Saturday, 19 July 2014

The Baggy Blue

Not part of the
bowling attack
Fantasy Bob had the novel experience this week of taking to the cricket field leading a side where the aggregate age of his bowling attack stood comfortably above his own age.  For once the only 12 year old in sight was the Macallan behind the bar.

For go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton had arranged a fixture against cricketers from the Victoria Over Sixty Cricket Association (VOSCO) as part of their epic tour of Ireland Scotland and Iceland.   Fantasy Bob was pleased to learn that over 60's cricket is immensely popular in Australia, where the Victorian Association has over 15 member clubs, and increasingly in other parts of the world.  FB's researches tell him that even Scotland has fielded an over 60s team this season in a tussle with England.

VOSCO tour booklet
It was not clear what act of temporary insanity lead the club's normally level minded administrative supremos to invite FB to skipper the distinguished side.  But invite him they did - and what's more to the point, arranged as perfect a summer's day as ever there can have been at the club's prestigious HQ at Grange Loan.

Those spectators who tumbled into the ground in anticipation of a feast of cricket were not disappointed. Neither were those who tumbled in merely in search of a feast, for the catering throughout the event was of Test Match Quality.

Those among FB's handful of worldwide readers wishing to learn more of the keenly contested proceedings are invited to turn to the match report on the club's excellent website.

Those who have better things to do should nevertheless be aware that before play got under way the skipper of the touring side presented each of Carlton's select XI with a special tour cap bearing the association's badge.

But for FB as skipper they held back something special.  A baggy blue cap from the Carlton Cricket Club in Melbourne which FB wore with pride throughout the afternoon's play.

Senior members of Carlton looked at FB's smart new headgear with more than a hint of envy.  For amongst some of those grizzled seniors the issue of caps is a sensitive one.  Many a visitor to the pavilion, unaware of the history of this controversial issue, has casually passed an innocent observation on the  head gear adorning the team on the field, only to reel from the room several hours later after an exhausting exegesis of the garment's inadequacies.

For there are those among the senior playing members who regard the pale duck egg blue of the currently prescribed cap as inappropriate.  They may accept that it has some utility on a gloomy day at Grange Loan, when its pale glow is often a clue that there is a fielder in the vicinity.  But that, as far as they are concerned, that is the limit of its usefulness.  While they may accept the baseball cap type dimensions the milliner has imposed on the object, they secretly yearn for a baggy to call their own.

But above all, it is the duck-eggness of it that offends these sensibilities.  It is the delicacy of the pastel shade. It is the light blueness of it.  There is no escape from the passive quietness of the shade.

FB's readers can make their own minds up.................
For these unreconstructed minds, this is not a shade which is consistent with digging it in short, or creaming it through the covers, or whanging it in from the boundary.  They see it as a suitable adornment for needlepoint, or lace making, or even cup-cake decoration.  Important pastimes all, many of them Olympic sports in which these senior members on occasion participate with distinction, but outside the cricket season.

But this is no longer an aesthetic issue that FB has to worry about.  For now he has his baggy blue.


Saturday, 12 July 2014

Vandalism

Fantasy Bob was disappointed to read a recent report of further vandalism at the ground of Glenrothes CC.  This club has suffered more than most - and certainly more than it deserves - from such mindlessness.  Glenrothes CC has also suffered from the mindlessness of a previous post by FB.  How can one club put up with so much?

To FB's mind, no punishment is too gross for anyone who would vandalise a cricket ground.  A life sentence facing leg spin bowling is the least that the courts should stipulate.

Vandalism gives the Vandals a bad name.  Originally the Vandals were an East Germanic tribe, or group of tribes, who were first heard of in southern Poland, but later moved around Europe establishing kingdoms in Spain and later North Africa in the 5th century.  Renaissance and Early Modern writers characterised the Vandals as barbarians playing a major part in the sacking and looting of Rome and the term widened to the destruction of works of art and by extension anything else.

There is no suggestion that the original vandals desecrated cricket grounds - and indeed more contemporary writers suggest that they had great respect for Roman cultural achievements (they just liked looting them a bit more).  So real vandals might have regarded the facilities of Glenrothes with proper respect.

