Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Variations

Wasim Akram - master of variation
Fantasy Bob has spent some of the recently completed cricket season worrying about his variations. For he has noticed in reports of top flight matches much is made of the desirability of a bowler delivering variations. Line and length is out, variations are in. Coaches look for nothing else. Commentators obsess with noticing and defining variations.

This obsession has become all pervasive.  Even the fresh faced junior members joining FB in his All Star Carlton Fourth XI have got the bug. On being invited to bowl at a critical stage in a match, the freshest faced and juniorest of them will now inform FB, 'Going to try my new variations, Bob.'

FB sighs and sets the field deeper.

 For FB finds variations are over rated.  Perhaps the intense environment of lower league cricket is not a fertile ground for them.  But even in elite cricket he sees that batsmen now expect the change up - or change down (whatever that piece of coaching speak may mean) after 2 balls of the over.  They are therefore set up for the slower one - and off it duly goes over the boundary rope.  Or the bowler's control over the delivery is so fragile that a set of increasingly embarrassing wides follows.  Some variations.  The only surprise variation these days is no variation at all.

Variations might seem a new craze, but great bowlers have always been able to keep the batsman guessing.  Shane Warne or Wasim Akram, for example, may well have had 5 or 6 different deliveries which they could bowl at will.
Anton Diabelli

But 5 or 6 variations pales into insignificance when the true greats come into view.  And the greatest of them all was incomparable.

In 1819 Anton Diabelli, who was a music publisher and minor composer in Vienna, invited a number of Austrian composers to offer a variation on a waltz theme of his own composition.  His worthy objective was to raise funds for widows and orphans of the Napoleonic Wars.

Legend has it that Beethoven, then at the height of his Test career, at first scorned the invitation thinking the theme was too banal for one of is talents.

Beethoven's slower one
However, whether in response to a financial inducement or just because Beethoven was that kind of guy, he eventually got stuck in and a few years later presented the world not with one variation but with 33 Variations.   Five and a half overs and not a single duplicate delivery.

No simple change-up or change-down for Beethoven - his piece is endlessly inventive and ground breaking.  The ball comes from the back of the hand, the front of the hand, across the seam, down the seam, top spin, side spin, over spin - and then some more. With good reason it has been described as Beethoven's greatest piano work and the greatest set of variations ever created.  FB is bound to agree - it certainly tops his own efforts to master the slower one.

33 Variations - that would keep any batsman guessing. 

Beethoven - greater even than Akram
This link will take you to FB's favourite pianist Alfred Brendel playing this masterpiece.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Ajmal

Fantasy Bob reads with interest that the ICC has banned Pakistan’s Saeed Ajmal following investigation of his bowling action. Analysis showed that his arm extended beyond the legal 15 degrees in all his deliveries.  The ICC have deemed him a chucker and no greater slur is known to the cricketer.
Ajmal - bent elbow

The ICC seem to have ramped up their approach on this aspect of the game this year. A number of bowlers have been reported, banned, investigated or are undergoing remedial action including Kane Williamson, and Sachithra Senanayake.

But as far as FB knows, no bowler in the lower leagues of the East of Scotland Cricket Association has been given this treatment, although speculation about unique bowling actions is a regular part of the Saturday afternoon discourse during many games.

FB’s own action is beyond question, if only because he is unable to bend any part of his body more than 15 degrees.

FB has suffered as much as any other lower league batter from the bottom feeding chuckers, but Ajmal is something different. A truly great bowler whose reputation is now probably slurred irretrievably. There are suggestions that the attention on him is a reflection of a long standing campaign by some to outlaw the doosra altogether.  It is unfair to batters, so they say.  FB has never encountered a doosra from the business end - for which he is truly thankful - but on these grounds he thinks the straight ball should be banned too.  It is unfair to batters - well to FB at least.

Some say that it is impossible to bowl the doosra without an illegal arm bend.  Illegal or unnatural? FB's attempt to bowl a doosra in the nets rendered his shoulder and wrist out of action for weeks. FB's investigations suggest that it may be something only to be attempted by the double jointed. And there’s the rub.

Akhtar - bent elbow
Murali was investigated time after time because of contentions that his action, and his doosra in particular, was illegal. Time and again he passed the assessment and revealed startling flexibility in his wrist and fingers being able to lay his thumb along his forearm. Shoab Ahktar had a similar hyper extension of his elbow adding to his already fearsome pace.   (See this slo-mo of him throwing).

So, is there no place for the double jointed in cricket?

Which brings FB naturally on to Sergei Rachmaninov, known to all cricketers as the composer of lushly romantic piano concertos, the Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini, Vocalise and other sundry delights. The music that swells up all through the uber-romance Brief Encounter is his, and he is Classic FM's favourite composer. 

