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.