FB has to tread with care here and not mount the high horse too mightily.  For he had an early career in vandalism.  Some junior members of go ahead Edinburgh cricket Club Carlton, familiar with FB's increasingly geriatric manoeuvres in the field, may be forgiven for thinking that he was actually involved in the sacking of Rome.  But he missed this event.  Just.
FB missed out on the sacking of Rome

No, his career dated to a time in Aberdeen when he lived in a new house on a new development. All around chez FB (site of the only L shaped cricket pitch in the history of the game) were houses being built.  This being a civilised time before health and safety was invented, there were no security fences anywhere. FB and his chums were free to roam through the shells of soon-to-be-luxury executive homes.  Bliss it was to be alive and all that.

Generally FB and his chums were well behaved on their expeditions to those buildings.  But one summer evening for some reason - perhaps an overindulgence in sherbet fountains or the state of the moon - they took to throwing roofing tiles from the higher points of a building.  They watched as they cartwheeled to the ground and smashed into pieces.  This proved exciting for 10 minutes or so and then the gang went on to something else more gentle and civilised.

This incident faded quickly from FB's mind, but it seems to have troubled the building company who did not share his youthful excitement at converting a stack of pristine tiles into a pile of rubble.  Their preference was definitely for a set of tiles which would be nailed on to the roofs of their emerging executive townhouses.  So a couple of days later the police appeared at FB's front door - (Fit like, fit like, fit like................) seeking information about what he knew about the incident.

Even at that tender age FB understood the importance of walking when he had tickled the ball behind.  He would not have dreamed of doing otherwise.  There was no need for Aberdeen's finest to test their range of interrogation techniques.  A seat in the front room with his Mum and Dad was all that was needed.

'Yes,' he knew about it.  Sob.  'Yes,' he was there.  Sob, sob. 'Yes,' he took part.  Sob, sob, sob.   Most of FB's chums appear not to have been cricketers for they failed to walk.  FB was left shouldering the burden with one other boy - no prosecution but restitution of the damaged materials.  No pocket money for a few months.

FB gave up vandalism after that.  He has forsworn sacking Rome.  Roof tiles are safe in his hands.

He still walks.

Cricket and vandalism - they just don't go together.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Scripts leaked on line

Dr Who and friend with one of the leaked reports
Executive authorities at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton are investigating a serious breach of security after several  match reports for forthcoming 4th XI matches were in appropriately released on line.

Fans have been asked not to distribute the leaked material further.

A spokesperson for the club said

'We would like to make a plea to anyone who might have any of this material and spoilers associated with it not to share it with a wider audience so that everyone can enjoy the matches when they are played.

'We know only too well that the 4th XI fans are the best in the world and we thank them for their 
help with this and their continued loyalty.'

The leak has reignited controversy that the world famous series of match reports are in fact written well in advance of any of the matches being played. 

More recently there have been other suggestions that the reports are computer generated or produced by an infinite number of monkeys sitting at an infinite number of keyboards.

The Club's spokesperson was at pains to deny these allegations:

'Do you really think that monkeys would make up that drivel?'


Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Stud

SCG - Members' and Ladies' Stands
Mrs FB had tolerated with quiet resignation the tour of Sydney Cricket Ground which formed a key part of Fantasy Bob's Antipodean itinerary.

She observed the changing rooms and the honours boards, the classic lines of the Members' and Ladies' Stands tranquil against the newer stands that now surround the field.

As she followed the tour guide onto the field of play she stroked the nose of the relief bust of Bradman - as all who pass through that gate do.  Just as countless batsman have made a wish - for a century perhaps or at least that they are not out for a duck - she may have uttered a silent prayer.

FB was not privileged to learn the content of her wish.  She may well have  wished for a century.  It is more likely that she wished that this was the last cricket ground she would ever have to wander around and that something more interesting would be found on the rest of the trip - something a bit more horsey perhaps.

