Friday, 3 June 2016

Four Last Runs

Sometimes Fantasy Bob thinks that all the clever clogs in the world simply miss the obvious in their self serving search for metaphor and meaning.  If they all had a better grounding in cricket and cricketing matters they would find things easier.
Strauss in 1948

As a case in point, FB enjoyed this week a performance by the RSNO of Richard Strauss' Four Last Songs. Lush orchestration with a floating soprano line - Test Match Quality.  Looking at the programme note FB was told all manner of guff about how the 84 year old Strauss set these poems as a marker of his own impending death - for he died shortly after he composed them.
This has a superficial plausibility.  However it fails to take account of the fact that the songs were written in 1948.

This was of course the year of the Invincibles, the touring Australian team which swept all before them.  It was Bradman's last tour.  It included his last Test innings.  An innings in which he needed four runs to ensure that he had a Test batting average of 100.  As all children should be taught in primary school, a googly from Eric Hollies gave him a second ball duck and he finished his Test career with an average of 99.94.
Bradman in 1948

It is obvious - at least to FB, and, if to him, why not to everyone? - that Strauss, the last great Romantic composer, was greatly affected by this misfortune.  After all his earlier work had included works which dwelt on the nature of heroism - the great tone poems Ein Heldenleben and Don Quixote among them. Inspired by Bradman's heroic failure, he dashed off in his masterful way a work he carefully entitled Four Last Runs.  Sadly it got lost in translation, and one of the finest cricketing works of the concert hall has never been properly recognised as what it is.

There are no doubt those among FB's dwindling handful of readers who are thinking to themselves, 'Come on FB, there is no link between Bradman and Strauss.'

But that is where they are wrong.  The great batsman had a passion for classical music and in particular the soprano voice, and it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that he was familiar with Four Last Runs, and appreciated its true meaning.

But even beyond that his granddaughter Greta Bradman is a soprano of growing reputation wowing audiences in the concert hall and opera house.  Her repertoire includes Strauss' Four Last Runs.

So there.
Greta Bradman

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Peak Stuff

Peak Stuff?
Fantasy Bob has been reading in the more erudite press earnest discussions of the concept of peak stuff.  Boffins are suggesting that increasing numbers of people in the developed world have as much stuff as they could ever want, far less need, far less find places in the cupboard under the stairs for.

They point to such facts as the stagnation of sales of iPhones and iPads, the downturn in household spending on physical goods, including furnishings, clothing, cars and gadgets.  National statistics show that the amount of  material stuff used in the UK – including food, fuel, metals and building materials – has fallen dramatically since 2001.  So much so that Steve Howard, head of Ikea’s sustainability unit, has been moved to declare: “In the west, we have probably hit peak stuff. We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff… peak home furnishings.”

Peak home furnishings? Yikes!  Are things that bad?

Desperate though this sounds, FB can offer his handful of readers some hope - the cataclysm is some way off.  For the boffins have failed to include in their analysis one area where we are only in the foothills - peak cricket stuff is still some way off.

Player's kit store 1990
In the salad days of FB's long and undistinguished career in the lower leagues, cricketers would arrive for a match bearing only a small haversack containing a box, a pair of boots, a pair of whites. Perhaps a towel if they thought they were on a promise that night.  Perhaps a Mars Bar if they had read something about a new fangled concept of sports nutrition.  Wicket keepers of course had to stagger under the additional burden of a pair of gauntlets - the extra weight of which probably explained the solid foursquare frame of most wicketkeepers in those halcyon days.

Nowadays, even the most youthful of FB's team mates will arrive encumbered with a veritable pantechnicon of kit.  Both parents will follow like native bearers carrying additional items.
Player's kit store 2016

Over the years, FB has watched his junior colleagues unpack their pantechnicons and has observed the relentless growth of cricket stuff:

