of field settings which randomly distribute all available fielders between the arc of cover and mid on and then wonder why so many runs are being scored behind the wicket.  There are even skippers so radical that they invariably bat on winning the toss.  Generally FB has found those last to be untrustworthy.


The challenges have been enormous.  But FB has faced up to them and done his best.  More than often it hasn't been good enough, but that is another story.


His brushes with radical captaincy may have left FB scarred, but he begins to think that he may have got off lightly.  Generally there has been room in the dressing room for the team, their kit and the skipper's ego.  He has never had to put up with a skipper whose conceptual thinking brings him to the view that the cricket match is an opportunity to mount his personal critique of a corrupt and corrupting political regime.  He and his team mates have never been asked to dress in Nazi or similar costume to reinforce the skipper's limp concept.  His skipper has never insisted that FB should conduct his bowling spell in the nude.  He has never been asked to bat in women's clothing, even against leg spin bowling.  Gallons of gore have never followed him being triggered LBW.  He has never had to work with a skipper who insists on acts of simulated rape or other sexual degradation at the fall of every wicket.  He has got off lightly.


A scene from Cosi without simulated rape

FB was minded of his charmed life as he left Edinburgh's Festival Theatre last week after a production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte.  For once he felt relieved to be a mere lower league cricketer and not a high flying opera singer.  For the unfortunate singers in this production were the playthings of a maniacal director who inflicted serial degradation on them as he forced the traditional froth of Mozart's opera into his dyspeptic critique of the racism and sexism underpinning Mussolini's invasion of Abbyssinia in the 1930's.  Indignity followed indignity, obscured the plot, negated the music - and the lighting design was so under powered that an appeal against the light would have convinced any umpire worth his salt to stop play.


Why? The lower league cricketer might well ask.  It is a very good question.  FB gets the point - the story of Cosi Fan Tutte has its dark side - and the manipulative character of Don Alfonso may well be a left arm over the wicket bowler.  Oh, and Mussolini was a bad guy (and not only because he had no interest in cricket).  FB gets all that - but how heavy handed does it all have to be?  One over of leg spin would have been enough - this was constant from both ends.


FB was forced to conclude that this director would have no hesitation on batting on winning the toss.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Lago di Como

Lago di Como
Mrs FB has long accepted that summer holidays are for other people.  Not for her lingering balmy evenings sipping chilled prosecco on an elegant terraza as the sun slowly slides into the Mediterranean.  Not for her dining al fresco at the traditional harbourside restaurant as the waves lap gently below.

Instead she must find her own amusement as her life partner's every waking hour is devoted to cricket.  As if playing and net practice weren't enough, he spends the time in between filling the team sheets of the go-ahead Edinburgh club Carlton with increasingly unlikely combinations of old laggards and thrusting young talent.  Compared to FB's challenge of finding 55 players every week, Lord Kitchener had it easy when he was appointed Minister for War in 1914 with the simple task of assembling a force of 2.5 million.

Mrs FB is resigned - it may sizzle, it may drizzle, she may scan the travel mags with longing.  But her only summer trips are those when she measures her length over the kit bag FB has left lying in an unexpected place.

She therefore looked sceptically at FB when he asked whether she fancied a few days away.  Had the searing heat of an Edinburgh June finally fried what brain cells he has left?

She played it safe. 'No way,' she said. 'I'm not going on a cricket tour with you.'  FB appeased her.  While a cricket tour seemed a good idea he was thinking of something more along the conventional holiday lines.  'What ? With no cricket?' she asked distrustfully, searching her contact book for the number of a reputable care organisation in case the time had come.  With a sigh, FB pulled out his dog-eared fixture card and explained that a Saturday fixture followed the next week by a Sunday fixture gave the opportunity for a break.
Local tourist attraction

He was still in mid-explanation when Mrs FB looked up again from a flurry of keyboard clicks and said, 'That's done - Lake Como.  Pack your sun hat - it'll be over 30 degrees.'

FB had no reason to demur at the choice of venue but, as he wearily slotted player number 52 into his matrix for the weekend, he wondered why she had chosen this venue. Then a clue came as he heard a  murmur from another room.  Mrs FB was practising her Italian.  'Dove è villa di Giorgio?'  ' Signor Clooney sarà in visita in questo ristorante? A che ora?' 'Si. Mio marito sembra niente come George Clooney. Egli è ossessionato con il cricket.  Lui e una tragedia. Grazie per la vostra simpatia.'

