Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween

Good for batting practice
Modern Scottish cricketers get it too easy.  Anyone who has attempted to fashion a lantern out of a turnip - neep or tumshie depending on your precise Caledonian location - will recall the aching wrist and the blistered palm associated with hollowing the tough flesh.  The pumpkin was a foreign thing only heard of through its deployment as Cinderella's coach and had never been seen at Scottish cricket grounds. Nowadays pumpkins push their orange orangeness forward from every vegetable rack and turnips are left for the sheep. Even a blunt knife will cut through their orangeness with ease.  Scottish cricketers' wrists are thus weaker and their approach to batting has suffered. 

 
Invasive species

This is not the only way in which Halloween has changed to the detriment of cricket.  Halloween has at its roots an ancient Celtic festival, sumhain, marking the end of summer, the end of the light half of the year and the start of the dark half.  The word Halloween itself is most definitely of Scottish origin and was first heard in the 16th Century. The carving of lanterns was originally a way of remembering souls held in purgatory.  The Reformation may have got rid of purgatory in Scotland - or did it ensure that life in Scotland was nothing but purgatory?  FB forgets. But the lanterns lived on with many of the traditions of earlier times. 
Guising is central to the Scottish Halloween where children disguised in costume go round neighbours and friends asking for food or coins.  It would seem to derive from the late medieval practice of souling, when poor folk would go door to door on receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls' Day.  Guising was used in the USA and the first references to trick or treating are not found until in the later 1920s, but it is a word that is at risk of falling out of the language now.  We are all the poorer as a result.

Cricketers
in modern ODI dress
When FB went guising costumes were hastily improvised - bed sheets were pressed into service as ghostly shrouds, witches' hats were fashioned from old newspapers and black paint and masks were made from Cornflake packets.  Modern cricketers' imaginations and creativity do not stretch beyond purchasing costumes at Tescos and the fancy dress has industrialised into an essential part of the military-industrial economy.  As a result, modern cricketers have to wear fancy dress on many specified occasions including during limited overs matches. 

Neighbours expected a performance of some sort in exchange for their sweets or nuts.  This was alright for kids who could sing, or kids who could remember the beginning, middle and end of a joke in that order.  For Fantasy Bob this was more of a challenge, and he remembers audiences being less than captivated by his attempts to demonstrate the googly making use of his precious dooked apple.   Perhaps it was because of the danger this presented to his neighbours' mantel ornaments, their good china or their TV sets which invariably seemed to be placed on a good length. Perhaps FB's demonstrations were not technically perfect - but the modern cricketer would have no such excuse since he could hone his act on the super-slow- motion reverse angle replays that spill over all TV channels.  In the days that FB was guising, the only super-slow-mo was him getting out of bed in the morning.

Dookin' for aiples
There are several games traditionally associated with Halloween parties. There was dookin' for aiples. Apples float in a tub or a large basin of water and players attempt to lift them with their teeth.  In the days before Health and Safety regulated all our waking and sleeping hours, life-jackets were not provided and many a small child drowned in this otherwise harmless pursuit.  A variant on this game was to kneel on a chair, with fork between the teeth and try to drop the fork to spear an apple.   This reduces the risk of drowning, but small children could be impaled with the fork as they surfaced for the third time.   Nowadays cricketers wear helmets with face grills, and the possibility of them catching an apple in their mouth is much reduced. 

For Fantasy Bob, the highlight of the games on offer was the treacle scone - treacle or syrup-coated scones  were hung up on strings and had to be eaten without using hands.  Blindfolds added to the hilarity.  Fantasy Bob has tried to get this approach deployed in cricket teas.  In vain, for cricketers ae averse to blindfolds although many FB has played with would seem to bat as if wearing them.

Once you had dooked your apple, you would peel it ensuring the peel remained in one long strip.  You would throw it over your shoulder and the letter it formed on landing would be the first letter of your future batting partner's name.  Cricket lost much when skippers abandoned this technique when drawing up batting orders.

So commercialised and over hyped Halloween kicks over the traces of its origins and we are all impoverished.  We forget too easily the souls of those who have gone before.  Fantasy Bob will leave it for you to determine the parallels to draw with cricket.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Light

It's one of those tricky things for cricketers isn't it, the light?

Bad light - Scotland 9.00 am
A ritual in these Isles occurs at the end of every October.  Not Halloween, although Heaven knows that is a dreadful enough ritual. No this is something worse.  It is the annual appeal against the light from those living nearer the equator who contend that the changing of the hour from British Summer Time to Greenwich Mean Time (now known as Universal Time) is a danger to batsmen and will lead to slaughter on the roads in the Home Counties as drivers struggle to come to terms with darkness at 5.00pm and school children, disoriented in penumbra, step into the carriageway.  But cricketers nearer the Arctic disagree - lighter in the evening means darker in the morning and children would be as likely to be slaughtered on their way to school.  The answer is that people should not drive so fast.

But year after year this appeal is made and pages of the popular press are filled with the concept of an extra hour of daylight.  Who would not want an extra hour of daylight?  But this is a trick, there is no extra hour to be had, just the same hours and same amount of light.  In the North of Scotland maintaining BST through the year would mean that it would not get light until goodness knows when.  Play could not begin until well after lunchtime.

Bad light - Durban 2004
Appeals against the light are no longer part of cricket.  Nor do umpires offer batsmen the light - a shame for there is something poetic about being offered the light.  If the umpires think it is too gloomy off they go - frequently to the mystification of both teams and the ire of the paying public.  Now that most Test grounds have floodlights, you might think that play being stopped for bad light would be a thing of the past - you would be wrong, as this summer showed as umpires dragged players indoors even when the floodlights were banishing the darkness.  This is one of the charms of cricket.

But the present situation has come about to avoid military confrontation between nations.  For light used to be subject of a high level of gamesmanship when it was in the interests of one team to suspend play.  Appeals would pour out of batsmen who would grope around in the half light to make the point.  Then when the rules were changed, there were many batsmen who practiced the additional skill of soliciting an offer of light.  But no more.