It is too early in the season to know whether FB's wish is going to come true, although a betting man would not stake much on it.  But the fates seemed to deliver for Mrs FB.  For as FB languished in a New Zealand hotel room a week later he was advised, 'I've arranged a visit to the Cambridge Stud tomorrow.  You don't have to come.'

'The Cambridge Stud?  Who is he?'

'Don't be daft -it's not a person.'

'Oh,' said FB, the image of a lothario with a First in Greats receding.

Mrs FB beside Sir Tristram
It not take long to enlighten FB.  Mrs FB's equine wishing was bearing fruit. The Cambridge Stud is New Zealand’s finest thoroughbred nursery, its stallions the most lauded and successful in producing winning race horses.  Its most famous stallion was Sir Tristram who sired a record 45 individual Group One winners including 3 winners of the Melbourne Cup.  Sir Tristram died in 1997 when the laurels were taken up by his son Zabeel.  Zabeel has just retired and it is likely that his progeny will go on to win more races than those sired by his Dad.  Sir Tristram is buried at the Stud Farm - standing up, so the tour guide advised.  A fine statue of him stands above his grave.

All that does not mean much to FB who does not follow horse racing or bloodstock breeding.  He assumes that there may be some among his handful of worldwide readers who are familiar with such matters and will be nodding nod wisely at such information and be listing each and every of Sir Tristram's progeny.

It was not the breeding season at the time of FB's visit.  So there was no stallion on mare action to divert them.  This may have been a relief.  For FB and Mrs FB were treated to more than graphic descriptions of the process, which when it comes down to it all seems a bit of a bother.  And more than a bit dangerous too - not only for the mare.

For Sir Tristram appears to have been, how can FB put it, very difficult.     Sir Tristram may have had speed genes; he may have been a noble beautiful animal, but he could hardly be said to have a winning personality.  Perhaps it was just too much sex.  Perhaps it was performance anxiety.   It would after all do anyone in to have to perform 3 times a day, day in day out, even if an extra carrot was in prospect at the end of it.

For this is the regime at the height of the season.  It brought out the nasty in Sir Tristram - he was all macho assertion.  The guide told several tales of how difficult he was to catch at the start of the day - it generally took 3 stable lads to get hold of him in his paddock.  He regularly attacked them - in one instance biting the shoulder of a handler and lifting him clear off the ground.  One kick from him was bad news.

Exactly what all the mares saw in him is anyone's guess.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

America's Cup


One of Auckland's tourist attractions to which Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB succumbed during their recent visit was the opportunity for a hurl round the harbour on an America's cup yacht.

America's Cup yacht at mooring
Long suffering readers of these witterings will recall that there is a bit of a sailor in FB - so they may understand the thrill he felt stepping aboard such a boat and helping sail her.  Grinding up the sails with the huge 2 man winches and taking the helm for a few tacks as she creamed along at 9 knots in no wind at all.  Just like being given a spell from the Nursery End at Lords.

9 knots in no wind at all.  This is a vessel built for speed.  She is 80ft long with a mast towering 113ft into the blue Auckland sky. She weighs 24 tons, over 20 of which is in the form a lead bulb hanging about 12ft below the keel.

She came second in the challenge series in 1995.  The America's Cup structure is such that boats race for the honour being the challenger who then races against the Cup holder.  In that year, the USA was the holder and NZ the challenger - a challenge which was successful.  For many years the America's Cup challenge was a huge driving force in NZ.  A route to establishing identity for a small distant country.  Also a route to exploiting its great yachting heritage - Auckland is not for nothing described as the City of Sails.

NZ successfully defended the Cup in Auckland 2000 but lost it in 2003.  In the most recent race in 2013 NZ was the unsuccessful challenger in San Francisco.
FB takes the helm

The America's Cup may be the oldest sporting trophy in existence - it was first awarded in 1851 - 31 years before the Ashes Urn.  The race has a a unique structure.  The holder of the Cup gets to set the venue, timing and rules for the next competition.  The specifications of the boats allowed to compete therefore continually change as the holder seeks to consolidate some design advantage or other.  As a result there has been as much litigation over the years about design details as there has been sailing.