From the deeper recesses of his memory FB dredged up the recollection that Mrs FB's heart throb George Clooney owned a villa on Lake Como and was regularly reported visiting local restaurants and beauty spots.  Mrs FB was on a mission.  Quite why Clooney, a man of no known cricketing skills, should so command her heart is a mystery to FB.  But life is full of such mysteries for FB.


Later she said, 'You'll be able to read that book I gave you - Who Wants To Be A Batsman.  Looking at your recent scores suggests you need all the advice you can get.' FB let that cruel shaft pass. 'And what will you do, carissima?'

'Oh, this and that, you know,' she said, coyly but with a gleam of excitement in her eye.

Sadly, her expectations were unfulfilled.  No sighting of George was made during their visit.  Villas and gardens, restaurants and cafes were searched without success.  It would seem that George had gone to ground.  Like a batsman on the end of a cruel LBW decision, Mrs FB remained philosophical.

As did FB.  Only once did he remark to Mrs FB that the tranquil lakeside landscape was beautiful in every respect apart from having any land flat enough for a cricket field of any meaningful size, so precipitously do the mountains descend to the water.  This observation seemed of disappointingly little interest to Mrs FB.

This was not cricketing country, concluded FB.  How then, he wondered, does the Navigazioni Lago di Como, the ferry company whose boats run up and across the lake, come to have as its logo a perfect representation of a set of stumps with a ball flying over middle?


Once a cricketing organisation?


Wednesday, 20 July 2016

A Comparison of Sorts



Bairstow - nothing like FB
Fantasy Bob has for some time been prepared to acknowledge that Jonny Bairstow might be superior to him in the cricketing skills department.  Experts may struggle to spot the crucial differences but to the layperson, Jonny’s batting average in First Class Cricket of 48.64 is a bit of a clue. 
FB has come to terms with this unfavourable comparison.  He bears Jonny no grudge and has shared the general elation at Jonny's performances this season. They have taken JB to another level. There seemed to be no way that FB could match JB. 
However as Fantasy Bob watched last week’s First Test between England and Pakistan the realisation came upon him that he had downplayed his own skill level too quickly.  For there was the evidence.  His batting average might not show it, but in one critical respect he was on a level with Bairstow.   

Long suffering readers of these pages know that FB’s prodigious skills with the willow dissolve into nothingness when confronted with leg spin bowling.  At the twice weekly net sessions of go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton, aspirant leggies from the age of 5 upwards form an orderly queue to take turns in making a monkey of him.  His sacrifice to youthful mirth seems to pay dividends as the youngsters involved who frequently as a result go on to glittering careers for club and country. 

FB is living proof of the 10,000 hours fallacy.  Mozart may have practiced piano 10,000 to be become the towering musical genius that he was.  But 10,000 hours of facing leg spin in the nets has left FB no further advanced than he was at hour zero.  (History does not record how Mozart got on in working out leg spin.) 
Bairstow - just like FB

Now it would appear that FB shares this much with Jonny.   He cowered in front of the TV, feeling the sympathy of a fellow sufferer as he watched Bairstow turned inside out by Yasir Shah.  All the certainties of JB's technique against other bowling disappeared as he was left, FB-like, chasing shadows.
 
Lindsay Hassett
FB has long sought the Holy Grail of  a plan to improve this area of his performance.  Once seeking inspiration he found an article written by Dean Jones, a great Australian batsman who played spin as well as any other batsman.  Jones reports that he spoke to another great Aussie of a previous generation with an equal reputation for mastering spin – Lindsay Hassett.  Hassett told him:  

''Deano, watch their ball release, watch the rotation of the seam, and try to get down the track and hit the ball on the full. If you can't get to the pitch of the ball, then play them off the back foot. It's easy!'' 

FB more or less understood this advice.  Watching the ball release he could just about manage.  Watching the rotation of the seam would require him to keep his eyes open, a major change in technique.  Getting down the track, yes that seems sensible advice.  FB has never managed it, but it seems sensible advice. He was clearly on a roll.   he had the Hassett method to a T. Mastery would be his.  But suddenly it all fell apart as he reached the final sentence.  ‘It’s easy.’   

Not for FB.  And not, it would appear, for Jonny.