Perhaps the most celebrated instance of light-centered gamesmanship came during England's tour of Australia in 1946-47   After tea on the second day of the Second Test Australia were 24/1 on a wet wicket much suited to the England bowling attack.  Sid Barnes made a series of appeals against the light - up to 12 were counted - 8 in a 11 minute period.  Eventually the umpires gave in to the constant appealing and the batsmen were allowed to retire an hour before stumps  After the series Barnes admitted that he could have played on but the match situation lead him to 'keep on appealing until the umpires answered me'.

Barnes and Bradman
on their way to 234 each
Late on the following day Barnes was joined by Bradman, battting down the order due to a leg injury. Over six and a half hours later Bradman was out for 234. Barnes was dismissed just four balls later, also for 234, having batted for over ten hours. In his autobiography, Barnes stated that the coincidence of scores was intended. He confirmed to an interviewer many years later that "it wouldn't be right for someone to make more runs than Sir Donald Bradman".  Their partnership of 405 is still a record 5th wicket stand - and is the oldest of any present record wicket partnership.

In the Third Test Barnes appealed for light at the end of the second day, which was rejected. In the final half hour of this Test England batted on when Australia wanted three wickets for their third victory of the series  Hammond had been dismissed earlier, but refused to let his team appeal against the light which in the falling rain was generally described as atrocious.  Contemporary reports suggest that Hammond acted so as to make a point about Barnes' earlier behaviour.  Who knows?

Barnes had a reputation as an eccentric and was frequently the subject of controversy. His later life was badly disrupted by depression and mental health problems and  he died in 1973, possibly at his own hand.  But gamesmanship and his colourful behaviour aside he was a great batsman - his average of 63.05 in 19 innings ranks him as number three in the history of Test cricket.   But he never had to contend with bad light.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Anonymous

Cricketers will be flocking to see the new thriller that is coming to a screen near them soon.  Anonymous' controversial  theme is that the innings of Bradman were in fact played by an Elizabethan aristocrat, Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford.  This has long been a fringe theory which has struggled to gain respectability.  Could this film change thinking?

In Anonymous de Vere is depicted as a batting prodigy, scoring double hundreds at the age of 8 or 9.  He is the Queen's illegitimate child, lover, and father of her child (in that order).  His cricketing output, long suppressed for its potentially seditious character, eventually finds an outlet through an agent and Bradman whom the film depicts as a murderous simpleton and modestly competent net bowler, becomes de Vere's secret frontman. 

Critics have panned the movie.  FB urges cricketers to make up their own minds.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Hong Kong 6s

A hardy band of Scottish cricketers is fleeing the rapidly darkening evenings and mornings for a few days in Hong Kong carrying the Saltire at the international Hong Kong Sixes.  Fantasy Bob wishes them the best of luck and is sure they can give the folks back home something to be proud of.

In the group stage, Scotland have to play Sri Lanka and New Zealand and the Woodworm All Stars - a squad including Shahid Afridi, Herschelle Gibbs and Sanath Jayasuriya.  So not much by way of a challenge for the Scots boys.   So Scotland will not play against a weel kent face unless they get through the group stage for Peter Wooden who was pro at Carlton for a couple of seasons now plays successfully in Hong Kong and is part of the home team. 

The Hong Kong Sixes have been on the go since 1992, a complement to the jamboree of the Hong Kong Sevens - the top event in international rugby sevens.  Scotland have yet to win the Hong Kong Sevens so here is an opportunity for our cricketers to out do their rugby colleagues.

Over the years since 1992, the Sixes tournament has attracted many great stars - either on the way up or the way down from the pinnacle of their career.  Lara, Tendulkar, Richards, Flintoff, have all appeared among many others. 

Poster lacking action image of FB
Regretably Fantasy Bob has yet to grace this tournament.  He did remind the organisers that on his last appearance in 6-a-side cricket he outscored Mark Ramprakash.  Carlton readers will need no reminding of this great event in the history of cricket, but other readers will find some of the story on this link.  FB has to acknowledge that Ramps took 2 balls to score his paltry total while FB, batting in the grand Trott style, carried his bat for the 5 over innings.   But this cut no ice, either with the organising committee or the Scottish selctors and FB languishes at home. 

Another factor may have played against FB's selection.   6-a-side cricket reduces radically the number of fielders.  This is all very jolly for the batters but it imposes a lung bursting burden on the remaining fielders who have vast acreages to cover.  FB's presence in the field, which these days is mostly stationary, would give the batting team an unfair advantage, cancelling out and more the devastating effectiveness of his contributions as batsman and as bowler. FB suggested to the Committee that to address this unfairness and in view of his seniority and immobility FB could be accompanied on the field by 2 younger aides who would do the necessary running and throwing under his supervision.   FB would specialise in clapping his hands,  general exhortation and fulfilling his new specialist role in the field as a navigation point around which younger players can orient.  Anyone who has observed his efforts in the field in recent seasons will know how theatrical and entertaining this can be.  This would be a treat that the Hong Kong crowd would not easily forget and would add considerably to the cachet of the event.  But the organisers, as unimaginative as administrators everywhere, declined this offer and FB is left to enjoy the dark mornings. 

So good luck Scotland - FB is clapping his hands and exhorting from a distance. 

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Aesop's Cricket Fable

Aesop as depicted
 in a Spanish
woodcut of 1489
Aesop, to whom a series of classic fables is attributed, is believed to have lived in the 7th Century BC.  Although he may not have existed.  Or he may have been a slave in Samos to a man called Xanthus.  He is reputed to have been physically grotesque.  There is a suggestion that by virtue of his cleverness he acquired his freedom and became and adviser to kings and city states.  

Nor is it known whether amongst the bodies he advised, in his quick witted way, would have been the Ancient Greek Board of Cricket Control.   It is highly likely, for historians have suggested that in Aesop's time the Board faced a problem of declining crowds at what they believed to be a highly attractive ODI series between Athens and reigning world champions Sparta.  Seats were empty.  Spartans seemed to have better things to do.  What could the Board do?  Desperate, they sought Aesop's input.

