Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The Rite of Spring

Fantasy Bob's faithful handful of worldwide readers will be fully familiar that today is the centenary of one of the most infamous events in the history of music.

The young Stravinsky
The more sensational reports suggest that the premiere in Paris of The Rite of Spring, a new ballet choreographed by Nijinsky for the Diaghilev Company, to a score by Igor Stravinsky was met by a a riot in the audience.  Less sensational accounts come short of describing a full scale riot but certainly report a continuous and unruly audience response including stamping, jeering, animated discussion and some people being banged on the head.  In either case it is rather far from the standards of behaviour FB is accustomed to when he attends the Usher Hall.  There  is occasionally an outburst of concerted coughing, some of it may verge on the apoplectic, if not consumptive, but it is far from riotous.

For the music of Rite of Spring is a radical departure.  FB can still remember the first time he heard it.  His jaw dropped.  His eyes popped.  His spine tingled.  This was not the rite of spring that is familiar to cricketers - the first scent of linseed oil on the bat, he rolling of the wicket and the first outdoor nets.  This was something altogether different.  Something elemental. After a winding bassoon figure which increases in intensity, there is a percussive outburst of strings in changing time signatures and off beat accents which blew FB away.  It is wholly original and wholly distinct from anything that went before. The Dilshan scoop must have had the same impact when it was seen for the first time.

Critics panned the piece - which has of course ensured that it is now one of the mainstays of the repertoire and one of the most recorded pieces of 20th Century music.  Riot or no riot, its brilliance remains undimmed.  Test Match Quality. Here is a link to the opening sequence choreographed by Pina Bausch.

While in some areas riots may be everyday occurrences, cricket shares with classical music a pleasing absence of intention to riot in its audiences.  Of course there can be moments at Grange Loan,  specifically when FB decides that he must open the batting himself,  when the crowd turns distinctly ugly and care has to be taken to avoid things getting out of hand.  This is usually accomplished when FB plays all round a straight one and so appeases the riotous intentions.  These tense moments aside however, riots and cricket are not common bedfellows.

Nevertheless there are some famous occasions when things went over the top and the cricket crowd had a Stravinsky moment.  Perhaps the most celebrated - and the original - full scale crowd disorder was the Sydney Riot of 1879 during a match between a touring English team captained by Lord Harris and New South Wales, led by Dave Gregory, also at the time captain of Australia. When star Australian batsman Billy Murdoch was given out by umpire George Coulthard, a Victorian employed by the Englishmen, there was uproar.  Gregory refused to send out a replacement batsman for Murdoch. He called on Lord Harris to remove umpire Coulthard, but Harris declined. Spectators surged onto the pitch and assaulted Coulthard and some English players.

The other umpire, Edmund Barton, defended Coulthard and Lord Harris, saying that the decision against Murdoch was correct and that the English had conducted themselves appropriately. Eventually, Gregory agreed to resume the match without the removal of Coulthard.  However, the crowd continued to disrupt proceedings, and play was abandoned for the day.  The next day was rest day for players and rioters alike, but then things settled down and Lord Harris's team won convincingly by an innings.

In the immediate aftermath of the riot, the England team cancelled the remaining games they were scheduled to play in Sydney. The incident also caused much press comment in England and Australia. In Australia, the newspapers were united in condemning the unrest, viewing the chaos as a national humiliation and a public relations disaster.  Rather than let matters rest, Lord Harris published an open letter about the incident  in English newspapers, and caused fresh outrage in New South Wales when it was reprinted by the Australian newspapers. Relations between cricketing authorities went into melt down and were not repaired until Lord Harris agreed to lead an England representative side at The Oval against the touring Australians in 1880; this match became the fourth-ever Test match and the first in England.  While there have been some ugly crowd scenes during subsequent Ashes series, there has never been a full scale riot as in 1879.

Fires in the stand 1996
But the epicentre of cricket rioting seems to be Eden Gardens in Kolkata. During the 1996 World Cup semi final when India played Sri Lanka at Eden Gardens.  India were chasing 251 but slumped from 98 for 1 to 120 for 8.  The huge crowd started fires in the stands and threw anything they could onto the field.  The riot police had a go.  Things quieted down.  They tried to restart the match only for it to kick off again.  The match was abandoned and awarded to Sri Lanka. That didn't really put out the fires.