 

Saturday, 2 July 2016

That ICC Discussion in full

ICC discussion underway in Edinburgh
Fantasy Bob is stung to the core that he was not invited to participate in the Annual Conference of the ICC in Edinburgh this week.  

Not only did the organising committee not rush to seek his views on the important issues on the agenda – the proposed 2 tier Test system, more ODIs, more T20s, more ODIs, more T20s but they did not extend an invitation to any of the glittering social events that surrounded the business.  The reception at the Castle, the dinner at the Assembly Rooms, the tour of Edinburgh’s Home of Cricket aka the Meadows; all were poorer for his absence.



However following a shady transaction with the waiting staff of the prestigious hotel at which the conference took place FB was able to secure a transcript of the important session discussing the possibility of increasing the Test playing nations.

Now delegates we come to the important matter of whether we should have a 2 tier Test match structure.  We must discuss this carefully.

Do we have to? The bus goes for the tour of the Scotch Whisky Experience in 30 minutes.

But this is important – particularly to the Associate nations.

Who?

The Associate nations - you know Ireland and Afghanistan ............and Scotland.

Scotland who is that?

We are in Scotland.

Are we – who’s idea was that?

Well you said you wanted to see the pandas.

I did and very good they were too.  But they couldn’t play Test cricket.

No but Scotland wants more matches.

They can play the pandas anytime.

No against Test nations

Surely not.

Yes, their skipper Preston Mumsnet has been banging on about this for ever.

And there’s Ireland and Afghanistan….

And Netherlands….

And UAE….

OK I get it I get – but they can’t all have pandas.

Forget the pandas – these countries want to become Test nations.

What and play against us?

If you think we’re playing at the Meadows you must be joking.

Well we need to do something.

We’re could have two tiers of Test nations.

With promotion and relegation.

Brilliant.  Will the pandas be in it?

No but Ireland and Afghanistan might.

When you say might, what do you  mean?
They won’t.

Excellent.

But what about Scotland?

There is no doubt that the Meadows is a potential test venue.

We love Scotland.

Yes we love Scotland.

We love the Castle.

We love the empire biscuits.

We love the Scotch Whisky Experience.

We love Preston Mumsnet.

We love Fantasy Bob.

Steady on that's going too far.

We love Scotland.

We must do something for Scotland.

I know – let’s have a third tier of Test nations.

Which contains…………..

Scotland!

…….er and who else?

That’s it, just Scotland.


Brilliant – that’s sorted – now who is for the Scotch Whisky Experience?

A visit to Edinburgh Castle

Friday, 3 June 2016

Four Last Runs

Sometimes Fantasy Bob thinks that all the clever clogs in the world simply miss the obvious in their self serving search for metaphor and meaning.  If they all had a better grounding in cricket and cricketing matters they would find things easier.
Strauss in 1948

As a case in point, FB enjoyed this week a performance by the RSNO of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. Lush orchestration with a floating soprano line - Test Match Quality.  Looking at the programme note FB was told all manner of guff about how the 84 year old Strauss set these poems as a marker of his own impending death - for he died shortly after he composed them.
This has a superficial plausibility.  However it fails to take account of the fact that the songs were written in 1948.

This was of course the year of the Invincibles, the touring Australian team which swept all before them.  It was Bradman's last tour.  It included his last Test innings.  An innings in which he needed four runs to ensure that he had a Test batting average of 100.  As all children should be taught in primary school, a googly from Eric Hollies gave him a second ball duck and he finished his Test career with an average of 99.94.
Bradman in 1948

It is obvious - at least to FB, and, if to him, why not to everyone? - that Strauss, the last great Romantic composer, was greatly affected by this misfortune.  After all his earlier work had included works which dwelt on the nature of heroism - the great tone poems Ein Heldenleben and Don Quixote among them. Inspired by Bradman's heroic failure, he dashed off in his masterful way a work he carefully entitled Four Last Runs.  Sadly it got lost in translation, and one of the finest cricketing works of the concert hall has never been properly recognised as what it is.

There are no doubt those among FB's dwindling handful of readers who are thinking to themselves, 'Come on FB, there is no link between Bradman and Strauss.'

But that is where they are wrong.  The great batsman had a passion for classical music and in particular the soprano voice, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was familiar with Four Last Runs, and appreciated its true meaning.