Unlike modern consultants Aesop did not have a series of familiarisation visits.  He did not engage in data capture exercises.  He did not feel the need to construct a model - either a computer model or a logic model.  He did not hold whole staff engagement events. He eschewed powerpoint presentations.  His report on the issue was not presented in bullet form with data annexed in appendices.  There were no graphs or tables, or even flow charts.  FB has seen Aesop's report to the Board.  It is quite short:
A cottager and his wife had a goose that laid a golden egg every day. They supposed that the goose must contain a great lump of gold in its inside, and in order to get the gold they killed it. Having done so, they found to their surprise that the goose differed in no respect from their other geese. The foolish pair, thus hoping to become rich all at once, deprived themselves of the gain of which they were assured day by day

How the reluctance of the Indian crowds to turn out to teh recently deceased ODI series is a surprise to anyone is beyond Fantasy Bob - and Aesop.  Indian supporters have had a non-stop diet of very similar product offered to them for a year.   World Cup, IPL, Champions League - it all merges into one.  FB congratulates them on making the point that they cannot be taken for granted.  Good for them saying: 'Give us a break - we saw  something exactly like this too recently.'  After all there is no sporting logic or purpose to the endless round of fixtures - and if there is no sporting logic ultimately there will be no commercial logic either.

  Aesop is not available for further consultations, having been dead for over 2500 years, if indeed he was ever alive.  But he might have suggested that the goose that is cricket needs careful handling.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The OK Corral

ODI venue
It is clear to Fantasy Bob that the Gunfight at the OK Corral, which happened exactly 130 years ago today in Tombstone Arizona, was not conducted according to the Spirit of Cricket.  Paragraphs 5 and 6 of the preamble to the Laws say
5. It is against the Spirit of the Game:
  • To dispute an umpire's decision by word, action or gesture
  • To direct abusive language towards an opponent or umpire
  • To indulge in cheating or any sharp practice, for instance:
    (a) to appeal knowing that the batsman is not out
    (b) to advance towards an umpire in an aggressive manner when appealing
    (c) to seek to distract an opponent either verbally or by harassment with persistent clapping or unnecessary noise under the guise of enthusiasm and motivation of one's own side
6. Violence
There is no place for any act of violence on the field of play.
These worthy sentiments were wholly, and inexcusably, ignored in the the 30 second confrontation.  Frank and Tom McLaury and Billy Clanton were killed; Doc Holliday, Morgan and Virgil Earp were wounded but survived. Wyatt Earp was the only one who came through the fight unharmed. This brutal incident is generally regarded as the most famous gunfight in the old West and has been mythologised as much as the Bodyline series.  It represents the coming of law to the lawless west, civilisation to the wilderness, the coming of spin bowling to the pace saturated chaos.  You choose your metaphor.

Fonda on location
The confrontation has fascinated movie makers and many versions and presentations have made their way to the screen.  They keep coming.  But for FB the finest is John Ford's My Darling Clementine made in 1946 and starring Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp.  Ford's film is far from a historically accurate depiction of events, and is highly romanticised.  That does not really matter since it does not present itself to be documentary - but it is authentic in its examination of the complexities and challenges of bringing law and order to the wild. 

One of the many historical inaccuracies of the movie is its location shooting which, in common with many other Ford Westerns, took place in Monument Valley about 400 miles from the actual location in Tombstone Arizona.   Those locations - the wide open spaces with brutal sandstone buttes randomly standing like fielders in the outfield underpin the themes of the dramas.  They are another star in the cast.

Almost 20 years ago to the day Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB made the first of several trips to the American West inspired by John Ford's films as much as anything.  On these trips they would spend some time on a ranch being cowboys, riding the range and poking the cattle.  For the rest, they would tour around and see the sights.  They didn't do any gunfighting.  However they did visit Monument Valley and an incomparable sight it is.  They stayed in the motel at the edge of the Valley and watched a video of Ford's first great Western Stagecoach, looking out the window to see the moonlit locations as the screen action unfolded. Test Match Quality.

John Ford (not the cricketer)
John Ford the movie director is not to be confused with John Ford the cricketer who played one first class match for Gloucestershire against Hampshire in 1951.  Ford the director was making The Quiet Man in 1951 which, following its release the subsequent year, won him his record fourth Academy Award as Best Director.  Cricket does not feature in this or any other of his movies.  Nevertheless he remains a sporting hero for FB.

Nor is cricket a feature of the Old West, although there is evidence that there was a Cricket Saloon in Deadwood.  It offered bare knuckle and dog fighting as entertainment to its discerning clientele.  It is reckoned that Wyatt Earp spent some time in Deadwood in 1876-77, but the Spirit of Cricket available at the Cricket Saloon might have influenced his approach to being a lawman.  Nothing else was available for the Spirit of Cricket known to FB was not formulated until the year 2000.



Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Temporary Fault

Fantasy Bob must apologise.  He had prepared a fantastic post for this morning - full of bright optimism and insights into how England could recover some of their self respect in the final ODI.  He was sure his words would be an inspiration to the team as they prepared for the struggle in Kolkata.  He duly pressed the buttons and retired to his slumbers.

Unfortunately some gremlin appeared in the night and the post did not appear on its scheduled time and FB had no remote access today to correct it............or even find it ...........perhaps some cricket loving component deep in the computer reviewed the posting and having greater insight than FB (which is not hard) sought to protect him from the humiliation of suggesting such a thing as an England recovery.  As it is the component was dead right and England slumped again from a promising position to a sorry defeat. 

FB apologises for the fault - and for depriving his readers of the feeling of superiority they would have derived from knowing that FB was so wrong.  Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.  In the meantime here is some music to pay tribute to England's achievements.  It is only a temporary fault.

Monday, 24 October 2011

The Haka

So New Zealand finally triumph at the Rugby World Cup, but only by the slenderest of margins.  What value was The Haka to that narrow win?