  • No self respecting junior will have fewer than three bats - one for a quick wicket, one for slower tracks and one that is being knocked in.
  • Alistair Cook may be able to bat for hours in the heat of Perth or Hyderabad without casting a drop of sweat and without changing his gloves.  However, in the sweltering heat of Scottish grounds, a change of gloves is necessary every 5 overs.  At least 3 pairs are needed - along with associated inners.
  • Spikes, half spikes, astros, rubber studs, flat soles, bowling boots.  It is impossible to survive the rigours of the modern lower league tussle with just one set of footwear. Sometimes wellies are essential items too.
  • Match kit, training kit, warm up kit, travel kit, post match uniform.  A player needs a full travel wardrobe - skippers need to make sure that an iron and ironing board are available.
  • A box, arm guard, batting pads, thigh pad, inner thigh pad, keeping pads, fielding pads, chest protector, helmet, cap.  In the salad days a thick cable sweater was deemed sufficient protection.
  • Against all empirical evidence Scottish players also insist on sunhat and sunglasses, the later of which at least keep the biting wind out of a player's eyes.
  • Base layers for cold conditions, base layers for warm conditions.  Scottish players must also add a special base layer which can deal with all seasons in one day.

Gradually senior players are catching up and emulating their junior role models.  Of course they have to add some additional items in particular:

  • Knee support, ankle support, elbow support.  Most senior players also need continual emotional support.
  • A pharmacopoeia of linaments and stimulants (all within the guidelines of the World Anti Doping Administration's list on prescribed performance enhancing substances).

Peak cricket stuff is still far off.  Continuing growth seems essential to the survival of the Western economy.  The sooner IKEA get into self-assemble cricket gear the better for them.

But FB can also offer some hope for those with environmentalist leanings who despair at this relentless material growth.  Is it sustainable they ask.  FB can assure them that the impetus to recycle is strong. At least half of this gear is left behind in the dressing room after each match.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Age Gap

In February 2011 John Davison and Nitish Kumar opened the batting for Canada in their World Cup match with Zimbabwe.  Davison was 40 years old and counting, Kumar 16.  The 24 years between them is reckoned to be the widest age gap between batting partners in international cricket.

Kumar and Davison
This might impress some, but it does not impress Fantasy Bob.  During the first match of the new season last weekend FB was his usual shambolic presence at the crease when he was joined by an 11 year old with all the talent and style that are so conspicuously absent in FB.  Despite the age gap of 50 years and then some more, spectators found it hard to discern who was the senior partner so commanding was the youngster.  FB was in no doubt.  Age was no barrier; the 2 gelled splendidly and the partnership blossomed.  There was talk around the boundary of the great partnerships of old, Hobbs and Sutcliffe, Greenidge and Haynes, Hayden and Langer.

Both were not out at the innings close and they put on nearly 50. It would surely have been more but for FB's inability to connect with any of his characteristic closed-eyed heaves in the final overs. FB and his youthful partner had easily outperformed Davison and Kumar not only in matter of the age gap, since the Canadians were both back in the hutch with a mere 7 on the board.  FB assumes the mantle of greatness with all due modesty.

It is one of the many life affirming charms of cricket - particularly at the elite level that FB plies his trade - that the generations mix, and work together for the same outcome.  Even though FB barely knows what an x-Box is, and his youthful partner was unable to address during their between over conferences FB's questions about the relevance of Wagner's thinking on the gesamtkunstwerk to the concept of theall rounder, they enjoyed mutual respect.

Such inter-generational respect is important.  Senior players ignore it at their peril.  Many times FB has seen senior, so-called mature batsmen saunter to the wicket, take a dismissive look at the youngster serenely tossing the ball from one hand to the other at the other end before pointedly eyeing choice areas of the boundary to which he imagines he will crash the ball in the next few moments.  Moments later the bails lie on the ground as the senior so-called mature batsman trudges his way back to the pavilion - deceived in flight, beaten by the bounce, undone by the spin - whatever.  It is the situation for which the word hubris was invented.   No doubt that was the word on the Melbourne crowd's lips when in 1877 18 year old Tom Garrett dismissed England's James Southerton, then aged 49 and still Test cricket's oldest debutant. The 31 year gap between bowler and victim remains the widest in international cricket.

Many times also has FB witnessed senior, so-called mature batsmen, play the ball and set off with the thought bubble coming out of  his head,  'An easy single to the wee laddie' only to be surprised as the wee laddie in question swoops on the ball and in a single move and with one stump to aim at guns it in a single movement.  The stumps fly, leaving the senior player a long and embarrassed journey to the far pavilion to consider the issues of age discrimination.

Mind you, all this pales into insignificance when considered with age gaps in some other fields. When Hugh Hefner married former Playmate Crystal Harris in 2012 he was 60 years her senior.

