Saturday, 8 September 2018

The Back Foot No Ball

The end of another season

For certain members of Fantasy Bob's household it is a cause for muted celebration  when he packs his kit up and stores it in its winter hide away.  After months of danger, Mrs FB can stroll around the premises free of the anxiety that he has deliberately left his bag lying in just where she is bound to trip over it.

However for Fantasy Bob the ending of another cricket season is a time of reflection on his achievements.  Not that that takes very long. This season his visits to the crease have been mercifully few.  In the fifteen matches he played, he marked his guard only three times.  He bowled in only eight.  He is mastering the skills required to be non-batting non-bowling skipper.  There is still the fielding to deal with - and it is not clear whether he has ever done any of that anyway.

This season Fantasy Bob contributed more runs to his team's cause as an umpire than as a batsman.

FB uses a scoring shot that other umpires ignore.

Law 21.5.1 is clear:  'the bowler’s back foot must land within and not touching the return crease appertaining to his/her stated mode of delivery.'

Any apprentice umpire can even find a picture of what this means. 

Many a bowler in the lower leagues will swing out in his delivery stride in an attempt to bowl from nearer mid-off than the stumps and will plant his back foot across or outside the return crease.  It only has to touch it to for FB's arm to go up and his clear baritone to sound out,  'No ball'.   

This can lead to an interesting discussion as the bowler, not assiduous in his reading of Law 21 (or probably any other law to judge by the conversation that will ensue) will wheel round with a crazed look in his eye.  He will point to his front foot and suggest that it was well behind the popping crease.  FB will agree but say that the offending foot was the other.  It can come as a surprise to the bowler that he has two feet.  He will look down mystified.  But most bowlers accept FB's explanation.  However every now and then there is one who can't, who suggests that he is just making things up (they may point to his blog as evidence of his propensity for doing so) or that that he is conducting a personal conspiracy against him.  This all adds further to the entertainment of the afternoon.

Sometimes FB thinks he is the only umpire in the whole wide world of cricket world who applies this law.  TV highlights suggest that Test umpires seem to be unaware of it.  For example, the ball that Jadeja got Stokes with yesterday was bowled from very wide on the crease to say the least.  Replays at the fall of wickets examine the front foot but never the back foot.  Perhaps FB is just making it up...................

So FB packs his kit away, he fondly cherishes the memories of the runs his pedantic umpiring has contributed to the cause, he notes his kit is one year more tattered and battered.  It is a miracle that it has survived another season.  Is there another season in that faded cap and those crumbling boots?  Is there another season of back-foot no balls to be scored?

Monday, 16 July 2018


No one took more pleasure than Fantasy Bob in the performance of Leigh Kasperek for New Zealand in last Friday's match against England.  Leigh's 5fer was a huge contribution to her team's victory and showed again why she is so highly rated.  She was ranked second in the ICC bowling rankings in women's T20 cricket last year.

Leigh is one of FB's all time sporting heroes.  He and Leigh first appeared in the colours of go-ahead Edinburgh club Carlton many years ago.  Leigh, then a teenager, was, FB thinks, the first woman to appear for the club, an innovation on which the club has successfully built.  By contrast FB, then something a bit older than a teenager but not quite a pensioner, was the first Fantasy Bob to appear for the club, an innovation  that they would like to forget.

Since they first appeared together, Leigh has followed FB's burgeoning career with interest.  And on her occasional visits to her native City she will always visit the club.  She is forever happy to turn out, even if it means being subject to FB's peculiar approach to captaincy.  Despite that and the evident gulf in class, she always gives her all and plays with a smile on her face.  She's a gem.

Sadly, CricInfo gives no indication of these appearances in their portrait of Leigh - there are mentions of Scotland, Essex, New Zealand and many other sides less prestigious than FB's own Carlton Positively 4th XI (the only cricket team in world named after a song by Bob Dylan).

Readers may therefore think that FB is having them on - surely no international player has played with FB.  But the documentary and photographic evidence cannot be disputed.

Readers will recognise this photograph.

Remove the cropping will reveal

Leigh has just made a sparkling 70.  FB is striding to the crease and will make an equally sparkling 0.

Neither does CricInfo mention Leigh's legendary homemade pancakes - always a treat on the tea table and something which would justify her selection alone.

Well done Leigh.  What a bright star you are.  There's always a place for you in FB's team.

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

A Strategic Victory

A quirk in the atmospheric conditions meant that Fantasy Bob’s attempts to listen to Radio 3's fascinating discussion on Gustav Mahler's bowling action were interrupted by a relay of what appear to be proceedings from the board room of the ECB discussing the First Test Match between England and Pakistan.

Well, that was a great victory.

Eh? What do you mean? We were stuffed.

Precisely - it's victory for our strategy.

Ah yes – the final elimination of red ball cricket.

Indeed – and we are making good progress. I mean who would want to watch it after that performance?