But, despite all this, was Rachmaninov a chucker?

To FB’s knowledge Sergei Rachmaninov was never seen on the cricket field.  No one has therefore seen his doosra.  But on the evidence of the complexity of his piano writing, many critics contend that Rachmaninov must have been double jointed.  His joints may therefore have flexed illegally during his Paganini Variations, not to mention his doosra.  This is something that the ICC, or Classic FM, need to consider with some urgency.

It is surely time it was established beyond doubt whether Rachmaninov's doosra laden Paganini Variations was a legal delivery.

Rachmaninov - bent elbow

Until that day dawns, cricketers will wish to approach his music, and his doosra, with caution.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Flapjacks

Fantasy Bob's longstanding membership of the League of Empire Biscuit Loyalists is not to be tampered with.  It is firm and unyielding.

Members of the League are clear in their conviction that the empire biscuit is the piece of choice in all circumstances, including imminent torture by leg spin bowling.

However FB's loyalty has recently been put under severe strain during a recent visit to the National Galleries of Scotland.

FB will spare his world wide handful of readers the fairly obvious observation that cricket is poorly served in the NGS collection of pictures.  Nor is there any representations of the empire biscuit - surely a fitting subject for artists.

Cricketers may therefore feel weary treading through its galleries, as did FB.  They may repair to the coffee bar, as did FB.

They will overcome their sense of disappointment that amongst the array of cakes presented there, the empire biscuit is noticeable only by its absence.

It was at this low point that FB found himself with a flapjack on his plate.  FB has always tolerated the flapjack as a workaday player; a journeyman county player; unlikely ever to merit Test selection. All too often it is a solid lump of  oatmeal and vegetable fat .

Not on this occasion.  This was straight into the Test squad -  a moist fruit laden masterpiece.  It was full of apricot, prune, pumpkin seed and glace cherry.  A masterpiece.

FB has therefore formed a new organisation - the League of NGS Flapjack Loy
alists.  Joint Membership with the League of Empire Biscuit Loyalists is available now.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Maurice Ravel

Maurice Ravel
Cricketers whose expectations are raised by noticing that the works of the great French composer Maurice Ravel include a song entitled Cricket have to be let down slowly. For they may open their ears for a melody celebrating line and length but instead will find an account of a day in the life of an insect.

They will feel désolé, affligé, inconsolé, désespéré, misérable, triste, affligeant, abandonné, désert, malheureux.  All a bit French in fact.  Is it this Frenchness which is a factor behind the lack of cricketing material in the works of Ravel?

Putting this apparent limitation behind him, Fantasy Bob found himself in the Usher Hall earlier this week enjoying Ravel's ravishing music played superbly by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra under five-star conductor Mariss Jansons. Test Match Quality.

Mariss Jansons
On the programme was Suite No 2 from the ballet score Daphnis and Chloe. This work opens with as fine a musical depiction of dawn and early morning as has ever been written.  It will evoke the feeling in any cricketer of arriving early at the ground with a hint of dew on the grass and the golden sunlight slowly streaming over the wicket as the Doughty Groundsman (depicted by the lower strings) puts his finishing touches to the surface.

So evocative is it that FB began to wonder whether Ravel have gained his inspiration from this piece by exposure to just such a cricket ground?

Ravel made several visits to Britain during his career. His first visit was a the end of April 1909, the same year that he began work on Daphnis and Chloe and may well have caught the opening matches of the season.  Coincidence?  FB doesn't think so. (Sadly FB notes that while Ravel visited Edinburgh several times he did so only during the winter months, so it is unlikely that he took his inspiration from a morning visit to Carlton's prestigious Grange Loan HQ.)

It is less easy to track the cricketing inspiration in his later works although some of his visits to Britain coincided with significant cricketing events which may well have stuck in his mind. In 1922 he was in England shortly after Warwickshire and Hampshire took part in one of the most remarkable of all County Championship matches. After making 223 Warwickshire dismissed Hampshire for only 15, Following on, Hampshire did better, but were still struggling when a 9th wicket partnership of 180 lifted them to 521. Warwickshire needed 314 to win but were bowled out for 158 to give Hampshire a remarkable win in one of the greatest comebacks in cricket - and the inspiration behind Ravel's blues influenced violin sonata finished the year after.

Iftikhar Ali Khan Pataudi -
known to his pals as Nawab
In July 1931 Ravel conducted at Covent Garden at the same time as the annual University match between Oxford and Cambridge was underway at Lords.  Might he have spent the day there watching the Nawab of Pataudi stroke the Cambridge bowlers to all parts of the ground to make 238*?  His subsequent work suggests as much.   

