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.'

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Ear, ear

Fantasy Bob returned from his recent Italian sojourn with an ear infection.  Not only was this uncomfortable but it reduced his hearing significantly.

He strained to hear the sweet nothings that Mrs FB is wont to whisper into his ears.  No more came her seductive call, 'Must you always leave your cricket bag exactly where I am going to trip over it?'

He felt isolated and alone, a latter day Beethoven, only without the symphonies.

He struggled on, and for the most part managed to cope with vigorous nodding and inane grinning. Many of his friends and colleagues did not notice the difference.

But it was on the cricket field that he faced a significant ethical dilemma - was it appropriate that he should take his usual turn umpiring in recent matches of his Carlton All Star 4th XI?   For the umpire's sense of hearing is important.

Umpiring nirvana - players just get in the way
and make things difficult 
Wrapped in anxiety FB spent sleepless nights examining the issues.  He found a solution which reduced the moral hazard.   He might just be able to discern an appeal, but even so he took the precaution of loudly uttering after every ball 'Not Out' - an outcome which increasingly mystified the opposition as they watched the ball speed along the ground to the boundary.   His call 'Wide Ball - Not Out' seemed to maximise their confusion.  The skipper took matters into his own hands.  At the end of the over he approached FB and appeared to ask him something with an animated gesture.  FB's response was sound.  He nodded vigorously and gave an inane grin.  That sorted things.

Readers will no doubt admire the elegance of FB's solution to his difficulty and suggest that this does not address the more significant hazard.  How could the Beethovenian FB detect any snick behind. FB puts his hand up (not his finger) - there was no way he could.  It is as well that FB's team mates are morally pure as the driven snow and ascribe to sporting values of the highest order. They will always walk when they nick it.  FB therefore felt confident that he was in the ethical clear.

However his problem got him thinking that cricket umpiring does present the highest demands on the official's senses.  Although rugby or football referees have to run madly from one end of the pitch to the other while retaining enough puff to blow the whistle, the acuity of their sight and vision is not subject to similarly severe examination.  Large rugby players colliding are usually fairly visible and the collision can be heard several streets away.

Erasmus seems to be a fellow sufferer with FB
But the cricket umpire has to detect the slightest deviation in flight as the ball passes the bat or the faintest snick.  It is a superhuman challenge.  In the typical lower league cricket environment the umpire's auditory test has also to contend with a cacophonous symphony of background noises - bongo drummers, the sound systems of frolicking barbecuers, screaming children abandoned by their parents, barking dogs abandoned by the screaming children, squealing tyres from emergency stops caused by the barking dogs, shrieking brakes and blaring horns from traffic backed up, the excited chorus of road rage, accelerating motor bikes, decelerating motorbikes.  No wonder Beethoven declined the opportunity to be a cricket umpire.

But FB is pleased to say that his infection has cleared.  Not only that but he has had his ears irrigated removing lumps of wax the approximate size of a cricket ball.  He now faces another ethical dilemma - is his newly restored super acute hearing fair to his team mates.  Surely there is a risk that he will now hear snicks from matches several miles away and reach a wrong decision.  He is overcome with anxiety - should he stand or not?

Friday, 17 July 2015


Fantasy Bob's  engagement with political action has for the most part been confined to his long running campaign to secure support from the parties for legislation to outlaw leg spin bowling in lower league cricket.  For reasons which are lost to him, no party has seen fit to adopt this policy and reel in the thousands of votes it would attract.

However a recent experience in Waitrose has agitated FB's political muscle and he is considering overt action.  Now, cricketers may well think that Waitrose is a generally good thing - and the Waitrose in Morningside, close to FB's residence, an  enhancement of the area's general amenity.  For Waitrose is the current sponsor of the English cricket team who take the field with the name of the store emblazoned across their chests.  As he passes through the checkouts FB will feel a shadow of disappointment that his contributions to Waitrose's profits cannot be redirected to the support of Scottish cricket - which is significantly in greater need than the ECB.  He also steels himself to overlook the fact that his purchases may enhance Stuart Broad's salary.  But these are not the causes of his political anxiety.

Being under pressure of time FB sought out the constituents of the cricket tea he had to provide later in the day during a hasty visit to Waitrose in search of other comestibles.  He got the savoury.  He got some fruit.  something sweet was needed to top it off. It was then that FB was brought up short.  For search as he might in  the bakery aisle, the cake aisle, the biscuit aisle, even the foods from around the world aisle he could find no empire biscuits.

In this day and age, this is indefensible.  For a store overtly supporting cricket to fail to have available the fundamentally important constituent of the cricket tea is beyond comprehension.  It is barbaric. Something must be done.  Cricketers should take action.

FB notes that within a half mile radius of Waitrose there are at least 7 outlets which do stock empire biscuits.   He suggests that cricketing customers should let this guide their shopping habits.  This should bring Waitrose to its senses.

Some of the delicacies available close by

Thursday, 2 July 2015

I don't want a pickle

Bust of Catullus in Sirmione
Long suffering readers of these pages, being widely read, are familiar with the works of the Roman poet Catullus.  Not that they will find any cricketing references in his surviving work (perhaps he addressed cricketing subjects in verses that have not survived - we shall never know).