But even beyond that his granddaughter Greta Bradman is a soprano of growing reputation wowing audiences in the concert hall and opera house.  Her repertoire includes Strauss' Four Last Runs.

So there.
Greta Bradman




Saturday, 14 May 2016

Peak Stuff

Peak Stuff?
Fantasy Bob has been reading in the more erudite press earnest discussions of the concept of peak stuff.  Boffins are suggesting that increasing numbers of people in the developed world have as much stuff as they could ever want, far less need, far less find places in the cupboard under the stairs for.

They point to such facts as the stagnation of sales of iPhones and iPads, the downturn in household spending on physical goods, including furnishings, clothing, cars and gadgets.  National statistics show that the amount of  material stuff used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – has fallen dramatically since 2001.  So much so that Steve Howard, head of Ikea’s sustainability unit, has been moved to declare: “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff… peak home furnishings.”

Peak home furnishings? Yikes!  Are things that bad?

Desperate though this sounds, FB can offer his handful of readers some hope - the cataclysm is some way off.  For the boffins have failed to include in their analysis one area where we are only in the foothills - peak cricket stuff is still some way off.

Player's kit store 1990
In the salad days of FB's long and undistinguished career in the lower leagues, cricketers would arrive for a match bearing only a small haversack containing a box, a pair of boots, a pair of whites. Perhaps a towel if they thought they were on a promise that night.  Perhaps a Mars Bar if they had read something about a new fangled concept of sports nutrition.  Wicket keepers of course had to stagger under the additional burden of a pair of gauntlets - the extra weight of which probably explained the solid foursquare frame of most wicketkeepers in those halcyon days.

Nowadays, even the most youthful of FB's team mates will arrive encumbered with a veritable pantechnicon of kit.  Both parents will follow like native bearers carrying additional items.
Player's kit store 2016

Over the years, FB has watched his junior colleagues unpack their pantechnicons and has observed the relentless growth of cricket stuff:

  • No self respecting junior will have fewer than three bats - one for a quick wicket, one for slower tracks and one that is being knocked in.
  • Alistair Cook may be able to bat for hours in the heat of Perth or Hyderabad without casting a drop of sweat and without changing his gloves.  However, in the sweltering heat of Scottish grounds, a change of gloves is necessary every 5 overs.  At least 3 pairs are needed - along with associated inners.
  • Spikes, half spikes, astros, rubber studs, flat soles, bowling boots.  It is impossible to survive the rigours of the modern lower league tussle with just one set of footwear. Sometimes wellies are essential items too.
  • Match kit, training kit, warm up kit, travel kit, post match uniform.  A player needs a full travel wardrobe - skippers need to make sure that an iron and ironing board are available.
  • A box, arm guard, batting pads, thigh pad, inner thigh pad, keeping pads, fielding pads, chest protector, helmet, cap.  In the salad days a thick cable sweater was deemed sufficient protection.
  • Against all empirical evidence Scottish players also insist on sunhat and sunglasses, the later of which at least keep the biting wind out of a player's eyes.
  • Base layers for cold conditions, base layers for warm conditions.  Scottish players must also add a special base layer which can deal with all seasons in one day.

Gradually senior players are catching up and emulating their junior role models.  Of course they have to add some additional items in particular:

  • Knee support, ankle support, elbow support.  Most senior players also need continual emotional support.
  • A pharmacopoeia of linaments and stimulants (all within the guidelines of the World Anti Doping Administration's list on prescribed performance enhancing substances).

Peak cricket stuff is still far off.  Continuing growth seems essential to the survival of the Western economy.  The sooner IKEA get into self-assemble cricket gear the better for them.

But FB can also offer some hope for those with environmentalist leanings who despair at this relentless material growth.  Is it sustainable they ask.  FB can assure them that the impetus to recycle is strong. At least half of this gear is left behind in the dressing room after each match.


Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Age Gap

In February 2011 John Davison and Nitish Kumar opened the batting for Canada in their World Cup match with Zimbabwe.  Davison was 40 years old and counting, Kumar 16.  The 24 years between them is reckoned to be the widest age gap between batting partners in international cricket.