Cheers - bring on the 100 ball game.   But some people still don’t get it.

It’s outrageous – this fellow Root for example – he had more than 100 balls all to himself.

Mothers and kids just won’t understand that.

Who is he anyway?

Didn’t I read in a newspaper that he’s captain.

Captain?  He should be showing some leadership then. 120 balls all to himself.  It's shocking.

Never get that chap Morgan doing that – he gets the strategy – he normally does with just 3 or 4 balls.

We need to think what do do next – there’s another of these Test Match things this week.

Who decided that?

We did, apparently.

Good God – what had we been drinking? 

I think we thought it would be a good way to run down our stock of red balls. 

How many do we have left? 

Too many. We’ve had to ask the Irish to help us get rid of them.

Ah yes – good wheeze. Can’t we give some to the Jocks too?

the ICC rules are clear that the Jockos get nothing. 

They get duff LBW decisions.

Obviously.  But nothing else.

That's a bit harsh - who voted for that?

We did.

We do need to think about the County Championship.

Why – nobody else does.

It takes days and days.

And days. 

People say it prepares players for Test Matches.

Crazy - these are days when we could have more 100 ball matches. 

Can’t we move it to February?

Brilliant! That'll get a whole new audience who know nothing about cricket.  

Friday, 4 May 2018

De Maria

It was one of Mrs FB's more challenging asides. Some years ago she was escorting Fantasy Bob through a celebrated temple of modern art.

'Minimalism,' she said, as they entered a gallery devoted to practitioners of that style, 'it's always seemed to me to have a lot in common with your batting.'

'What,' replied FB, 'in its elegant economy of movement and gesture?'

'No,' came the reply. 'In its minimal number of runs.'

FB required an extended stay with the abstract expressionists to recover his equanimity. A challenge, for abstract expressionists rarely express equanimity, abstract concept though it may be.

FB found himself recalling this deeply repressed exchange recently as he watched Simon Schama complete the excellent Civilisations series on BBC. The programme examined a number of contemporary artists who he thought he had relevance to an age where the very concept of civilisation itself seems under attack from the snake oil salesmen of T20 and 100 ball cricket formats.

One artist featured was Walter De Maria, who is described amongst other things as a minimalist. In 1960 he called for meaningless work: art that does not accomplish a conventional purpose. Was it this that gave his work a peculiar significance to FB whose very existence - particularly on the cricket field - can only be described as meaningless and without a conventional purpose?

Perhaps, but more probably it is the fact that in spite of being American, De Maria is one of the great cricket artists. See his great work below.

In 3-5-7 there are 24 sets of stumps in 3 lines obviously expressing something very deep.

time timeless no time

Stumps obviously did it for De Maria for in his later work time timeless no time, they adorn every wall of the gallery and express something even deeper.

But he had more in his kit bag than stumps. In Dem - broken kilometre, he expresses that existential nightmare known to every cricketer - indoor nets.

Dem - broken kilometre

Walter De Maria - inspecting the crease

De Maria - minimalist - cricketer - genius.

Friday, 27 April 2018

Get a Grip

In common with all other cricketers at this time of the year, Fantasy Bob has been conducting a microscopic examination of his kit to assess its suitability for the rigours of the coming season.  As his faithful handful of readers know, the moment that FB's voluminous kit bag emerges from its winter storage is always met with cries of extreme pleasure by Mrs FB who relishes the opportunity once again to find herself tripping over it several times a day.

As he meticulously inspects each item, he is mindful of Mrs FB's strictures on economy.  She suggests that any investment appraisal of new items should take into account the stage that FB's cricketing career has reached.  The twilight years, she suggests, have lingered longer than seems natural even at these latitudes.  The value  to be derived from expensive investment therefore might be limited.  By comparison with for instance, she adds in a slightly coquettish fashion, items of jewelry.  The law of diminishing returns, she says returning to a more trenchant tone of voice, applies not only to FB's visits to the crease

With a sigh therefore, FB puts the glossy Gray Nichols catalogue aside and judges his trusty bat is fit for one season more.  Given his performances over recent seasons there must be many runs still locked in it.  However closer inspection reveals the grip to be in a condition comparable to FB at the end of a trying spell up the hill against the wind.   Refurbishment is not an option.  The bat grip is gone too.  There is no alternative but to purchase a replacement.
The total of FB's new kit for season 2018

This puts FB in a quandary.  FB's bat handle is festooned with grips -  5 in total.  It is perhaps the thickest bat handle in World Cricket.   A cause for wonder by his junior colleagues who struggle to get their growing hands round it.

FB read many years ago in some coaching manual (as if he ever read such things) that a thicker grip would soften his hands giving him greater control over his shot making.  It would be heroic to suggest that this adjustment has worked and turned FB into a master at the crease, but FB has continued to pile on the grips.  Hope springs eternal.

So, what should he do faced with his new purchases - should he put them on top of the existing ones or remove those first?   