Hefner adn Crystal about to open the batting

Monday, 2 May 2016

Another Season?

Earlier this week Mrs FB found Fantasy Bob sitting with a look of worried concentration on his face. That attracted her attention in that it was a noticeable change from the look of amiable vacantness which normally describes FB's demeanour.

'What are you doing, dear heart?' she inquired.

'Nothing,' he replied.

'You did that yesterday.'

'Yes, but I didn't finish.'

There was a pause while Mrs FB returned to the start of her run up.  This time she put a bit of pace on her delivery.

'What are you thinking?'

'I can't help wondering.  Another season might just be too much.'

Mrs FB sighed: she had heard the same moan at this time of year for as long as she could remember.

'It could be the end,' FB felt a lump in his throat.

'You say that every year.'

'It's been one season too many.'  His lip trembled.


'They're gassed.'  A tear started in his eye. 

'What is it this time?  Shoulders?  Ankles?  Knees?'

FB looked askance.  Not that he really knew what askance meant, but he gave it his best shot. He was not sure that his life partner had the full measure of the seriousness of the situation.

'No,' he said as the emotion swept over him.  'It's my boots, they'll never last another season.'

Another Season?

Saturday, 30 April 2016

A Nursery Rhyme for the New Cricket Season

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
What will the cricketers do then
Poor things
The season's begun
So the game must go on
And they're wrapped up like Michelin men
Poor things.

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
What will the batsman do then
Poor thing
Watch each deliv'ry
Tho' he feels shiv'ry
And hope his hamstrings don't twang
Poor thing.

The north wind doth blow
And we shall have snow
And what will doughty groundsmen do now
Poor things
In a determined manner
Dexterous use of a spanner
Turns his mower into a snow plough
Poor things.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Ah Vienna

It was the time of year when Fantasy Bob could be expected to be reaching the zenith of his pre-season preparation.  Checking his kit, having managed to save it from Mrs FB's enthusiastic but unitmely suggestion that it might go to the Scouts' Jumble Sale; working through the last indoor nets and anticipating the frost that would accompany the first outdoor sessions.
Ah Vienna............
April may be the cruelest month, as TS Eliot would have it, but he was a non-cricketer and did not appreciate the mounting sense of anticipation that the month brings to action starved cricketers whose dreams of match-winning fifties and career best five-fers reach their apogee as the season fast approaches.

It was therefore with incredulity that FB received the news from Mrs FB that he was expected to accompany her and a couple of friends on a trip to Vienna in just the week he had reserved for the all important task of reviewing the spikes in his boots.

'Are you mad, woman?' he lovingly inquired of his better half.  'What do you expect me to do there?'

'Well there are some great Art Galleries and historic palaces......'

'But the injury risk!'

FB met the quizzical stare of his partner by explaining that Museum Foot - the painful and seemingly incurable condition acquired by extended and repeated lengthy visits to art galleries - would wreck his bowling action.  He would be unable to come off his long run. It might be mid season before he could recover.

Mahelr's star outside the Staatsoper
gives no clue as to his bowling action
'Nonsense,' she riposted.  'Your long run is only 4 yards.  Anyway, haven't you been rabitting on for years about Gustav Mahler's bowling action.  They might know a thing or two about that in Vienna - after all he was the Director the Vienna Staatsoper for long enough.'

FB had to concede that he had tried the patience of many of the readers of his excruciating match reports for his beloved Carlton 4th XI with extended (not to say repeated) speculation about Gustav Mahler's bowling action.  Could it be that Mrs FB was correct and he would find the evidence he needed in the city in which Mahler spent so many years?  FB's previous researches into Viennese cricket did not give him much hope but he dutifully packed his togs, adding an extra bottle of linament.

Unhappily the trip added nothing to FB's knowledge of the great composer's bowling action which must therefore remain a subject for continued speculation.

Instead he found himself following the career of the Hapsburgs the dynasty that ruled Austria and its various imperial structures until the end of the First World War when the country became a Republic (or republik as they like to spell it locally).

Hapsburg palaces, Hapsburg museums, Hapsburg art collections.  FB was well and truly Hapsburged. For all their power and influence the Hapsburgs showed little interest in cricket. No doubt this explains why the dynasty ultimately failed.