Kumar and Davison
This might impress some, but it does not impress Fantasy Bob.  During the first match of the new season last weekend FB was his usual shambolic presence at the crease when he was joined by an 11 year old with all the talent and style that are so conspicuously absent in FB.  Despite the age gap of 50 years and then some more, spectators found it hard to discern who was the senior partner so commanding was the youngster.  FB was in no doubt.  Age was no barrier; the 2 gelled splendidly and the partnership blossomed.  There was talk around the boundary of the great partnerships of old, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Greenidge and Haynes, Hayden and Langer.

Both were not out at the innings close and they put on nearly 50. It would surely have been more but for FB's inability to connect with any of his characteristic closed-eyed heaves in the final overs. FB and his youthful partner had easily outperformed Davison and Kumar not only in matter of the age gap, since the Canadians were both back in the hutch with a mere 7 on the board.  FB assumes the mantle of greatness with all due modesty.

It is one of the many life affirming charms of cricket - particularly at the elite level that FB plies his trade - that the generations mix, and work together for the same outcome.  Even though FB barely knows what an x-Box is, and his youthful partner was unable to address during their between over conferences FB's questions about the relevance of Wagner's thinking on the gesamtkunstwerk to the concept of theall rounder, they enjoyed mutual respect.

Such inter-generational respect is important.  Senior players ignore it at their peril.  Many times FB has seen senior, so-called mature batsmen saunter to the wicket, take a dismissive look at the youngster serenely tossing the ball from one hand to the other at the other end before pointedly eyeing choice areas of the boundary to which he imagines he will crash the ball in the next few moments.  Moments later the bails lie on the ground as the senior so-called mature batsman trudges his way back to the pavilion - deceived in flight, beaten by the bounce, undone by the spin - whatever.  It is the situation for which the word hubris was invented.   No doubt that was the word on the Melbourne crowd's lips when in 1877 18 year old Tom Garrett dismissed England's James Southerton, then aged 49 and still Test cricket's oldest debutant. The 31 year gap between bowler and victim remains the widest in international cricket.

Many times also has FB witnessed senior, so-called mature batsmen, play the ball and set off with the thought bubble coming out of  his head,  'An easy single to the wee laddie' only to be surprised as the wee laddie in question swoops on the ball and in a single move and with one stump to aim at guns it in a single movement.  The stumps fly, leaving the senior player a long and embarrassed journey to the far pavilion to consider the issues of age discrimination.

Mind you, all this pales into insignificance when considered with age gaps in some other fields. When Hugh Hefner married former Playmate Crystal Harris in 2012 he was 60 years her senior.

Hefner adn Crystal about to open the batting

Monday, 2 May 2016

Another Season?

Earlier this week Mrs FB found Fantasy Bob sitting with a look of worried concentration on his face. That attracted her attention in that it was a noticeable change from the look of amiable vacantness which normally describes FB's demeanour.

'What are you doing, dear heart?' she inquired.

'Nothing,' he replied.

'You did that yesterday.'

'Yes, but I didn't finish.'

There was a pause while Mrs FB returned to the start of her run up.  This time she put a bit of pace on her delivery.

'What are you thinking?'

'I can't help wondering.  Another season might just be too much.'

Mrs FB sighed: she had heard the same moan at this time of year for as long as she could remember.

'It could be the end,' FB felt a lump in his throat.

'You say that every year.'

'It's been one season too many.'  His lip trembled.

'Never.'

'They're gassed.'  A tear started in his eye. 

'What is it this time?  Shoulders?  Ankles?  Knees?'

FB looked askance.  Not that he really knew what askance meant, but he gave it his best shot. He was not sure that his life partner had the full measure of the seriousness of the situation.

'No,' he said as the emotion swept over him.  'It's my boots, they'll never last another season.'

Another Season?

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Nursery Rhyme for the New Cricket Season

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
What will the cricketers do then
Poor things
The season's begun
So the game must go on
And they're wrapped up like Michelin men
Poor things.

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
What will the batsman do then
Poor thing
Watch each deliv'ry
Tho' he feels shiv'ry
And hope his hamstrings don't twang
Poor thing.

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
And what will doughty groundsmen do now
Poor things
In a determined manner
Dexterous use of a spanner
Turns his mower into a snow plough
Poor things.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Ah Vienna

It was the time of year when Fantasy Bob could be expected to be reaching the zenith of his pre-season preparation.  Checking his kit, having managed to save it from Mrs FB's enthusiastic but unitmely suggestion that it might go to the Scouts' Jumble Sale; working through the last indoor nets and anticipating the frost that would accompany the first outdoor sessions.
Ah Vienna............
April may be the cruelest month, as TS Eliot would have it, but he was a non-cricketer and did not appreciate the mounting sense of anticipation that the month brings to action starved cricketers whose dreams of match-winning fifties and career best five-fers reach their apogee as the season fast approaches.