Mrs FB's advice has, for once, not been helpful.  Watching him as he agonised at length over this decision, she reached the end of her patience.  'For goodness sake,' she said.  'Get a grip.'

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Crying Game

'I know all there is to know about the crying game
I've had my share of the crying game.....'

Dave Berry
There is no reference to ball tampering in the lyric of Dave Berry's 1964 hit.  And to the best of Fantasy Bob's knowledge the old time rocker never had to face the Australian press to account for  his shameful actions.  But by the end of the week FB certainly had had enough of the crying game as one by one the disgraced Australians accounted for themselves.  This was not family viewing - however much the family was involved in the tearful responses.

FB cannot imagine how the trio feel.  For many years ago FB was close to the position they find themselves in.  He faced the allegation that the crumbs of the empire biscuit he was carrying in his pocket smeared across the ball were having an uncanny influence on the effectiveness of his bowling.  There seemed no other way the opposition could account for the extreme improbability of him bowling a maiden over.  The crisis was soon averted, not by attempting to stuff the biscuit down the front of his trousers but by the expeditious consumption of the biscuit.  FB was able to plead stupidity - an excuse readily accepted, particularly by his colleagues in the leadership team (ie the 11 year old leg spinner fielding at mid off).  The incident was thankfully forgotten until last week's actions brought it freshly to FB's mind.

As he watched the interviews FB felt a great sadness descend upon him.  For those involved, for cricket, for the world. Dave Berry was not enough.  The words of the Latin requiem mass seemed more to the point, the reference to the ashes uncanny.

Lacrimosa dies illa
Qua resurget ex favilla
Judicandus homo reus.
Huic ergo parce, Deus:
Pie Jesu Domine,
Dona eis requiem. Amen.

Full of tears will be that day
When from the ashes shall arise
The guilty man to be judged;
Therefore spare him, O God,
Merciful Lord Jesus,
Grant them eternal rest. Amen.

As set by Mozart this is comfort for the soul.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

World Cup Wash Up

Another quirk in atmospheric conditions has meant that Fantasy Bob has been able to listen in to the report back from ICC's representative at the recent Cricket World Cup Qualifiers.

- Gentlemen, I can report that this tournament was a great success.
- Hooray.  [Clinking of glasses]
-The ICC can take great credit.
- Hooray. [More clinking of glasses]
- Our 10 team World Cup is a triumph.  There will be no Associate nation.
[Popping of champagne corks - a song is heard - 9 games for India]
- We can look forward to a golden period of growing the game.  The 8 team World Cup is in our grasp.
- And then a 6 team..
- ...4 teams.......2 teams!!!!
[More champagne corks pop - another song is heard - 12 games for India]
- But I have heard that the Associates are not happy.
- Nonsense - who is saying that?
- Someone called Kylie Minogue.
- Not Minogue - Coetzer.  Kylie Coetzer - he's captain of Scotland.
- Captain of Scotland at what?
- Cricket.
- I didn't know they played cricket in Scotland.
- They almost qualified.
- Surely not.  Who allowed that to happen?
- Yes, it took some exceptional umpiring to keep them out.
- And the rain.
- Well, I suppose Scottish people are not used to that.
- What more do they want?
- More matches.
- Are they mad? 
- They say that is the only way that they will become more competitive.
- What?  If they become more competitive....
- .....they'd get in our World Cup.......
- ......and there'd be less money for India.
- ......which would stop us growing the game.

Kylie sings  'I should be so lucky...(not)'

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hold the front page

Earlier this week a quirk in the atmospherics meant that Fantasy Bob overheard what appears to be an editorial conference at a major Scottish media outlet.

- Right we need a big splash on the back page - sports editor what do you have for us?
- Eh - nothin' - Rangers and Celtic weren't playing.
- Nothing?  There must be something.
- Zippo - Rangers or Celtic huvnae signed nae unknown forriners this week.
- I thought one of their players got a new haircut.
- Naw that wis last week.  We're in a tragic news drought.
- There must be other sports.
- You dinnae wint us to cover the Hibs do ye?
- Other sports, not other teams.
- We done that - we done an article aboot golf last year.
- I remember that - a Rangers player got a hole in one.
- What about cricket?
- Whit's that?
- Aren't Scotland playing qualifiers for the world cup just now?
- Are they?  How would I ken?  I'm the sports editor.
- They beat Afghanistan.
- Nae a great fitba nation.
- They're unbeaten so far.
- See whit happens when you appoint big Alex McLeish.
- Nothing to do with McLeish.  We need to give the cricket some coverage.
- OK OK.  How mony Rangers players is involved?
- None.
- OK  Must be a' Celtic players then?
- No.
- Oh no, it's nae Aiberdeen players is it.  I'm no going up there for interviews.
- No - it's cricket - it's nothing to do with football.
- Cannae go on the sports pages then.  This is a Scottish paper.

Saturday, 10 March 2018


As the Beast from the East recedes the full horror of the life or death struggle is becoming clearer.

