Saturday, 3 October 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

And the stage direction, they do not move.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- They have to talk about it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FB rests his case.

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

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

Monday, 21 September 2015

La Boheme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 September 2015

Five Years Young

This blog is 5 years young today.

This is the 1012th post.

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

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

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

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

Brian Close CBE

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

Tuesday, 8 September 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 14 August 2015

Proper Cricket

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Proper cricket - where has it gone?

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Horses for courses

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

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

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

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

She was on the front foot immediately.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, 1 August 2015


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

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

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

FB's rueful silence only provoked her further.

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

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

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

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

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

FB slowly shook his head.

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

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

'Scottish Football Season Gets Underway Today.'