It was therefore with incredulity that FB received the news from Mrs FB that he was expected to accompany her and a couple of friends on a trip to Vienna in just the week he had reserved for the all important task of reviewing the spikes in his boots.

'Are you mad, woman?' he lovingly inquired of his better half.  'What do you expect me to do there?'

'Well there are some great Art Galleries and historic palaces......'

'But the injury risk!'

FB met the quizzical stare of his partner by explaining that Museum Foot - the painful and seemingly incurable condition acquired by extended and repeated lengthy visits to art galleries - would wreck his bowling action.  He would be unable to come off his long run. It might be mid season before he could recover.

Mahelr's star outside the Staatsoper
gives no clue as to his bowling action
'Nonsense,' she riposted.  'Your long run is only 4 yards.  Anyway, haven't you been rabitting on for years about Gustav Mahler's bowling action.  They might know a thing or two about that in Vienna - after all he was the Director the Vienna Staatsoper for long enough.'

FB had to concede that he had tried the patience of many of the readers of his excruciating match reports for his beloved Carlton 4th XI with extended (not to say repeated) speculation about Gustav Mahler's bowling action.  Could it be that Mrs FB was correct and he would find the evidence he needed in the city in which Mahler spent so many years?  FB's previous researches into Viennese cricket did not give him much hope but he dutifully packed his togs, adding an extra bottle of linament.

Unhappily the trip added nothing to FB's knowledge of the great composer's bowling action which must therefore remain a subject for continued speculation.

Instead he found himself following the career of the Hapsburgs the dynasty that ruled Austria and its various imperial structures until the end of the First World War when the country became a Republic (or republik as they like to spell it locally).

Hapsburg palaces, Hapsburg museums, Hapsburg art collections.  FB was well and truly Hapsburged. For all their power and influence the Hapsburgs showed little interest in cricket. No doubt this explains why the dynasty ultimately failed.

Schonbrunn - space for cricket?
For example, their grand summer palace Schonbrunn is a Test Match Quality baroque building redolent with history - Mozart performed there when he was 6 years old; Napoleon stayed there as he conquered Europe;  JFK and Krushchev met there in 1961; and so on.

But there  the vast grounds contain no cricket facility.   For such an expanse had space for a fine cricket ground - indeed space for two cricket grounds. The Hapsburg imagination failed - and they paid the price.

Durer's Picture of the Outfield
FB sought an explanation for this failure.  Were the skills of a suitably doughty groundsman not available to their Imperial Majesties, he wondered.

But a visit to the excellent collection in the Albertina Museum suggested otherwise.    For among its many treasures is a small and miraculous work by Albrecht Durer.

Durer was not a cricketer, far less a doughty groundsman but his masterful water-colour Large Piece of Turf is surely a representation of an unacceptable part of the outfield that Durer was familiar with.  As such it is a guide and a warning to doughty groundsmen, depicting as it does a number of the species that have to be conquered in producing a good playing surface.   Do not let your outfield get like this - FB could hear Durer's solemn warning come down to him across the void of the years.

FB's mood declined. No insight into Mahler's bowling action, no Hapsburg cricketers, Durer's insights ignored.  And worse, the risk of Museum Foot was increasing by the hour.

There was nothing for it but to seek refuge in one of Vienna's many charming cafes.  An empire biscuit would be just the thing to restore FB's depleted spirits.  He was distressed to find that in spite of its imperial history, Viennese cafes had no knowledge of the empire biscuit.  What did the Hapsburgs think they were up to?  FB had to turn to Sacher Torte which he found an entirely acceptable substitute and wiped his disappointments completely.

The handful, if that, of readers who have struggled their way to this point may be wondering when FB is going to make his entirely predictable joke about The Third Man as a classic of the cricketing film genre.  But FB eschews such levity - instead he offers readers this fine film of Anton Karas playing the theme tune of that great Vienna movie which is not about cricket but about sewers.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

As steep as it gets

The cricket season has not yet got underway.  But even as Fantasy Bob anticipates the series of 50s and 5-fers that will mark his season, he is confident that his main sporting achievement of 2016 is already in the bag.  (And before his handful of long suffering readers suggest as much, he should mention that he has not taken part in any empire biscuit eating marathons in the close season).