No empire biscuits to be found....
Many faced extended periods of empire biscuit deprivation as panic buying stripped the shelves of all provender.  In many parts of Scotland shoppers disaster loomed found only fresh fruit and vegetables.

Even Fantasy Bob could not resist the hysteria of panic buying - as a result, he now has 6 new cricket bats.

Mrs FB did not seem overly impressed as he returned from the blizzard blasted wasteland proudly bearing these trophies, although she did eventually concede that, used with dexterity and a sense of purpose, they might be used to move the snow from the path to the front door.  FB felt that her trenchantly expressed scepticism that FB had any dexterity, far less a sense of purpose, did little to help the household's overall response to the extreme conditions.  But he bit his tongue.  Thus adding injury to insult.

Much as the media tried to downplay the horror by continuous hysterical reporting of references to red alerts, extreme conditions and life or death situations, the sense of panic was not eased.  Emergency services were inundated with calls.  Police Scotland report that they received 50% more 999 calls than usual.

'Your kebab is cold....?'
FB is sure that there were many in genuine difficulty but, as increasingly seems to be the case these days, there were many calls which suggests that many of FB's fellow citizens understand that the word emergency now means a situation of mild inconvenience.  Police therefore had to respond to such life or death matters as a desperate request to borrow a show shovel;  a frantic concern that a gate was frozen; an imperious command that since there was no bread in the shop and could the police make a delivery; a sobbing inquiry as to where an open cigarette shop could be found.

These calls only add to the long history of similar 999 calls - distraught citizens have called to report that eggs in the fridge were broken, that their kebab is cold and that they have forgotten their password.

FB has never called 999.  Obviously he has been oblivious to threat.  He needs to reassess his generally stoical outlook.  He needs to revise his sense of emergency. He regularly faces life or death situations.

The next time he sees the ball being handed to an 11 year old leg spinner. He knows what to do.  999.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The beast from the east

Scotland’s cricketers have been plunged into confusion.  The beast from the east.  A sudden cold snap.  Dazed and shivering they look out their kit for they must assume the season has started.

For the first matches of the season are by long tradition played in Siberian conditions.   There are misleadingly titled warm up matches (which Fantasy Bob avoids – he does not want to peak too early) where fielders in the deep have been known to get lost in snow drifts.

Edinburgh’s cricket grounds in particular have been historically positioned to ensure no barrier between them and the Siberian wastes.  They promiscuously welcome any chill winds to their empty expanses at any time.  At the start of the season however they are particularly lascivious and can without difficulty ensure that frozen draughts come from each point of the compass simultaneously.  There is no beast like the beast across the cricket field.  The beast is from the east south north and west. Bowlers, if they are able to move at all, struggle with length since they are bowling into and with the wind at the same time.

Go ahead Edinburgh club Carlton's ground
ready for the first matches of a new season
Cricketers in Scotland are therefore made of stern stuff.  They scoff at the media's hysterical reference to snowageddon and franticThe beast from the east over-hyping of the slightest drop in temperature.   The beast from the east - isn't that our new overseas amateur pace bowler?

They reflect on how they survived the Arctic conditions at the start of last season losing no more than three toes to frostbite.   And they still managed to bowl a 10 over spell.  As he dons his gloves and prepares to leave the  warmth of the pavilion a batsman will stiffen his upper lip and say stoically to his colleagues, as they huddle together for warmth, that 'I am just going out now, I may be gone some time.' (The promise of a long innings that FB never manages to fulfill whatever the climatic conditions).  They struggle to close the door against the icy wind and as they watch their colleague walk out to make the supreme sacrifice, they bring to mind that magical day last season when the Siberian wind relented, when the sun shone high in the azure all day and the temperature approached a sweltering 10 degrees.  The joys of summer - they come nearer every day.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

Artificial Everything

Fantasy Bob's faithful handful of readers might think it ill becomes him - a lower league cricketer accustomed more than not to playing on artificial pitches - to worry about artificiality in sport.

For the last 2 weeks or so, an enthusiastic young man wearing a fetching tea cosy on his head has bobbed up on the TV screen eulogising about half pipe, big air, aerial, slope style, free style and so on and suggesting that they are worthy of FB's attention.   When he is not wearing his tea cosy this young man is apparently a Blue Peter presenter and therefore worthy of FB's respect and attention.  FB suspects that the tea cosy could be made out of sticky back plastic.

Radzi Chinyanganya and tea cosy

FB has therefore spent more hours than he would care to watching endless series of circus tricks  presented as sporting encounters.  Skilful and courageous these tricks might be; mildly entertaining too; but the outcome depends on the views of a judging panel.  Like Masterchef. 

FB is eternally sceptical as to whether any activity can really be called a sport when it depends on subjective judgement in this way.  Cricket would be very different if after each ball a judging panel rated the bowler's and batter's performance on difficulty, execution and presentation - they might not quite know how to mark FB's attempts to deal with 11 year old leg spinners unless a category of comic entertainment value would be introduced.  Then FB would be a world beater.