Haka - All Black style
Is it time for cricket to incorporate the Haka?  Fantasy Bob thinks not.  He has always considered that despite its fine theatricality, the Haka is a highly dubious feature in a professional sport.

Even if the Haka does not intimidate the receiving side or bind the dancing side closer (and if they did not think it did one or both of these would the All Blacks really continue with it?), it implies that one team has some superiority over the other which gives them the right to assert this pseudo traditional challenge at them. 
New Zealanders get very huffy about any suggestion that the Haka is not a genuine tradition but showed a fine respect for tradition when they banned bag-pipes from being played at Scotland's games.  However FB does not think that the Maoris traditionally played rugby before the 20th Century, nor does he think that the teams who first imposed it on the opposition were anything other than raw boned white sheep farmers largely of Scottish extraction who first took the game to the land of the White Cloud.  It is maybe a wonder that they did not use the Highland Fling as their ritual challenge.

Haka - English style
Other teams should be allowed to ignore the Haka if they choose and not be accused of disrespect when they do so.  Or, better still, they should be allowed to develop a response - they should assert the right to reply.

This would allow the English team to respond to the All Black challenge with a suitably blood curdling Morris Dance.  That would show them.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

That's amore

It has to be acknowledged that Dean Martin was no cricketer.  The smooth crooner of the celebrated ratpack may not have amounted to much with ball or with bat.  His talents lay elsewhere.

However if he was familiar with nothing else about the great game, he had observed the challenges faced by the maturing cricketer as the memories of quick singles, sliding stops and flat throws from the boundary fade.  This is apparent from the original version of one of his most popular easy listening hits.

American record producers found the original lyric not to their liking and quickly substituted some sentimental tosh about moons and pizza.  But Fantasy Bob's researches have unearthed the original.

When you've pain in the knees
As you pound to the crease
That's arthritis
You'd turn your arm o'er
But it's too bloody sore
That's arthritis

When your spinal discs slip
And your hips give you gyp
That's bursitis
When you creak to bend down
For the ball on the ground
That's arthritis

Your ankle joint hurts
But your shoulder's much worse
Tendonitis
A quick single's a joke
And you'll need a long soak with Radox
You can just about walk but watch for phlebitis
'Scusami, but you see
Back in old Napoli, that's arthritis




Saturday, 22 October 2011

Dhoni must be right

England's new ODI strip
So England in India are turning nasty.  The children in the nursery are not being nice.
 Dernbach badmouths Kieswetter who in his turn  has been giving stick to the batsmen while forgetting to run them out or catch them.  Swann has been rubbishing the efforts of all his team mates as they struggle to keep up with his tweets and Bresnan is fined for dissent to the umpire (although legal eagles suggest that his real offence was cap abuse).  And Stuart Broad is not even there!

Children children - let's have some quiet time.  Let's have some juice and a biscuit.   Let's all sit down and be nice again.   Or else you'll all be on the naughty step.  And we don't want that do we?

Even MS Dhoni, newly appointed as sledging advisor to the England party, thinks the aggro may have gone a bit far.  Why should he worry?   It's been splendidly unproductive.  Intimidatory tactics are after all only intimidatory when those being intimidated are intimidated.  When they find it all risible, as MS Dhoni obviously does, then there is no point. 

Real intimidation
And all this snarling is faintly ridiculous.  FB speaks from experience.  Many a time he has taken his guard in lower league cricket to see the bowler at the opposite end welcome him with a snarl.  This is the bowler who thinks he needs to impress himself on FB as batsman.  He will follow through in that starey eyed fashion, frequently arriving beside FB in the crease before the ball he has bowled.  After clarifying for the agitated bowler the marital status of his own parents, FB is able at leisure to dispatch that ball to the most convenient boundary.  With any luck he will strike it near enough a slumbering fielder who, had he been 20 feet tall and possessed of spring heels and extendable arms, could have parried the ball and saved at least one run.  For his failing in stature and prosthetics, the fielder will be roundly abused by the bowler as conspiring with FB, and the Fates generally against him.  Rather than try harder next time the fielder will wander into the furthest part of the field and at the end of the over feign career threatening injury to knee or hamstring.  Such is the motivational power of Mr Angry the bowler.  Our snarly bowler forgets that the fielders cannot be held responsible for bowling a half volley.

Intimidation only works if there is a bit of anxiety in the batsman about what might actually come next - when Curtly Ambrose gave the stare, there was genuine cause for anxiety that the next ball would be life threatening - and there were no verbals (not that FB speaks from experience on this point he is glad to say).  But Dernbach? Bresnan?  They don't quite do it.  Petulance can never be menace.  So give it up and just put the ball in the right place.

Not to be imitated
All this snarly stuff just seems in imitation of Wayne Rooney and his elegant fly hacking of Montenegrans.  One thing cricket and cricketers have going for them is that they are not footballers with those endlessly childish attitudes.  Let's leave it that way. So Dhoni must be right - a bit less on the lips please a bit more in the slips.

Friday, 21 October 2011

India 3 England 0

Oh dear.  Revenge is a dish best eaten with curry sauce and chapatti.  Having with ease gone 3-0 up in their ODI series against England, the Indian team and their crowd will be disappointed if they do not go on to inflict a whitewash. 

At least the 3rd match in the ODI series was close, but England's Achilles heel in the ODI format is still an issue.  Fantasy Bob's abilities as a forecaster area also an issue of concern to the selectors.  Once again FB's inadequacies have been exposed to to the world for the useless nonsense they are.  He thought that England had gained strength during the summer and established some credibility and self confidence in the 50 over game. Doh!   Once again it's the FB hex.

Dhoni - steered his side home
with successive 4s in the final over
This seems more likely than the reasons so far offered by the experts.  Pundits said after the first match that England didn't hit enough boundaries compared to the Indian batsmen.  If they upped their boundary hitting rate, they would do the job.  OK.  Pundits said after the second match that England didn't rotate the strike enough.  If they kept the singles going, they would do the job.  OK.