Schonbrunn - space for cricket?
For example, their grand summer palace Schonbrunn is a Test Match Quality baroque building redolent with history - Mozart performed there when he was 6 years old; Napoleon stayed there as he conquered Europe;  JFK and Krushchev met there in 1961; and so on.

But there  the vast grounds contain no cricket facility.   For such an expanse had space for a fine cricket ground - indeed space for two cricket grounds. The Hapsburg imagination failed - and they paid the price.

Durer's Picture of the Outfield
FB sought an explanation for this failure.  Were the skills of a suitably doughty groundsman not available to their Imperial Majesties, he wondered.

But a visit to the excellent collection in the Albertina Museum suggested otherwise.    For among its many treasures is a small and miraculous work by Albrecht Durer.

Durer was not a cricketer, far less a doughty groundsman but his masterful water-colour Large Piece of Turf is surely a representation of an unacceptable part of the outfield that Durer was familiar with.  As such it is a guide and a warning to doughty groundsmen, depicting as it does a number of the species that have to be conquered in producing a good playing surface.   Do not let your outfield get like this - FB could hear Durer's solemn warning come down to him across the void of the years.

FB's mood declined. No insight into Mahler's bowling action, no Hapsburg cricketers, Durer's insights ignored.  And worse, the risk of Museum Foot was increasing by the hour.

There was nothing for it but to seek refuge in one of Vienna's many charming cafes.  An empire biscuit would be just the thing to restore FB's depleted spirits.  He was distressed to find that in spite of its imperial history, Viennese cafes had no knowledge of the empire biscuit.  What did the Hapsburgs think they were up to?  FB had to turn to Sacher Torte which he found an entirely acceptable substitute and wiped his disappointments completely.

The handful, if that, of readers who have struggled their way to this point may be wondering when FB is going to make his entirely predictable joke about The Third Man as a classic of the cricketing film genre.  But FB eschews such levity - instead he offers readers this fine film of Anton Karas playing the theme tune of that great Vienna movie which is not about cricket but about sewers.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

As steep as it gets

The cricket season has not yet got underway.  But even as Fantasy Bob anticipates the series of 50s and 5-fers that will mark his season, he is confident that his main sporting achievement of 2016 is already in the bag.  (And before his handful of long suffering readers suggest as much, he should mention that he has not taken part in any empire biscuit eating marathons in the close season).

Not that an empire biscuit would have been unwelcome on that sun lit morning during his recent visit to the Austrian Alps.

As the sun rose into the azure above the mountains, FB's ski group ascended in the cable car.  A gentle ski down to a button lift was a nice warm up, but as his group came off that lift they were unprepared for where the instructor was leading them.  A couple of turns later they stopped with a collective gulp. 

What they were looking down is reputedly the steepest secured slope in Europe.  The Langer Zug run at Lech.   There are several ways of measuring steepness - it is 142%, it is 55 degrees on one method, 78 degrees on another.  Whatever.  This was steep - looking over it was like standing on a diving board.

For cricketers who find it hard to envisage such topography, any of these measures mean is considerably steeper than the world famous outfield hill at the Grange Loan home of FB's beloved Carlton CC, a treacherous black run on which FB has come to grief on many occasions.

But before FB could draw this telling comparison to the attention of his colleagues, they were off.  FB told himself to rely on his technique.  Now, those who have seen FB rely on what he imagines is technique when facing leg spin bowling - or indeed any other kind of bowling - might fear that this was an unwise tactic.
Skier (definitely not FB) on the Langer Zug
But as FB leaned forward and down, forcing his weight onto his downhill ski, the edge gripped.  After 2 turns the thrill kicked in.  This was something.  Speed skier Harry Egger clocked 248 km/hour (154 miles/hour) down the Langer Zug, at the time the world record.   It would be an exaggeration to say that FB flowed down the slope in that fashion.  FB acknowledges that his own speed was slightly less brisk, barely above military medium in fact, but for several splendid minutes he felt master of the mountain.

This was the thrill of the hat trick ball clattering into middle; or the joy of the six into the upper tier at long off.  Better even.  Better even than an empire biscuit.

Most ski slopes look much less steep from the bottom.  Not the Langer Zug.  Not to FB.  Looking back as the adrenalin rush faded, FB was sure that even from the bottom it was still considerably steeper than the hill at Grange Loan.

Here is a video of a slightly better skier than FB going down.