But FB digresses.  His concern is that many of these events are made up.  New events are added to the schedule every time the Olympics comes around.  At the 1968 Winter Olympics in Grenoble - when the great Jean-Claude Killy
Killy - god of the mountain
won 3 gold medals for Alpine ski-ing there were 35 events.  More than enough to provide real thrills.

50 years later in Korea there have been 102 - new arrivals have included big air snowboarding, mass start speed skating, mixed doubles curling.  Next time round in Beijing there is the promise of synchronised skating.  Need FB say more?

Most of these events have specially constructed courses with kickers rollers and dramatic cambers.  Artificial sports on artificial sites.  Have we lost sight of what is important in sports?

The Alpine ski-ing races are still said to be the Games' blue ribband events -  the Test Matches of the sport.  They are certainly the highlight for FB.  Man or woman against the mountain and gravity in a natural contest of courage strength and skill - who dares wins.  They delivered 2 heroes in Hirscher and Svindal. 
Marcel Hirscher - 2 gold medals

Aksel Lund Svindal - gold medal in Mens Downhill
But nowadays they also have an artificial element. Over 90% of the snow in the Korean games is artificial.  Put away any thought of inspiring mountain scenery - the pistes and the courses may be white but the adjoining landscape is a dull brown. 

It is hard for the stuffy old traditionalist like FB to take.  It is the same as T20 swamping Test Matches and 3 or 4 day cricket.  It is Test Matches played on artificial wickets.  It is this the work of the Devil.  Is it really a fit subject for a Blue Peter presenter?  The tea cosy may be artificial too.

Monday, 19 February 2018

The magic of the mountains

The magic of the mountains

Anyone who has had the misfortune to observe Fantasy Bob's stumbling efforts at the crease will have an understanding of his propensity for self-inflicted wounds. His propensity to swing late, early or all round a straight one - sometimes he manages all three skills at the same time - is verging on the legendary. Commentators have frequently discussed whether this is symptomatic of some deep psychological condition.  Freudian psychologists watching from the boundary have cited FB's experience as conclusive evidence of the existence of thanatos - the death drive, whose opposition to the pleasure principle Sigmund Freud contended to be a fundamental psychological dynamic. Others have simply attributed FB's condition to basic incompetence.

What should they then make of recent evidence as FB prepared for his annual pilgrimage to the ski slopes of the Austria Alps?  For the run up to his trip was littered with self-inflicted injury.

The mandoline is a fearsome piece of kitchen equipment. As FB enthusiastically brandished it in one hand and a carrot in the other, what could possibly go wrong?  Lots, it would seem, as with exceptional culinary skill he deftly sliced the top off his spinning finger.  Not that he has ever spun anything with it, as Mrs FB helpfully pointed out, while she battled to stem the ensuing torrents of blood and bad language - not necessarily in that order. 

The mandoline  - check the soup for finger tips
The next day, his finger bandaged in full compliance with Girl Guide First Aider badge standards, FB took himself to the gym. He thought he might pep his legs up to prepare them for his coming assaults on the black runs. Why he thought it might be best to do this with a grueling session on the leg extension machine is beyond anyone's guess. It may well have done wonders for FB's legs, but it left his back in a state comparable to England's recent Ashes batting. Wrecked.

Hobbling slowly homewards he diverted to the doctor's clinic; not to have his ravaged back attended to but to receive inoculation against pneumonia. Pneumonia may have been frightened off but at the cost of rendering his arm completely and painfully immobile.

So, FB was even more of a physical wreck than usual as the day of departure approached. Mrs FB is not noted for her Freudian approach to psychology. She suggested that his recent track record meant that even getting out of bed should be classed an hazardous activity. She cruelly drew attention to FB's minimal level of technical competence in the skiing department, and asked, somewhat rhetorically, whether, bearing in mind these factors, his intention to throw himself down mountain sides might not indicate that there was a death drive somewhere in the works.

FB said he would check the insurance.   'An extra premium on the life insurance might be an idea.' suggested Mrs FB with a tad less sympathy than FB might have expected.  He declined to answer, he was reviewing the finer print of his travel insurance to see if it would compensate him should he need to cancel his trip. The policy made it clear that stupidity was not an insurable risk. Nor was there any indication that the operation of thanatos, conscious or unconscious, was underwritten.

There was nothing for it.   FB would have to adopt that legendary stoical frame of mind nurtured over many long bowling spells up the hill against the wind.

He needn't have worried. The magic of the snow capped mountains erased any lingering pain and he avoided any mishap on the slopes.

On his return, Mrs FB asked whether he had learned anything from this catalogue of ineptitude. Learning from experience is not one of FB's key skills, so it took him some time to respond. Eventually however he came to the answer - the next time he slices carrots it would be sensible to wear his batting gloves.