For in 1931 Ravel completed his Piano Concerto, also part of the concert programme attended by FB. There seems little argument that the languid, elegant and beautiful second movement is a fitting tribute to this fine innings. 

The Nawab was subsequently selected for the Ashes tour in what became the bodyline series.  He scored a century in his first Test innings but struggled subsequently - both with his form, the bodyline tactic and, personally, with the skipper Jardine of whom he said,  'I am told he has his good points. In three months I have yet to see them.'  Ravel did no meet Jardine, but his music suggests he may have had similar reservations about the tactic.

Pataudi subsequently skippered India on their tour of England in 1946.  Tragically, Ravel could gather no further inspiration from the Nawab for he died in 1937, without adding to the cricket references in his work.

Monday, 25 August 2014

The Runner

It may not appear so to the untrained eye, but there are a number of differences between international cricket and the elite sporting activity that Fantasy Bob indulges in throughout the summer.

Andrew Strauss denies Graham Smith a runner for cramp in 2009
- Smith had just scored 100 - Strauss said he was still able to run
One of these is the runner - someone to run between the wickets when a batsman is injured. Runners have been outlawed in international cricket since 2011, out of concern that the law was being abused.  Hard though it is for FB to envisage circumstances in which a professional sportsman might seek to take advantage of the law, there was concern that players were calling for a runner in circumstances where their injury was not life threatening - cramp at the end of an innings being the classic case.

However further down the food chain, where  cramp is a permanent condition and players are hardier and would only call for a runner when facing immediate amputation of a defective limb, the runner is still part of the game and a regular source of much confusion and entertainment.

FB is pleased that this is the case - for running was one of the skills of the game that he mastered at an early age. Indeed it was the only skill that he ever came close to mastering. Running in the field, running between the wickets, running in to bowl, running to the toilet - there seemed so many opportunities to show off his skills and team mates got tired of his endless showing off in the running department.  In the deep and distant past, so impressed were his colleagues with his prowess in the running department that FB was asked to run for injured team mates.

Sadly those days are a distant memory and while FB may still have mastery of running it is increasingly inclined towards the theoretical than the practical.

But it was not until this weekend that FB found himself on the other end of this particular stick.  He need a runner.

FB's skill at placing the field had deserted him and he found himself having to chase all manner of balls to far distant parts of the ground.  Usually he places an enthusiastic junior member beside him, who like a well trained labrador will sprint with youthful vigour after the speeding ball and return it with a pleading look in its eye and its tongue hanging out.  But junior members were occupied in other parts of the field stemming the flood of runs that was mounting against the team.  After several protracted chases FB's calf muscle decided, with remarkable common sense, that enough was enough and forced FB to sit out the final overs.

Tea has many restoring powers - it lifts the spirit and cleans the blood.  However it does not fix strained calf muscles.  So for the first time in his career FB found himself facing the prospect of batting with a runner.  He sat and contemplated the early overs of the innings, thinking to himself that this was an opportunity.  Surely without the distraction of having to sprint from end to end in his usual breathless manner a big score was in prospect.  He could see the scoreboard's gleaming figures - 50, 70, 80 and on to the unexplored uplands of three figures.   He could see the scorer running out of space in the book.

This would be something all the junior members would remember to tell their grandchildren - they were there when FB scored his ton.  There was therefore competition in the ranks of the juniors for the privilege of being FB's runner.  A foot race was held to identify the fleetest of foot.

The time came, and FB and the proud young man strode to the wicket.  FB could hear the applause already. The young man position himself at square leg.  FB tapped a mark on the wicket.  He took his guard, carefully scraping the line with his spike. He would be here for some time. He surveyed the field -
extra cover was surely placed a little to square for one of FB's power and subtlety.  He took his stance. The bowler turned at the end of his run up. The keeper crouched.  Silence.

FB's membership
successfully renewed
FB is not sure what happened next.  In his mind's eye he pushed the ball gently into to mid off and his runner set off for the single.  However the ball decided not play that game and thudded into his back pad.  The umpire was unsympathetic and the finger went up.  FB renewed his membership of the primary club.

Runners?  No help to FB.  Perhaps the ICC was right in getting rid of them.


Sunday, 17 August 2014

Broken Bat Mountain

Readers can be assured at this point that this is not a tedious post about  cricketing puns in film titles - like Star Waughs, or Vaughan Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.............with this assurance Fantasy Bob is confident that his faithful handful of worldwide readers who have got thus far will read on for some far more tedious.

FB supposes it must happen often.  But this was the first time he had witnessed it in his long concert going career.

The Artemis Quartet and strings
The Artemis Quartet might have recognised that they were dicing with danger playing Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet in FB's presence. For they should have known that this masterpiece had a track record of disaster - it had been the previous subject of FB's Witterings.