In the 3rd match England scored more singles than India.  And they scored more 4 and 6s.  So clever clogs pundits what do you make of that?  One statistic that did carry on to the 3rd game was the fact that English batsmen let a higher number of dot balls go than Indian batsmen.  The difference in Mohali was only marginal - 134 against 128 - but it may reflect the different underlying mentality.   FB thinks this might be significant.  Another indication of a differing mentality may be the run rate per over.  England started slowly - it was the 20th over before they got to 5 and over.  It is to their credit and Samit Patel's in particular that they posted a decent defendable total of 298.  India started on or about the required run rate and kept going.

Patel - 70 from 48 balls -
and he wins a motor bike
England lost the match through indiscipline in the field - a couple of dropped catches behind the wicket and too many extras.  In such a tight game 7 wides and 2 no balls are a big gift to the opposition.  England are letting the strain show.  They have looked unhappy with each other and themselves - and this must be the major concern of the coaching staff.   Something to restore morale and team spirit is required.  FB understands that they have been seeking the views of English rugby coach Martin Johnson.  However FB is not convinced by MJ's suggestion that a dwarf throwing session could help.

(FB apologises for the in the final paragraph.  He hopes that no reader has taken undue offence at the gratuitous mention of Martin Johnston).

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Boom boom

Fantasy Bob has joined the world wide rejoicing that Shahid Afridi has withdrawn his conditional retirement from international cricket and is making himself available for forthcoming Pakistan ODI and T20 matches.  If ever there was a cricketer that FB might consider paying a premium on a ticket price to make sure he was playing it would be Afridi.  Of course Afridi may not merit selection by the new Pakistani management team  whose arrival has given him the opportunity to reverse his conditional retirement following differences of opinion and temperament with the previous incumbents..  FB is not sure what conditional retirement means and whether a pension is available with it.  But if Afridi is not selected for Pakistan, FB can assure him that a place in the All Star Carlton 4th XI is his for the asking - he can consider himself conditionally selected.

Little Walter
John Lee Hooker

But it is not just FB who welcomes Afridi back.  The all action leg spinner and holder of 2 of the fastest hundreds in ODIs is a firm favourite of the Chicago blues fraternity.  To prove it, here are tributes to Boom Boom by 2 figures justifiably held to be legends of the blues - John Lee Hooker and Little Walter Jacobs.



Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Crumbs

One of Fantasy Bob's 3 strong world wide audience took him aside recently.  'Listen, FB,' he said, 'all this stuff about classical music and the Edinburgh trams is all very well, but it scarcely counts as great literature.  It doesn't stir the soul.  It seems a bit of a climb down from the heady days when a reader could turn to your pages and be confident that he or she would find a discourse on that important subject of biscuits.  Your analysis of the All Time Great Biscuits XI was one of your more acute efforts.  So buck up - get biscuits into the act a bit more.'

There are times, usually shortly before tea interval when he has been bowling up the hill and into the wind, when FB thinks that no price would be too high to pay for a biscuit.  At these times he would be ripe for exploitation by a black market operator who could approach him on the fine leg boundary, offer him a Jammy Dodger and name his price.  But even FB might stop at paying £1250 for one biscuit - he would expect the packet for such a price.

This is the price that was paid earlier this year for one Huntley and Palmers biscuit of some antiquity. It was part of the supplies taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton on his Nimrod Antarctic expedition in 1907.  It is a miracle that this biscuit survived.  On 9 January 1909 Shackleton and three companions reached a new Farthest South latitude only 112 miles from the Pole before their dwindling supplies forced them to turn back.  Their return journey was a race against starvation, on half-rations for much of the way. At one point Shackleton gave his one biscuit allotted for the day to his ailing companion Frank Wild, who wrote in his diary: "All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me."  Skippers who force FB to bowl extended spells into the wind would be mindful of Shackleton's example.

RS Clark

In fact, this Nimrod  biscuit is cheap at the price and reflects the relatively unsung nature of that expedition.  It is a survivor of the later more celebrated, if not infamous, Endurance expedition which holds the record for the highest price ever paid for a biscuit at auction.   In 2001 £7,637 was paid for some biscuit crumbs from the Endurance expedition.  Crumbs - that's how hard that expedition was, not even a whole biscuit survived.

Carlton readers will know that there is a serious cricketing link with the Endurance expedition as the biologist on the ship was the Carlton batsman Dr RS Clark whose full story is told by John Boyd at this link on the Carlton website.  The whole expedition, its open boat journeys, its treks and hardships, is the stuff of legend and was presented in a film with Kenneth Branagh as Shackleton.  Shackleton's accomplishment in getting his whole group back safe from a disastrous situation and is held up to all skippers as one of the greatest feats of leadership in history.

Despite assiduous research, FB has been unable to find any reports of Dr Clark's biscuit preferences but he assumes Carlton teas of the period were satisfactory even if relics from them would be unlikely to challenge the record price. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

No Particular Place To Go

German slip cover
for early Beatles' singles
In 1964, it being the way of things in those far-off-never-had-it-so-good years, Fantasy Bob went on his first foreign tour.  Two enjoyable weeks spent in a small Alpine resort in Austria sampling overseas wickets for the first time.  One small reminder of home that FB remembers was in the hotel bar whose jukebox offered one recognisable record in amongst all the locally produced Schubert and Mahler (presumably) hits.  This was 'I Want to Hold Your Hand' by the Beatles.   In the UK the B-side of this megahit was 'This Boy'.  The German release however coupled it with 'Roll Over Beethoven'.  FB has long wondered why this track was chosen for this purpose - presumably some not so subtle hint to the German speakers that their years of cultural dominance were at an end.   Who knows or indeed cares?

Chuck Berry in bronze
FB mentions this because Roll Over Beethoven was written by Chuck Berry whose 85th birthday is today.  Earlier this year a statue of Chuck Berry was erected in his hometown of St Louis Missouri and the man himself is still performing.  Chuck Berry has no cricketing pedigree and in particular is no relation to Scyld Berry, eminent cricket writer and until this year editor of Wisden.  John Lennon said that 'if you wanted to give rock and roll another name it would be Chuck Berry.'  He never expressed a view about Scyld Berry.

