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.

'Never.'

'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.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Bloomsbury

Fantasy Bob was on assignment to London this week.  Bloomsbury to be exact.  As he walked between office and hotel he passed numerous blue plaques marking the former residences of the famous and infamous.  And Bloomsbury has more than its fair share of these plaques, for in the first half of the 20th Century it was home to the Bloomsbury Group, long revered as an influential group of like-minded writers, intellectuals, philosophers and artists noted for many great achievements including a spectacular propensity for bed-hopping with each other.

Among the more eminent were E M Forster, John Maynard Keynes and Virginia Woolf.  FB's long suffering readers will be thinking to themselves - this is just the point when FB points out that this Group is overrated because there is no cricketer among them.  He will say that he has scrutinised at length the works of JM Keynes and while he may well have been right about the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, he presents nothing to guide the faltering batter's attempts to deal with leg-spin bowling.

FB is disappointed that his handful of followers think he is so predictable, for the Bloomsbury set did contain a cricketer of real potential as these charming photographs confirm..

Virginia Woolf standing up to her brother


Virginia Woolf's forward defensive
These photographs confirm to FB his longstanding belief that the problem for Virginia Woolf was that she did not know whether she was a batter or a wicket keeper.  'Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the old cliche runs, which suggests that she might have been a leg spinner too.  No wonder she was a tortured soul.

Even worse was that at that time there was no structure of women's cricket for her to develop in - and she had to give herself to lesser pursuits such as novel writing.  Men could play cricket all day everyday, but not men.  Her feminism was confirmed and she was associated with the Suffragettist 'Nets for Women' campaign.

This identity crisis tortured her everyday life and found rich expression in her literary work - her novel Mrs Dalloway in particular contains many references to cricket, its place in English society and how its enduring values survived the trauma of the First World War.

'Cricket is no mere game,' she writes in Mrs Dalloway.  'Cricket is important.'

VW is clearly a man after FB's heart.

And so it seems appropriate that Wisden is now published by the Bloomsbury Publishing Group, even if it has yet properly to honour Virginia Woolf between its yellow covers.

Virginia Woolf - a man after FB's own heart



Sunday, 13 March 2016

Mommsen

O
Mommsen telling it like it is........
Scotland's skipper Preston Mommsen seems to have had a good WT20 competition as the disappointment of narrow losses to Afghanistan and Zimbabwe were assuaged by a maiden victory in a World Championship (even if they had to wear shocking pink to do so).

But it is his comments on the challenges facing associate members of the ICC which have rung out loud and clear and attracted wide interest.

Will they have any impact?  FB hopes so, but he is not confident that the sport's governing body will respond.

In the early days of this blog FB had access to the private meetings of the ICC as they decided the format of the 2015 World Cup.  He faithfully reported these proceedings in these postings.

http://fantasybob.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/icc-triumph-feckers-no-more.html

http://fantasybob.blogspot.co.uk/2011/04/at-home-with-feckers.html

There were suggestions at the time that these were satirical presentations.  Subsequent developments merely confirmed their accuracy.

FB's worldwide communications system has been re-tuned and once again he brings his handful of readers a transcript from the most recent meeting of the ICC as they consider Mommsen's remarks.

.................Mumsnet?  Who is this Mumsnet?

He is captain of Scotland.

Where?

Scotland - you know, where the golf courses are.

Oh yes - so Mumsnet is captain of Scotland's golf team.

No - their cricket team.

Is there one?

Yes, apparently they've been playing in the WT20.

But it hasn't started yet.

That's his point - he says the associates have qualified only to play each other in yet another qualification event before the top teams come in.

What's wrong with that - everyone has to qualify to play India in the final.

He says we have to rethink the format.

Disgraceful.

Shocking.

I know, it implies we thought about it in the first place.

He says we're not supporting the associates.  He says that the associates should have more matches against full ICC members.  

But they might beat them and then where would we be?  Anyway, what's all this got to do with us?

He says that we should be trying to grow the global game.

We are - there are more matches between India England and Australia than ever................

Sunday, 21 February 2016

McCullum

It was a desperate tactic.

Fantasy Bob looked up from his steaming bowl of porridge to see Mrs FB closely examining the weekend supplement's report of the New York Fashion Week.  As she lowered the paper, he knew what was coming.    He would be asked what he thought Mrs FB would look like in Marc Jacob's latest creation.  If it was good enough for Lady Gaga surely it was good enough for her?  The price tag was irrelevant. FB began to panic.

It it's good enough for Lady Gaga.....
A diversion was necessary.  Bluntly he blurted out

'He's some guy, that McCullum...'

Mrs FB looked steelily at him.  and then more dreamily.  Thoughts of Marc Jacobs and Lady Gaga seemed to fade.  Her gaze became more dreamy.

'Ah yes,' she said with a throaty warmth, 'I used to have a poster of him above my bed when I was at school.....'

FB's mystified gaze must have troubled his partner, for she continued.

'Ilya Kuryakin - now he was the man for me..........' she dreamily intoned, the suggestion that she had ended up with something considerably inferior was left unsaid.

The Man from UNCLE - no cricketing skills
FB recognised a situation which called for the ultimate patience and tact.  He chose his words carefully.

'Don't be so bloody daft,' he said.  'That was David McCallum.  The Man from UNCLE. Never known to play cricket.'

The only response was a sigh.  FB therefore felt emboldened to go on.  'It's Brendon McCullum - his final test match - he hits the fastest hundred in Test history.  He's also now the leading 6-hitter in Tests. He's some guy.........'

He was unsure whether Mrs FB was paying attention as he described the one time he had seen McCullum play.  It was at Leeds last year.  The first morning.  New Zealand had made a sticky start - they were 2 for 2 and had recovered a bit to 68 when Stuart Broad had Ross Taylor LBW.  In strode McCullum.  Broad streamed to the wicket. A full length ball. Bang!  It disappeared into the crowd at extra cover.  Perfect. Heroic. Not Test cricket as we know it.
Brendon McCullum - 100 from 54 balls
McCullum then timed everything and was 41 when lunch came.  The crowd buzzed and looked forward to an afternoon run feast.  The groan when McCullum drove too early at the first ball after lunch to dolly a simple catch to mid-off could have been heard for miles.  Live on the front foot, die on the front foot.

'Yes,' FB edged to the end of his speech, 'he's some guy.  You know, if I was a Test player, I'd be exactly like him....I like to think that when I lead out Carlton's 4th XI the team sees something of the McCullum in me........'

A medical emergency was only narrowly averted as Mrs FB's coffee sprayed in several directions and she collapsed into a coughing fit of what seemed to FB unnecessary theatricality.

McCullum has cause to remember Scotland with affection; although he only played twice there, it was the scene of his highest ODI score.   In 2008 New Zealand took part in a triangular ODI competition with Scotland and Ireland at Mannofield in Aberdeen, scene of some of FB's own first grapplings with the mysteries of leg spin and in swing.  In the match against Ireland he scored 166 off 135 balls, with 10 6s, as New Zealand posted a massive 402 off their 50 overs.  Two days later Scotland managed to contain him to 22 off 24 balls.

FB will greatly miss McCullum from the Test arena.

And if Mrs FB wishes to put a poster of him above her bed, FB would have no objection.