So about 5 minutes into the first movement the resonating harmony of the principal theme was complemented by a loud and unmistakable PING.

The first violinist's top string snapped.  A sigh went round the packed hall.  With no more ado, the quartet stopped, left the platform and presumably threw themselves on the masseurs' table.  Five minutes later they re-emerged with a full complement of strings and started again.............

FB has long thought that concerts are fraught with accidents waiting to happen - will the percussionist drop the cymbals as he returns them to their precarious stand, will the double bassist topple over as she leans forward to turn the page, will the clarinetist drop her mouthpiece and see it rolling across the platform and into the audience? Will the pianist's page turner turn the wrong page at the wrong time?

FB sits through the music on tenterhooks.  His applause at the end of the piece reflecting his relief that none of these disasters has happened.

Cricket is also stuffed with possibilities of technical failure.  The most recent and spectacular of such events occurred on 5 January this year - the third and, as it happened, final day of the final Ashes Test in Sydney.

Ryan Harris bowled round the wicket to Michael Carberry. Carberry may also have been a disaster waiting to happen in that he too had been the subject of FB's Witterings.  Putting that horror to the back of his mind for the moment however Carberry pushed gently at Harris' delivery only to find himself left with less than half a bat as it split completely.

Carberry - suffering from FB's post
Professor Rod Cross from University of Sydney’s Physics Department, who has nothing better to do with his time and excessively large brain, calculates that the ball, weighing around 160g, hits the bat at around 100kmh, generating 10,000 Newtons of maximum force for a millisecond.  In terms that FB understands this is roughly equal to 12.5 cricketers standing on the bat together.

FB has no estimate for the number of cricketers who must have stood on the snapped violin string.  Or violinists.

Without a bat Carberry was no use to England and he has never played another Test.

FB himself has been subject to the Carberry experience, when his beloved GN Scoop broke leaving the bottom half hanging by the protective skin.  It had seen many years of faithful service but was not up to 12.5 cricketers standing on it (that may be a slight exaggeration as the ball that did for it was a slow half volley.....perhaps equivalent 1.5 cricketers........).  The broken bat was duly buried with full military honours.  Like Carberry FB has never played another Test.

Howe and skipper
It was Sir Geoffrey Howe who having resigned as Foreign Secretary anticipated FB's and Carberry's trauma by remarking in his resignation speech in November 1990 that working under then PM Mrs Thatcher's leadership was

.... rather like sending your opening batsmen to the crease only for them to find, the moment the first balls are bowled, that their bats have been broken before the game by the team captain.

There is no estimate of the number of Prime Ministers who have to stand on a Foreign Secretary to break him.  

Friday, 8 August 2014

Waverley

Prompted by a piece in the popular press which told him that it was first published 200 years ago on 7 July, Fantasy Bob has been reading Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley.

Has nothing to say
about the station.
It is a disappointing read - it has nothing to say about the station. FB supposes it has this much in common with Trainspotting.

Not that FB is particularly interested in stations. Cricket is more his thing and neither novel really delivers much in that area either.

A cricketer’s pulse might be stirred in the first paragraph of Scott’s romance where he writes ‘Would not the owl have shrieked and the cricket cried in my very title-page?’ He should not get his hopes up. This is a tease. The next 600 pages make no further reference to cricket crying or otherwise.  In this it has much in common with Trainspotting.

Waverley was Scott's first novel and was a sensation - as in its day was Trainspotting. 

..and no cricketing interest
Waverley quickly sold out and went through multiple editions. It is generally reckoned by those who know about these things to be the first historical novel in the English language - without it Game of Thrones would not have been possible. So there. 

It is not clear, at least to FB, why Scott chose the name for his central character - a young Englishman with romantic ideals who finds himself in Scotland at the start of the 1745 Jacobite Rising and becomes part of it.  He might as well have named his hero Bradman, or Hammond, or Tendulkar.  

At that time the only Waverley was a ruined abbey in Surrey, and the adjacent borough. But so massively popular was the novel that a significant number of places were named after it, Edinburgh's principal station most of all. 

There is a Waverley in New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia. There is a Mount and Glen Waverley in Melbourne. There are 2 Waverleys in New Zealand and 3 in South Africa. 3 areas bear its name in Canada. There are several listed mansions of that name in the US, and over 30 locations with the alternative spelling Waverly.

Robson - a link to Waverely
Nor is Waverley without resonance to the cricketer. Easts CC play on the Waverley Oval in Sydney, close by the SCG and Bondi Beach – the club was formerly known as Waverley CC.  Its head coach is Michael Bevan and it is where current England opener Sam Robson learned his cricket.


It is here that similarities between Waverley and Trainspotting end. There are no cricket grounds named after Trainspotting.
Cricket at the Waverley Oval, NSW