Monday, 5 February 2018

An issue

It is unusual for Fantasy Bob to address matters of consequence.  This is a great relief to his worldwide handful of readers who have long understood that he will never have anything useful or sensible to say about anything.  There is as much chance of him successfully negotiating an over from an 11 year old leg spinner.

However 11 year old leg spinners and their ilk are causing concern and this has got FB thinking.  The cricketing blogosphere - or at least the part of that mighty ocean into which FB dips his toe from time to time - has recently been preoccupied by anxieties over junior cricket and whether it will replenish the player base. Too few 11 year old leg spinners become 18 year old leg spinners, far less 25 year old leg spinners.  FB’s readers might conclude that he would be secretly relieved at the imminent death of leg spin but this is an issue that afflicts all other bowling actions and batters too.  Even where junior cricket is relatively healthy junior players do not become senior players.

FB recognises these concerns - his own club -go ahead Carlton in Edinburgh - stands at the pinnacle of developing opportunities for junior cricketers. Early engagement with senior cricket is seen as crucial to their development – even if it does mean being exposed to the questionable captaincy skills of FB. 

Junior cricket at Carlton -
just itching for the chance to play with FB

The club’s lower teams draw heavily on the junior membership who will on most league days form about half the teams’ numbers.  None is there to make up the numbers  – they are valued as an essential part of the team and expected to make a contribution to the relentless pursuit of league points.  Those high expectations are rarely disappointed.   It is the kids who win the games - the grown ups who lose them. The club’s internal research confirms how positively the youngsters enjoy and value this experience.  And yet, even in this rosiest of gardens, the common problems can be seen.  Players who had been progressing well lose interest and disappear.  Many are the factors identified to account for this - the authorities, parents, schools, media, extra-terrestrial forces.  What can be done?

Progressive developmental pathways may secure players with top team potential.  But where are the future FBs to come from?  Whee are the lower team players of tomorrow? Players of modest ability (and even that description flatters FB) who are committed to the game though what can only be described as  love.  How did FB fall in love with cricket? 

FB has blogged before describing his cricketing development – he had zero coaching, there was no development pathway, there was minimal school cricket.  And yet something somewhere caused the game to enter his soul.  What was it?
Proper cricket -
(l-r) Swanton, Johnston and West

FB is increasingly convinced that it was his early exposure to Test match cricket on TV – those flickering black and white images, those umpires in long white coats, the rolled up sleeves and Brylcreme of the players, the crowd picnicking up to the limits of the boundary rope and the cut glass accent of Peter West.  It was mystical and magic and brought to him by the BBC throughout the season – the lunch interval would be filled with Watch With Mother but the cricket was Watch With Father.  Later there was the Gillete Cup and the John Player League – but always there was the Test Match.  Cricket was available and accessible.  It continuity and nuance displayed.  FB – and many like him – understood the point of it.  Unless people fall in love with cricket like FB did, there will be no lower teams and no infrastructure.

Test cricket was last available on terrestrial TV in the momentous 2005 Ashes – 8.4 million watched the closing day of the fourth test in the series.  Last year’s England South Africa Test was watched by fewer than 400,000.

This may not be the only factor at play, nostalgia is not necessarily a reliable witness and pressures on young people are intense.   But if the visibility of cricket was so significant for FB, then it must have been so for many others.   That is worth thinking about.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Where the nuts come from

Programme from the original production of
Charley's Aunt
Fantasy Bob is far from an expert on Brazil.  His knowledge may be a little beyond that of the character in the timeless Victorian farce Charley's Aunt who repeatedly introduces himself with the words 'I'm from Brazil where the nuts come from', but not much.  And why should FB know anything about Brazil? It is not a cricketing nation of any distinction, despite the efforts of the British expats in the 19th Century.  Nor is it noted for its empire biscuits.

So he was intrigued by the sudden surge this week of hits on his blog from Brazil.   Compared to the faithful world wide handful of readers who regularly seek inspiration from him these were numbers off the scale.  It looked like the inhabitants of the favelas of Rio were seeking new inspiration for the imminent Carnival.  At last they realised that the time had come for a series of Fantasy Bob themed floats teeming with scantily dressed young ladies displaying the challenges of playing leg spin bowling. The Girl from Ipanema goes walking (after she nicks it).  There could be nothing more exciting for the vast crowds.
Fantasy Bob themed costumes
 - none of them can play leg spin bowling

Showing a speed of thought and action that is uncharacteristic, FB quickly contacted the Brazilian embassy to offer his services as a consultant for this important cultural exchange.   A couple of weeks on the Copacabana could sharpen him up for the next few winter nets.

The phone was answered.  FB spoke.

Hello FB here

Si, Futbol Brasil?  What you want?

No, not  FB - Futbol Brasil - FB FB

FB FB?  Ah si, Futbol Brasil Face Book  What you want?

No, not Futbol Brasil Face Book.  FB.