Darren Berry in whites
There is a cricketing Berry - but no relation to Chuck or Scyld.  Darren Berry is at present a highly successful T20 coach - his S Austrailia won the Big Bash and he also coaches the Rajasthan Royals. 

But as a player he kept wicket for Victoria for many years and was rated by Steve Waugh  as the best player in Australia not to make the Test side.  Shane Warne, who Berry played with at Victoria, rated him the best keeper he had seen.   He was unfortunate to be kept out of the Australian Test side first by Ian Healey and then Adam Gilchrist.   He was hardly a gentleman about it either, openly criticising Gilchrist's keeping skills.  But why should Gilchrist worry - his batting average in first class cricket was 44.16, Berry's a mere 21.58?  So Berry was left with, in the words of his namesake's song, which is also FB's favourite of the Chuck Berry songbook, No Particular Place to Go.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Death and the Maiden

F Schubert -
 loved fast bowling
Franz Schubert is rarely given the credit he deserves for his prescient knowledge of cricket.  The great composer, who died tragically early at the age of 31, left a legacy of over 600 songs, 9 symphonies and a volume of the highest quality chamber music.  Among the last is a string quartet composed in 1824 which demonstrates Schubert's great love of the game.

The Death and the Maiden quartet is conventionally held to reveal aspects of Schubert's realisation of his own mortality, for he had entered the tertiary stage of syphilis that year and his remaining time was short.  The work is conventionally held to convey both the struggle with death and the prospect of peace and ecstasy on leaving this painful world behind.  The second movement is a set of variations on the tune from a song Death and the Maiden which Schubert composed in 1817 setting a text by Claudius Mathiass.

This view of the work is as fine as far as it goes, but Fantasy Bob thinks it fails to account for Schubert's admiration for fast bowling and the great W Indian Michael Holding in particular.  It not clear how he knew, but in this passionate work, Schubert was certainly presaging events that would take place 160 years hence in March 1981 in Bridgetown Barbados during the 3rd Test betweenW Indies and England. 

Boycott having seen the Devil himself
The second over of England's innings was bowled by Michael Holding - Whispering Death - to Geoff Boycott and is commonly held by musicologists and cricketers alike to be the finest over ever bowled.  The first ball was a loosener but hostile enough for Boycott to glove just short of the slips. Then Holding went through the gears getting quicker with each delivery - he beat him outside off, slammed into his right thigh, forced hurried defensive strokes before taking the off stump out of the ground and depositing it 20 yards back.  In an account of that tour Frank Keating wrote 'Boycott looked round, then as the din assailed his ears, his mouth gaped and he tottered as if he'd seen the Devil himself. Then slowly he walked away, erect and brave and beaten.'  Whispering Death and the Wicket Maiden - the correct title of Schubert's great work.

But real death stalked abroad for English tour manager Ken Barrington was to suffer a heart attack and die that night.   England played on gamely, but fell to defeat.

Nadkarni could bat as well
By some strange quirk, Ken Barrington also features as one of batsmen who faced the longest spell of successive maiden overs.  This was bowled by left armer Bapu Nadkarni at Madras in 1963-64.  Over a career famed for his accuracy, Nadkarni's run per over rate was below 2.0.  His figures for the third day of this match were 29-26-0-3. He was extravagantly expensive the next day to finish the innings with figures of 32-27-5-0.  He bowled 21 consecutive maiden overs and 131 dot balls in a row.   The record for 6 ball overs.  However South African Hugh Tayfield bowled 137 dot balls, 16 8-ball maidens, against England at Durban in 1956-57.  Researchers have not established whether any of Schubert's great works celebrate these great achievements.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

The Helicopter Shot

MS Dhoni's helicopter shot
The helicopter made a return to the cricket field on Friday as MS Dhoni gave the full treatment to Steve Finn on his way to 87 - and 215 not out in his last 3 ODI matches against England.  England had no answer and were sliced up in the rotor blades.

The helicopter shot is Dhoni's trademark and was used by Pepsi as part of an advert during the World Cup.  It is so called because so fast is the bat speed as he smacks the ball over mid wicket, that Dhoni has to follow through with a double rotation as his bottom hand whips through at something approximating the speed of sound.  Fantasy Bob is sure that if he tried this shot the Dhoni way, he would break his wrists.  The only use for the helicopter would be to ferry him to hospital for a couple of months with both arms in plaster.

Leonardo da Vinci's helicopter shot
Helicopter shots were of course first imagined by Leonardo da Vinci who may or may not have inspired MS Dhoni.  FB has a different set of shots in his armory - and as with Dhoni many of which have been compared similarly to modes of transport.  Broken-down clapped-out buses for the most part.  Few of these shots could be considered to be inspired by Leonardo.


While FB has not had to be air lifted with broken wrists, he has flown in a helicopter once - and a fine trip it was too, taking off from Glasgow airport, up Loch Lomond and along Glencoe, close enough to touch the mountains, out across the Minch to Harris and back to Inverness.  FB is embarrassed that such a trip counted as work even though there was a serious purpose to the jaunt. 

When the day came for the trip FB was well prepared.  He was helicopter literate.  In the 1960s there was a TV series called Whirlybirds which FB remembers with affection but a complete lack of clarity.  It was based on a couple of chaps in helicopters who went to the aid of all sorts of emergencies with all American earnestness and toothy grins.  Apparently there were exactly 111 episodes of Whirlybirds and then Nelson strick.  Uncanny.  But as far as FB's researches can establish, Nelson is not believed ever to have flown in a helicopter.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Robot cricket

Fantasy Bob has been reading about developing research in cyber something or other.  Not, he hastens to inform you in serious scientific literature such as Look and Learn, but on the less intellectually demanding BBC website.  Apparently there is already a range of brain wave reading headsets on the market which are mostly used in video gaming and similar pointless pursuits.  But the potential for these technologies is immense and almost too good to believe.  As the Gershwins pointed out in the 1930s - they told Marconi, wireless was a phoney, it's the same old lie. - so you'd better believe it.