But the Eden Gardens crowd had previous.  In 1967 they managed to cause the Test with West Indies to be abandoned.  In 1969 things got even more out of hand when there was trouble over getting tickets for the India v Australia match which led to 6 deaths. 

It would be a brave conductor who tried to play the Rite of Spring at Eden Gardens.  Things could get out of hand.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Belated Birthday Wishes

Many - well one at least - of Fantasy Bob's faithful handful  of world wide readers have queried him in the course of this week. FB, they have said - it is Richard Wagner's 200th birthday week and you've been silent on this great event. What is happening? A birthday tribute seems to be in order, surely?

Why? FB responded. It was a significant anniversary for FB earlier this year. Did he get a tribute from Richard Wagner? Did he stuff. Not even a text message. With that kind of attitude, why should FB push the boat out? It's not as if Wagner has ever skippered the Carlton 4s to unexpected victory with 5 11 year olds in the side and Arctic conditions. That's the kind of thing that doesn't get recognition from music critics.  And Wagner has persistently made him self unavailable for 4th XI fixtures.  While FB venerates the Ring Cycle above all other works, sometimes the attitude of its composer is enough to put you off your Lohengrin.
At home with Richard and Cosima

FB goes on to point out that it is not as if Wagner is bad at marking birthdays. Indeed, he is responsible for one of the most sublime birthday presents ever in the form of the Seigfried Idyll, a piece for chamber orchestra which he wrote in 1870 for the occasion of his wife Cosima's 33rd birthday. The piece was first played on the stairs outside her bedroom door to wake her from her slumbers. There's Wagner for you - what a romantic.

 Cosima recorded in her diary,

"As I awoke, my ear caught a sound, which swelled fuller and fuller; no longer could I imagine myself to be dreaming: music was sounding, and such music! When it died away, Richard came into my room with the children and offered me the score of the symphonic birthday poem. I was in tears, but so were all the rest of the household."

The piece's dominant theme is found also in Wagner's opera Seigfried, the third part of the Ring Cycle, where it is sung by Brunnhilde on being awoken by Seigfried with whom she falls in love. The words of the opera are:

Oh! I cared always.
Oh! I shall always
care with sweet,
warm, tender longing
yes, always for your dear life!

All pretty soppy and not much use when facing fast bowling.

A few years ago FB was inspired by Wagner's example. He thought Mrs FB might appreciate a similar gesture. As she slumbered on the morning of an important birthday therefore he stealthily plugged his guitar in and hit her with his rendition of Channel 4's cricket theme Mambo Number 5.

The neighbouring cats and dogs began immediately to howl in unison. Mrs FB's eyes slowly opened and drowsily she fixed upon FB as he tenderly strummed. In her sweet voice she made her warm appreciation clear, 'For pity's sake, turn that bloody racket OFF.'

FB thinks his present hit the mark. Perhaps not to the same extent as Wagner's - but then Wagner was not a man for bowling an unbroken spell up the hill against the wind, whatever other merits he had in the way of opera composition.

Here is the Siegfried Idyll - birthday gift to dream of - as played at last year's Proms by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra.

For the less romantic here is a reminder of the fuller version Mambo Number 5.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Top Pros in Spat

Spat over empire biscuits for dinner.
Fantasy Bob has called Sergio Garcia's "empire biscuit" remark "wrong, hurtful and clearly inappropriate".

Garcia, 33, had joked he would invite FB for dinner to settle their recent argument and would serve empire biscuits.

In a press conference on Wednesday, a contrite Garcia said: "Most importantly I want to apologise to FB, I feel sick about it and I'm truly sorry."

While Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods have had a recent public spat following the The Players Championship earlier this month, when Garcia accused Woods of gamesmanship, little is known of any dispute between the fiery Spanish Ryder Cup player and the normally phlegmatic Fantasy Bob.

However insiders at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton have revealed that Garcia's ire was ignited when he was overlooked for selection for the Carlton All Star's 4th XI opening fixture of the season.  They commented that Garcia's age told against him 'You have to be under 13 to get into the side these days.'

In a statement issued through his agent FB said he thought that Garcia's remark was an inappropriate stereotyping of himself as driven only by his love for empire biscuits.  However in a gesture of conciliation he also added that he would find an empire biscuit perfectly acceptable for dinner, or at any other time of day.