Yeh, you tell me already - you want picture of Pele for Face Book right?

No .....Fantasy Bob

Ah, you want picture of Fantasy Bob for Face Book.  Not good idea.  Will not get much likes.

No, I am Fantasy Bob and I can help you.


You know, for Carnival, for the floats - the Fantasy Bob themed floats

There was a short silence.

What you talking about?

Fantasy Bob found himself explaining how his new fan base was evidence of a new direction for the Carnival and he thought the local population would need some help to get things authentic.

There was another short silence.

Listen - how about you just take the picture of Pele.


What you know about Brazil?'s where the nuts come from.

Ah yes, so it is...........and now it's where the bots come from.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Burns' Winter Net

In 1786 the first instance of a dismissal for hitting the ball twice was recorded.  A subject that eminent cricket poet Robert Burns chose to ignore.  Instead, he wrote Winter Night.  The published version bears little resemblance to the original manuscript now recovered by FB and which reports the winter torment cricketers have faced through the ages.
Burns in the snow -
musing on winter nets

When biting Boreas, fell and doure,
Sharp shivers thro' the leafless bow'r;
The crick’ter’s year is langsyne o’er
He whiles regrets
Then maun the frozen chiel endure
Thon winter nets

Like Odysseus in the Iliad
The coach doth call his myriad
Groaning seniors and keen young lads
No one forgets
To scour each press tae find their pads
For winter nets

In a drafty schoolhouse gym
Peers Fant’sy Bob through darkness dim
Saft muscles bruised on ilka limb
Face mortal threats
Whan junior quickies bowl at him
In winter nets

Has Fant’sy Bob lost a’ his reason
See him bowl he’ll na stop wheezin
See him bat ye’d think he’s bleezin
They're makin' bets
He'll hit it yet afore the season
At winter nets

Lord can ye hear oor lamentation
Cruel hibernal tribulation
Tholin' winter nets' privation
Nothing drearer
There’s but one sma' consolation
Summer’s nearer

Friday, 19 January 2018

Sheep May Safely Graze

These are worrying times for the lower league cricketer.  Many are dependent on pitches provided by public authorities.  They accept with stoicism the fact that the quality of these facilities may, from time to time, compare less than favourably with Lords.  But they have a charm, a heritage that is all their own and without them there would be be no cricket at all.  
A charm all its own
Edinburgh's Home of Cricket - the Meadows

But tightening budgets in local authorities do not look good.  Wickets already seem subject to minimal preparation and the outfields are far from the short grassed billiard table smooth surfaces the coaching manuals presume.  There is surely nothing left to except lots of grass.

Outfields have long been a concern to Fantasy Bob.  On the increasingly rare occasion he middles it, his mind's eye sees the ball flash to the boundary.  But there in front of him is the cruel reality.  His shoulders slump as he sees the ball disappear in the undergrowth just off the square.  A certain four becomes a scrambled single - or a two if the fielding side has difficulty finding the ball in the grass.  FB is concerned that those younger team members of shorter stature risk disappearing in the jungle - he may consider allowing them to carry their phones so that he can pick up a locational signal from them.  It would not surprise him if, come tea, an emaciated player emerged blinking from the denseness asking whether Churchill was still prime minister.

Deep fine leg of lamb
So, rather than face the risk posed by grass cutting austerity, FB wishes to propose a solution.  Local authorities should invest in a flock of sheep to nibble the outfield to a satisfactory shortness.    If this was good enough for cricket's inventors on the Hampshire Downs of the 17th Century, it should be good enough for lower league cricketers.

Sceptics may pose all manner of problems, but FB is confident that his legendary ability to shepherd hordes of young cricketers will give him all the skills to deal with sheep in the outfield.  On occasion he could even envisage a sheep being pressed into service - and it might well be more effective than many of the senior cricketers that he has played with.

Evidence that some sheep
could be up for it

Friday, 12 January 2018


The conversation at Fantasy Bob's breakfast table reached a level of unusual raciness the other day.

Mrs FB rustled her newspaper and said, 'I see you're a bit of a pimp these days.'

It was only through extreme self control that FB retained the mouthful of coffee he had just imbibed.  Over the course of their years together Mrs FB had referred to him by many terms, some of them implying endearment, the majority the opposite.  But this was a first.  He was unaware of the circumstances which had lead to her accusation.  But he was confident that she would shortly enlighten him.

She duly drew his attention to the newspaper article which had stimulated her observation.   From it he discovered that touted to emerge as one of this year's food trends is pimped porridge.
Pimped Porridge

'See, this is what counts for journalism these days,'  Mrs FB snorted - for she was once a member of that much reduced and maligned profession.  Recovering from the distraction of her sisterly concern at the plight of a fellow professional having to present such hollow fare to her editor, she returned to her main point.

'You've been a pimp for years.'

FB was uncertain whether this was an accusation, a compliment or a mere statement of fact.  It was of no matter, for the answer in each case was identical.