Hal strutting  his stuff
There is work on sensors that can pick up brain activity signalling intention to move and translate it into movement.  This equipment can be used to restore physical ability to those who have lost it.  At Switzerland's Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL), researchers have built thought-controlled wheelchairs and telepresence robots.  A further development comes from Japanese company Cyberdyne which is helping people who cannot walk to regain mobility by dressing them in a full-body robotic suit called Hal.

But there are applications outside healthcare.  EPFL are working with Nissan on an intelligent vehicle that can use brainwave data.   (Rightly they have given up on the driver ever being intelligent).  Brain wave sensors read what the driver is planning to do next and the car takes over. Toyota is working to develop a bicycle which can shift gear based on its rider's thoughts.  Where will it end?

Ripe for the
cyber treatment
FB is disappointed that no cricketing applications have been identified.  He suggests that there is a desperate need for a device which can pick up his intention to play a perfect cover drive and translate it into the Comptonesque stroke that his brain envisages before the purity of the signal is lost through communication to FB's arms legs and other bits of useless technology.  If it takes a full-body robocricket suit called Compton, so be it.   He puts that challenge out to all the clever clogs in the cyber labs the world over - they have just over 6 months before the start of next season.  Time is short.

Friday, 14 October 2011

So Mr Dhoni, we meet again.......

Don't I recognise
you from somewhere?
Fantasy Bob doesn't really understand the reasons why having thumped India all summer, England now have the opportunity of thumping them again barely 1 month after the last ball was bowled in the gloom and rain at Cardiff.  International cricket increasingly looks like the faintly ridiculous Scottish football league in which the teams play each other every fortnight.  This is one of the reasons for all these different away strips - they make it look as if there is double the number of teams playing.

Whatever the thinking behind the timing, if indeed there was any thinking, it might work to England's advantage.  England have not won a ODI series in India since 1984 when ODIs weren't taken seriously.   They must have a chance of reversing that record this time.  Not only did Indian morale take a bit of a pounding this summer as England outbowled and outbatted them in Test and ODI alike, but the list of Indian injuries has not got any shorter with several big guns still unfit.  Those players who are fit are no doubt tired out by their Champions' League endeavours.  So India already have any number of excuses for a poor performance.

Training with string
England meanwhile only have the continued nonsensical mutterings of Graeme Swan as reported by the media to worry them.  They obliterated the local Hyderabad side in 2 warm up games and have the luxury of selecting from strength this week - particularly in batting.  Bairstow looks an asset and deserves a chance to show if he can deliver on a bigger stage.  Pietersen's ODI record has been indifferent recently but he remains a power on Indian wickets.  There doesn't seem a weak link.  England have been training with string which is a sure sign of their ascendancy.

Of interest to all anorak wearers is that this is the first ODI to be played under the new rules.  Powerplays must now be taken between the 16th and the 36th over rather than between the 11th and 46th over as previously.   Since England's success in the powerplays has traditionally been unspectacular - during the World Cup it was lamentable, all eyes will be on whether they can improve.  When FB says all eyes he does not really mean all eyes, for many spectators, including him, the concept of powerplay is an artificial construct. FB has not really taken to it - no doubt for reasons of intellectual incapacity or simply being a sad old buftie.   In other sports such as ice hockey the powerplay refers to a period when a team is reduced because someone is in the sin bin.  Perhaps it is a miracle that the ICC has not cottoned on to this concept - by reducing the number of fielders altogether to create artificial excitement.

Another rule change is the use of a different ball from either end throughout the innings.  For the avoidance of doubt both balls will be cricket balls of identical make.  The prospects of more artificial excitement being manufactured by using a football and one end and a tennis ball at the other have for the moment been put on ice by the ICC.

Any team which trains with string must have something so FB's prediction is for England to shade the series - by a reef knot and a clove hitch.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Stamping Ground

The Royal Mail has just issued a series of stamps which depict an alphabetical tour of the UK.  Fantasy Bob understands that the executiive authorities at go-ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton are considering the possibility of legal action against the Royal Mail after the first run of stamps revealed a little known English location Glastonbury Tor had been chosen to represent the letter G.  The Scottish Champions had been led to expect that this stamp would feature a location of greater iconic and historic significance.  FB can reveal exclusively the rejected design

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Olympic Stadium deal collapses

No cricket square
The deal to make use of the Olympic Stadium after the 2012 events has collapsed.  Go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton have pulled out of the deal through which they were to be given exclusive use of the stadium. 

A spokesman for the go ahead Scottish champions told Fantasy Bob, 'The Olympic Park Legacy company could give us no assurance that the stadium would have a cricket square which seems a bit of an oversight on their part. This caused the alarm bells to ring and we checked the small print.  There was no Belhaven in the bar and its location was also against it.  East London just seems the wrong place and we can't understand why the Olympic Committee chose to build it there. They'll never get a Scottish cricket club to take it seriously.'

The stadium is shortly to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth White Elephant.

The news that Carlton will stay at their historic Grange Loan HQ was welcomed by most commentators.  But it means that the Directors of West Ham FC who had planned on moving the club's operations to Grange Loan in 2013 will have to think again.

Boris Johnston was unavailable for comment.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Fingerpicking

Fantasy Bob was saddened last week by the death on the same day of Graham Dilley and Bert Jansch.

While he has a strong memory of Dilley - his support for Botham at Headingley in 1981 in particular, the poetry of his long curving run and the dragging right foot in the delivery stride - Bert Jansch may have been a more important influence.  Not on his cricket, obviously, since that is beyond influence and Jansch was not noted as a bowling coach.


However it was from Bert Jansch that FB learned to fingerpick.  This has nothing to do with disturbing the seam on a cricket ball.  Nor has it anything to do with Colonel Sanders.
 
Many years ago, FB was an occasional listener to folk music and a Bert Jansch album came into his collection in 1968 or 69 at a vital point in his mastery of the guitar.  Imitating the basic finger picking patterns in Jansch's song Needle of Death were all he needed to master the alternating bass.  When FB says master in this context he means in the sense equivalent to how he has mastered batting against leg spin bowling ie not at all.  This is still FB's basic picking pattern.