But the most famous quote from his work seems uncannily to have been inspired by Fantasy Bob.

'Ave atque vale,' the opposition wicket keeper will frequently mutter as FB pointlessly scratches his guard.  Hail and farewell - a simultaneous greeting and departure.  Catullus was evidently aware of the all too transitory nature of FB's visits to the crease.

FB was put in mind of Catullus during his recent Italian visit when he and Mrs FB spent some delightful days on the peninsula of Sirmione, a location celebrated by the poet.   Despite the overtly sexual content of much of Catullus' work, carefully selected verses were a set text when FB did Higher Latin.  Contrary to the belief of many of his junior team-mates in the Carlton All Star 4th XI, Latin was not still a living language when FB studied it although it may only recently have died.

Sirmione is a narrow peninsula on the southern end of Lake Garda and at its tip are the ruins of a Roman villa which is claimed to have belonged to Catullus' family, even though there is no match report which provides certain evidence that he was ever there. Whatever is the historical reality, FB and Mrs FB spent a pleasant morning poking around the ruins.  Catullus was the scion of a wealthy Veronese family and the villa, which is no modest 2 up 2 down holiday cottage, but spreads over 5 acres, would seem to suggest a certain level of wealth in its owners.   The atrium alone was the size of a decent cricket square.  Not that Catullus would have made much use of such a facility, his interest in cricket being negligible.

Just as there is no evidence that Catullus had any interest in cricket, there is no evidence that he had any interest in motorbikes. His poems do not mention them. In this he has so much in common with FB.

Harley Davidsons in Sirmione
So if there was one thing that Catullus might not have expected in Sirmione it was a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  For that is what FB and Mrs FB encountered on their way into Sirmione - a couple of thousand Harley Davidsons.  Their visit coincided with the Sirmione Harley Party, a weekend gathering of Harley owners from all around Europe.  The throbbing roar of their grand parade on Saturday afternoon could be heard all around Lake Garda.  Get your motor running..............

FB looked hard but he did not spot any cricketers among the bikers.  There might have been a chance that MS Dhoni would be there - for the great Indian skipper has a collection of motor bikes and indeed owns a motorcycle racing team.  But Dhoni did not show.  Nor did Glen McGrath - reported as touring New Zealand on a Harley earlier this year.  FB struggled to convey his disappointment at these no shows to Mrs FB who appeared wholly unconcerned.

MS Dhoni on bike
He found consolation for suddenly he found himself singing to himself his long forgotten but favourite motor cycling song.

I don't want a pickle, Just want to ride my motorsickle, 
And I don't want a tickle, I'd far rather ride on my motorsickle, 
And I don't want to die, Just want to ride my motorcy...........cle.

Mrs FB's eyebrow rose.  She suggested that the sound of the Harleys was considerably more musical than FB's ululation.

But FB was undeterred.  This great lyric is so good it could have been written by Catullus - but it wasn't.   It is by Arlo Guthrie and FB fondly remembers hearing it many times in the late 1960s on the late night progressive music programme on AFN.  He should have been reading Wisden of course but at that time progressive rock had more attractions and seemed likely to change the world.

Hear the song on this link - with its splendid comic narrative about how the song was written and the exhortation to his audience to sing it with enthusiasm.  Mrs FB could not hold FB back.

Sadly, Arlo Guthrie never wrote any song about cricket.  This much he had in common with Catullus.

Thursday, 25 June 2015

A balcony by any other name

La balcon de Lords

Fantasy Bob was smugly convinced that he had already seen the most famous balcony in the world. Indeed he had stepped out on it. Not that this was to receive the adulation of his adoring fans thronging the outfield at Lords following his match winning performance, but on a tour of Lords some years ago he did step out on to that famous balcony for a few magic moments and imagine.

So that when on their recent visit to the splendid Italian city of Verona Mrs FB punctured the breakfast silence with the suggestion that they visit the most famous balcony in the world, FB did not understand either how they were to get to St John's Wood far less why Mrs FB had taken such a sudden interest such a visit.

He was soon enlightened as they joined the tourist throng standing in the courtyard admiring La balcone de Julietta - a prime Veronese tourist attraction.

La balcon de Julietta
The house now known as Juliet's house dates from the 13th century and is understood to have been owned by the family dell Capello, which for these purposes, and disregarding for a moment that Romeo and Juliet is a work of fiction, can be regarded as exactly the same as Capulet and so is obviously where all that star crossed stuff happened. Juliet looked for her lover from the balcony, forgetting that the balcony itself by all accounts was added in the 20th century. Also problematic is that Shakespeare's text does not mention a balcony, far less that the love lorn Romeo climbs up to it, but only mentions that Juliet appears at a window - what light through yonder window breaks?

But it all looks just right - like it is in the movies and these days there is no higher test of reality.

FB was intrigued to discover that Juliet receives thousands of letters each year from the love lorn and forsaken asking for her advice on matters of the heart. Many are pinned in the courtyard by visitors. All letters receive a reply from a 'secretary of Julietta'. Presumably they involve advice not to believe old priests who offer bottles of sleeping potion.

As if Julietta was a good guide to the successful long and happy relationship. You might as well ask FB about how to play leg spin bowling.