The rules for the 2017 Cup were published by the San Francisco team during FB's visit in NZ.  There is great controversy in NZ as to whether they will mount a challenge this time. It is too expensive.  The rules are twisted too much.  Crew and designers are being poached by others.   All the fun of money driven international sport.

There is a residual bitterness about how they lost the last series - NZ only needed one more win but the American challenger then brought GB Olympic hero Ben Ainslie into their set up and won all the remaining races. FB knows how the Kiwis feel.  It is like a cricket team struggling in the middle asking a spectator who just happens to be there that day to play as 11th man - he turns out to be a domineering bat and unplayable bowler.  It would be sad if the next race was without the New Zealanders, they have been the heart and soul of the event for the last 2 decades.

Praying Mantis on the waterfront
The boat that FB sailed was recognisable as a yacht.  It has a sleek hull and big triangular sails.  Sadly the America's Cup has gone all IPL.  The crews wear helmets and body armour. The design choice is now a twin hull, with a fixed wing sail. This not only provides drive but also lift so that the at speed the hulls lift out of the water maintaining contact only through the slightest of foils.  They may reach speeds of 45 knots, but they have no soul, no beauty no grace. They are black mantis-like creatures from another planet.  do they fly rather than sail?

Nevertheless the races are thrilling.

FB has noticed that Sir Ben Ainslie wishes to mount a GB challenge. He has been schmoozing teh Duchess of Cambridge for support.  As if she had anything to offer.  FB is disappointed that Sir Ben has not been in touch.Given his extensive America's Cup yachting experience; given his knowledge of the wind from his long career of bowling against it, FB is sure he could bring something to the GB challenge.  He awaits the call.
Ainslie and Kate - can they do without FB?




Tuesday, 24 June 2014

The Bruce


Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB return from their visit to Australia and New Zealand to find a heightened state of excitement and celebration throughout their native land.

Not in response to their return.  Far less because of the early elimination of England from the World Cup. Significant though each of these events is.  But there is something else that is stirring the Scottish pulse.

For this week marks the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, which took place on 23 and 24 June 1314.  A new Visitor Centre is is operation at the battle site with all manner of technological wizardry to entertain, divert and bring the event to life.  A re-enactment is on the menu with re-enactors from all parts of the world promised.

The earliest known image of the battle 

Battle reenactment is never a thing that FB has quite got to grips with. It seems largely to involve camping and dressing up while at some time running from one end of a damp field to the other waving some weapon like thing or other.  It is a strange way altogether to spend a weekend.  Although, as Mrs FB points out with characteristic acuity, this is rich coming from someone who dresses up in pads, spends half the weekend wondering how he missed another straight one and the other half in the solitude of deep fine leg.  Chacun à son goût, you might say if you were so inclined.

Like most Scottish people FB absorbed the wonders of Bannockburn at his parents' and grandparents' knee.  It is a fine tale of the underdog beating the bully; of a fight for freedom and identity.   The celebrated single combat between Robert the Bruce and Henry de Bohun, who charged at Scotland's King and when the two passed side by side, had his head split by Bruce's axe, lived long in FB's childhood memory - even though his childish ears first heard the name of Scotland's great commander as Robert the Bruised.  What bruised him, he wondered.  Was this a risk of playing with battleaxes?  
 
Victorian image of R the B -
note absence of cricket gear
To anyone called Robert, Scotland's great leader, be he Bruce or Bruised, would be an inspiration.  So it was with FB.  Or should have been.  However it became clear from FB's youthful researches that Robert the Bruce was not a cricketer.  A bitter disappointment for FB and his first encounter with the often repeated finding that heroes can have feet of clay and the Bruce receded in FB's echelon of role models. Just as well, since acts of individual bravado with axes were not encouraged in the playground of his school.

The site of the Bannockburn visitor centre, and the well known statue of the Bruce, is probably not the true site of the battle itself.  One of the candidates as the true site is about a mile away - roughly in the area where FB played cricket against St Modan's High School FP on many occasions when that club took their place in the East of Scotland leagues.  Although still active, the club no longer take part in those leagues.  