This song was itself exceptional - during a period when most songs with drug references were celebrations of getting high or similar, this was the chilling anti-drug song to top them all.   It should be more widely known. 

FB never saw Dilley live; he only saw Jansch once in a concert with Pentangle.  Test Match Quality. 

They both live on.

Monday, 10 October 2011

The Golden Spurtle

Fantasy Bob begins to wonder whether there is just too much international sport these days?  It is never ending - it alsways seems to be the world cup of something or the masters of something else.  Every day is semi finals day - unless it is finals day.

The Golden Spurtle
Today is no exception.  Today is the World Porridge Championship which falls conveniently enough on International Porridge Day.  The world's greatest batsmen will descend on the Inverness-shire town of Carrbridge to test their spurtle skills against all comers.   For those of his 3 readers bemused already, it may be helpful to know that a spurtle is a specially designed cricket bat used for stirring porridge.  The world Porridge Trophy is a golden spurtle and very handsome it is too.  Ah Caledonia, wha's like us?

The holder of the Golden Spurtle is Neal Robertson from the Tannochbrae Tearoom, Auchtermuchty.  But Neal does not use a spurtle.  Instead he uses a Spon – a bat he designed himself which is basically a wooden, double backed spoon that gives twice the power to mixing and beating.  Power and porridge - FB is not making this up this is what the competition reports say.  Cricketers could look on Robertson's implement as the Mongoose of the spurtle world.  Spurtle authorities have no doubt been under pressure to declare it illegal for competition purposes but it has so far survived.

FB is a devoted porridge maker and eater. However he is not able to play in this competition since it is still pre-season for him.  A local byelaw in his kitchen does not allow the making of porridge before the end of British Summer Time.  It is then compulsory until the start of BST in the spring.  So FB is still in pre-season nets as far as porridge making goes and not up to international competition levels of fitness.

You might be forgiven for thinking that there cannot be much to a porridge making competition - a bit of water, a bit of oatmeal, a pinch of salt, light the gas, stir it up and off you go.  But championship porridge making apparently tests a wide range of athletic skills.  It is wide open to innovation with a freestyle section.  There a speciality round in which the competitors attempt to induce nausea in the judges - there have been seafood porridges, curried porridge and various other delights.  A cricketing enthusiast once presented porridge dressed with linseed oil to the judges, which only narrowly lost in its class.  On fact it might well have won had the judges been able to stay on the pitch following the tasting.

With all this sporting potential it is disappointing that the Olympics next year will not feature any porridge based events.   

Sunday, 9 October 2011

The Champions' League

Fantasy Bob was thrown into some kind of confusion yesterday.  Not in itself an event so unusual that it is worthy of reporting in itself, but you might as well have the chance to feel a little superior.  When he heard that Bangalore and Mumbai are to compete the Champions' League today, he could not recall when Barcelona and AC Milan were knocked out.  Several hours of diligent research informed him that this is the Nokia Champions' League, not the Champions' League (which he presumes must be the Not Nokia Champions' League).  You, feeling ever so superior, rightly chide him for not paying attention to the profusion of meaningless cricket competitions.   He is uncertain whether Nokia sponsored this particular competition by mistake, thinking it to be the Barcelona-type Champions' League, or as part of a grand strategy to raise interest in cricket in Finland, the land of Sibelius one of FB's all time favourite cricketers.  FB will recapture his feeling of superiority here by letting you know that while there are about 300 cricketers in Finland at the last count,  but Sibelius is not one of them.

Jean Sibelius - no fan of T20
As far as FB can gather, the Champions' League seems to be an event similar in many respects to the IPL.  It has the purpose of tiring out star Indian cricketers making them knackered and unprepared for coming matches with England.  There is therefore some point in them after all.

Mumbai enter the final having beaten Somerset in their semi-final.  Somerset - that is Somerset from Somerset, England - themselves had beaten various South African teams on their cup run which can only be to their credit. The familiar figure of Lasith Malinga may well have been the difference between the sides as he took 4 for 20 in a spell of yorkers, swingers and slower ones that seems only too familiar (or too familiar to Scottish batsmen anyway).

Malinga - too good for Somerset
Bangalore got into their semi-final against NSW through one of the closest matches imaginable.  For only a 6 off the last ball would win the match against South Australia.  And Arun Karthik duly obliged.  FB thinks that S Australia's position must be as near as you can get to winning, without actually winning.  For a 6 off the last ball is a statistical improbability.  Perhaps a 6 off the last ball to tie and take the match into a super over which itself left a 6 off the last ball to win would be closer - but equally improbable.

FB supposes that a six to win off the last ball has happened before but FB could not say when and where.  Certainly he has not played in a match with such a close finish although he has played in many last ball result matches.  Indeed, far be it for him to blow his own trumpet, but one of his finest efforts on the field of play was scoring 3 off the last ball in the rain and the dark on Edinburgh's Meadows to win a match.  Conditions that would have defeated such as Karthik.  FB supposes that needing 3 off the last ball is half as close as needing 6 off the last ball.  On that arithmetic - it may well have happened twice as often.  It is rare for FB to be such a hero.  He has more frequently been the bowler trying to prevent the winning runs.  No further comment is necessary - Malinga he isn't, as successive skippers have discovered as their awful mistake of throwing him the ball for the final over comes home to them.

Warner - 123 not enough
Bangalore have made a habit of chasing down 200plus scores - they did this against both NSW and Australia.  This is meant to be some kind of record.  Having a batting line up including Gayle, Dilshan and Kohli helps.  Against NSW Gayle blasted 92 off 41 balls.  David Warner had made 123 for NSW.  Gayle will be partnering Warner shortly in the Sydney Thunderers in yet another meaningless T20 tournament - the Big Bash.  For all FB knows this might be sponsored by Nokia too - he thinks it unlikely that Barcelona will be playing.  Or Sibelius.