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.