For FB had been pimping his porridge in no uncertain style for many years.    He understands that ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law.  He might not have known that he was pimping.  But pimping he was - unaware of how far ahead of the curve of fashion he was.

He had started out in a small way - which he suspects is not an uncommon  claim in pleas of mitigation among members of the pimping classes.  Eschewing the traditional salted porridge he at first sprinkled a little muscovado sugar or a squirt of maple syrup.  But this led on to more significant delights such as apricot puree, cherry compote, stewed rhubarb, and a range of exotically flavoured yoghurts.  That very morning under Mrs FB's watchful gaze he had pimped in high style with blueberries, muscovado sugar and winter spice Greek yoghurt.

Mrs FB was off her long run.

'What else have you been pimping then?'

Depimped bat
It was clear from her demeanour that nothing was unlikely to be an acceptable answer. FB was on the back foot. He needed to defend his honour.

He invited Mrs FB to recall his excitement a couple of years ago when a couriered package from Gray Nicolls arrived containing his new Nitro bat.  He reminded her of the temporary coarseness of his language when he discovered that the weapon was covered in unsightly stickers.  In the parlance of today it had been subject to extreme pimping.  It was a mess.  FB spent many hours , stripping the garish blazes, stripes and chevrons from its back to leave an unsullied surface.

Yes FB was a confirmed depimper.

Away from the porridge field that is.

Saturday, 6 January 2018


Fantasy Bob has been avoiding the distressing reports about England's continuing Ashes humiliation by immersing himself in the biography of Gustav Mahler, a present on his recent birthday. 
Gustav Mahler at the end of his run up
As his worldwide handful of faithful readers knows, it has long been FB's quest to determine the bowling action of the great Austrian symphonist.  At last he seemed to have an opportunity to make progress on this vital question.  This authoritative biography would surely have much to say on the subject.  FB's hopes were built up only to be dashed again.

Shamefully, although the author addresses some important questions such as did Mahler ski (his conclusion is not), there is absolutely nothing at all about his cricketing prowess.  That Mahler must have been a cricketer is transparently obvious to anyone with a passing familiarity with his work - after all what is The Song of the Earth other than a series of hymns to the variable quality of wickets  encountered by Mahler?  But cricketing facts have been ruthlessly suppressed leaving FB no further forward.   Will he ever find confirmation of his intuitive speculation that Mahler was the originator of the Doosra?  It looks unlikely.

This is not to say that this biography is totally useless.  For besides all the stuff about death, melancholia, death, melancholia and death, it reveals important new information to FB namely that Mahler's cousin four times removed is Beyonce Knowles.
Beyonce - possible addition to the pace attack?

(For those of FB's handful of worldwide readers that are not up with these things, Ms Knowles is an American popular singer, apparently of some stature).

This is a momentous revelation.  On the face of it there is little similarity between Mahler's Songs for Dead Children and Beyonce's Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) - for example,  there is little evidence, at least to FB's ear, of off-stage cow bells in the latter piece.

So FB does not know how to assess this new information.  The book does not give any additional information beyond a bare statement of this relationship.  In particular the author has chosen not to give insight into Beyonce's bowling action. A lost opportunity, for it would surely display some inherited characteristics from Mahler's own action and so could be a vital clue in  FB's long, and so far unfruitful, search. 

FB will therefore have to do the hard work himself and review all available footage of Beyonce in search of clues as to whether she might be a worthwhile addition to the pace attack.  Life is hard.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

A Birthday Hattrick

Fantasy Bob has been silent too long.  Not that he has had anything of consequence to say - as if he ever did.  Many times in recent weeks he has thought that it is about time he made another series of startling insights into the challenges he faces when encountering 11 year old leg spinners.  Challenges which grow with every passing year as FB's eyes grow dimmer and his feet more rooted to the spot. 

The seasons come and go.  The years turn. Boys grow into men. They disappear to fresh and distant conquests.  Only FB's ineptitude endures.  There is always another 11 year old at the other end, nonchalantly flipping the ball from one hand to the other.  There is no escape.  It is the tale that has been told throughout the history of poetry and story.  And FB must tell it.

On several occasions he has described to Mrs FB his need to reclaim his place in the great literary tradition - she has not discouraged him.   To be fair, neither has she encouraged him.  Indeed, she did not think it worth it to pass any comment other than to suggest he might not yet again leave his shoes in the exact spot she is likely to trip over them. 

So he turned to the keyboard with a renewed resolve.   But his firmness of purpose wilted as he suddenly brought to mind that it was his birthday. 

Again?  So soon after the last one?  The gloom of the January day deepened.  He could hear that 11 year old at the other end chuckling devilishly to himself.  All seemed lost.

But Mrs FB was on hand to save the day with a splendid hattrick.

He he scoffed the cake, he dipped into Blowers and savoured Mahler: that 11 year old leg spinner would just have to wait.