St Modan's most famous former pupil was Billy Bremner, another Scottish hero although he did not turn out for the cricket team.  Nevertheless, surely the Bremner and the Bruce would put something in the air and inspire FB to great acts of leadership or heroism.  FB's long suffering readers will know better than to raise the question.

Just as Robert the Bruised was not a cricketer so Bruce is not a common cricketing name.  Only one member of the Bruce clan has played test cricket -William Bruce  played in 14 Tests for Australia between 1885 and 1895 scoring 702 runs at an average of 29.  His relationship to Robert is not known. Sadly he took his own life in 1925 as drink and business difficulties overwhelmed him.  

Bruce French
More players with the Christian name Bruce have played, though not that many. Kiwis predominate; there is only one Bruce who has turned out for England. Wicket keeper Bruce French played 16 Tests between 1986 and 1988 - his opportunities limited by the arrival on the scene of Jack Russell.

And even in Scotland Bruce are few and far between.  Ayr batsman Bruce Patterson played 3 ODIs and 12 First Class matches for Scotland between 1988 and 2004.  And that's about it.

So all in all the excitement about Bannockburn this week may pass cricketers by. They will therefor be grateful to FB for reminding them of its happening.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Dungog

A visit to Sydney was a big risk for Mrs FB.  Particularly since a visit to tour the cricket ground had been pre-arranged.  Talk of cricket was unavoidable.  She would just have to bear it and a tour of the Opera House would compensate.

But for a couple of days she could think she was safe.  She had suggested that she and Fantasy Bob visit an old friend of hers up country during their short visit to Australia.  Her friend is a horse person and lives in a small horse and cattle town in northern NSW. Conversation would surely be dominated by important matters like fetlocks and withers.  She had lost count of the number of times that FB had excitedly pointed out a cricket ground to her as the train made its way through the countryside.   As the train drew into the small station of Dungog, she leaned forward in anticipation. Relief was at hand.

Rush hour traffic in Dungog NSW

FB's worldwide readership will already be ahead of him at this point.  They will recognise that Dungog may well be celebrated for its annual rodeo and for having the first continuously operating enclosed cinema in the whole of Australia - the James Theatre has been in existence for over 100 years.  

But they will know that its more important claim to reknown is as the birthplace of Doug Walters, legendary Australian batsman of the 1960s and 70s.  His name is still revered locally, and in a fitting tradition the pavilion at the local cricket club is named after him.  Talk of fetlocks therefore was abandoned as FB dragged Mrs FB off in search of this hallowed building.



For KD Walters was just about everyone's favourite Australian player throughout his Test career from 1965 to 1981.  In 74 Tests he made 5357 runs at 48.26 - in the words of EW Swanton 'if he ever played a dull innings I never saw it.'   He scored a century in his first Test innings, against England at Brisbane and followed with another century in the next Test.  He rapidly gained a reputation as a man of the people - he seemed carefree, down to earth, a man who liked a beer.  The Australian crowds loved him - so much that the Hill at Sydney Cricket Ground became known as the Doug Walters Stand - a name which stuck until its more recent corporatised redevelopment with  rows  of plastic seats.  It was Walters who became the first batsman to score a double century and a century in the same Test; it was Walters who brought up his century by hitting the last ball of the day from Bob Willis for 6 at the Gabba in 1974; and it was Walters who borrowed a bicycle to pedal round the boundary when he was put at deep third man at each end by Ian Chappell as punishment for oversleeping.

Signed photo in SCG museum -
thanks for your support
Doug Walters
All this and more came to FB's mind as he looked out from the pavilion over the ground where Walters first took up a bat. Maybe just a little of that greatness would rub off on FB.  Perhaps one day the crowds at the Grange Loan headquarters of go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton would rename their famous hill 'The FB Stand.'

The FB Stand....FB's eyes misted over - it has that ring to it, he thought to himself.

'Are you going to stand there all day with that stupid look on your face, or are you coming for lunch?'

His reverie was broken, the mirage of the FB Stand receded.  But the memory of KD Walters still burns bright.