Not that an empire biscuit would have been unwelcome on that sun lit morning during his recent visit to the Austrian Alps.


As the sun rose into the azure above the mountains, FB's ski group ascended in the cable car.  A gentle ski down to a button lift was a nice warm up, but as his group came off that lift they were unprepared for where the instructor was leading them.  A couple of turns later they stopped with a collective gulp. 

What they were looking down is reputedly the steepest secured slope in Europe.  The Langer Zug run at Lech.   There are several ways of measuring steepness - it is 142%, it is 55 degrees on one method, 78 degrees on another.  Whatever.  This was steep - looking over it was like standing on a diving board.

For cricketers who find it hard to envisage such topography, any of these measures mean is considerably steeper than the world famous outfield hill at the Grange Loan home of FB's beloved Carlton CC, a treacherous black run on which FB has come to grief on many occasions.

But before FB could draw this telling comparison to the attention of his colleagues, they were off.  FB told himself to rely on his technique.  Now, those who have seen FB rely on what he imagines is technique when facing leg spin bowling - or indeed any other kind of bowling - might fear that this was an unwise tactic.
Skier (definitely not FB) on the Langer Zug
But as FB leaned forward and down, forcing his weight onto his downhill ski, the edge gripped.  After 2 turns the thrill kicked in.  This was something.  Speed skier Harry Egger clocked 248 km/hour (154 miles/hour) down the Langer Zug, at the time the world record.   It would be an exaggeration to say that FB flowed down the slope in that fashion.  FB acknowledges that his own speed was slightly less brisk, barely above military medium in fact, but for several splendid minutes he felt master of the mountain.

This was the thrill of the hat trick ball clattering into middle; or the joy of the six into the upper tier at long off.  Better even.  Better even than an empire biscuit.

Most ski slopes look much less steep from the bottom.  Not the Langer Zug.  Not to FB.  Looking back as the adrenalin rush faded, FB was sure that even from the bottom it was still considerably steeper than the hill at Grange Loan.

Here is a video of a slightly better skier than FB going down.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bloomsbury

Fantasy Bob was on assignment to London this week.  Bloomsbury to be exact.  As he walked between office and hotel he passed numerous blue plaques marking the former residences of the famous and infamous.  And Bloomsbury has more than its fair share of these plaques, for in the first half of the 20th Century it was home to the Bloomsbury Group, long revered as an influential group of like-minded writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists noted for many great achievements including a spectacular propensity for bed-hopping with each other.

Among the more eminent were E M Forster, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf.  FB's long suffering readers will be thinking to themselves - this is just the point when FB points out that this Group is overrated because there is no cricketer among them.  He will say that he has scrutinised at length the works of JM Keynes and while he may well have been right about the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, he presents nothing to guide the faltering batter's attempts to deal with leg-spin bowling.

FB is disappointed that his handful of followers think he is so predictable, for the Bloomsbury set did contain a cricketer of real potential as these charming photographs confirm..

Virginia Woolf standing up to her brother


Virginia Woolf's forward defensive
These photographs confirm to FB his longstanding belief that the problem for Virginia Woolf was that she did not know whether she was a batter or a wicket keeper.  'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the old cliche runs, which suggests that she might have been a leg spinner too.  No wonder she was a tortured soul.

Even worse was that at that time there was no structure of women's cricket for her to develop in - and she had to give herself to lesser pursuits such as novel writing.  Men could play cricket all day everyday, but not men.  Her feminism was confirmed and she was associated with the Suffragettist 'Nets for Women' campaign.

This identity crisis tortured her everyday life and found rich expression in her literary work - her novel Mrs Dalloway in particular contains many references to cricket, its place in English society and how its enduring values survived the trauma of the First World War.

'Cricket is no mere game,' she writes in Mrs Dalloway.  'Cricket is important.'

VW is clearly a man after FB's heart.

And so it seems appropriate that Wisden is now published by the Bloomsbury Publishing Group, even if it has yet properly to honour Virginia Woolf between its yellow covers.

Virginia Woolf - a man after FB's own heart