FB further clarified that he was uncertain whether he would play in the US Open this year.  He lost his golf ball the last time he played and had not replaced it yet. 

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Oh ye Gates

I declare these gates....gates

Fantasy Bob was disappointed that illness* forced him to miss the grand ceremony to inaugurate go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton's most recent improvement.

FB welcomes the new floodgates. He is sure that they will save many lives in the years to come.

The new floodgates' worth was immediately obvious to all attending the ceremony. Despite a night and day of torrential rain which epitomises cricket weather in Scotland at its finest, the whereabouts of all Carlton juniors could be fully accounted for. Previous years had seen the small cricketers increasingly at risk of being swept away in any kind of rainfall at the ground.

FB cannot be sure, but he thinks that these gates were foreseen in Biblical times. The words of Psalm 24 in particular - Lift up your heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, and the King of Glory shall come in. Words inspiringly set by Handel in Messiah and presented on this link.

As the Psalm goes on - Who is the King of Glory - what number does he bat?  A subject cricketers everywhere continue to discuss.

*FB would like to make it clear to his handful of worldwide readers that there is no truth in the rumour that his febrile condition was caused by winning three tosses in succession in the opening games of the season.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013


Test cricket in the frozen northlands resumes with the first of the 2 match series between England and New Zealand getting underway at Lords.  This is bad news for cricket lovers for it means Fantasy Bob has to resume his unmatchable commentaries on Test events.

These have been legendary in sowing seeds of confusion and doubt in cricket fans across the world.  Marriages have split apart over disagreements about the finer points of FB's analysis.  Share prices in international markets have tumbled. There have been calls for a referendum on EU membership.  So with 7 Tests including the Ashes and a whole lot of unnecessary ODIing and T20ing also to fit in the danger signs are clear.   Cricket fans will be looking to FB for guidance. Insurance premiums for everything seem likely to soar.

FB has no idea why England are playing New Zealand now.  (See this is the kind of punditry that gets them talking - usually about something else).  Not that he has anything against New Zealand but the sides last met in March which is so recent that even FB remembers it.  England of course went to NZ on the back of a convincing thrashing of India and, complacently denying that they were complacent, complacently underestimated their opponents and got away with a drawn series by the skin of their teeth.
Hamish Rutherford's Test debut
The first match throws up an interesting set of questions - how will England cope without Kevin Pietersen still nursing his bruised knee bone.  Will Swann's elbow operation restore the magic.  The same for Bresnan.  Can Compton deliver at home?  Is Root as good as he looks?  Will NZ play without a front line spinner?  All very good questions, to which FB most certainly has no answer.

FB is looking forward to seeing how NZ opener Hamish Rutherford performs.  A man could barely make up a more Scottish name. There must be Border Riever genes there and Rutherford has had a few seasons in his real homeland having done stints at Scottish clubs Stenhousemuir and Ayr.

Rutherford burst onto the Test scene in March with 171 on debut against England. Hamish's father Ken, a former NZ skipper, had a more measured start to his test career.  It took him 17 innings to accumulate the number of runs that his son managed in one visit.  The younger generation you see - not prepared to wait.

Rutherford takes the field with no fewer than 4 other players who have similarly made a century on their Test debut.  FB is sure that this is a record, even if it is only for Test at Lords in May.

Rutherford's team mate Kane Williamson made 131 at Ahmedabad in November 2010 to mark his arrival.   And there three maiden centurions in England's ranks - Jonathan Trott - 119 against Australia at the Oval in August 2009, Matt Prior - 126* against the West Indies at Lords in May 2007 and Alistair Cook - 104* at Nagpur in March 2006.

Ernest Rutherford
England might do well to remind themselves that Kiwi Rutherfords coming to England have a history of doing well for themselves.In 1894 Ernest Rutherford, son of a Scottish father, arrived from his sheep farming background to take up scholarship to Cambridge University.  In 1908, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, an achievement on a par with scoring a century in your first test innings . In 1914, he was knighted. He then went on to make essential discoveries which lead to controlled nuclear reaction and was the founding father of nuclear physics.  He was awarded a peerage in 1931 and is buried in Westminster Abbey. In 1997, the 'rutherford', a unit of radioactivity, was named in his honour.  He is most probably the most historically significant New Zealander ever.

Although FB has been unable to trace any familial relation between Ernest and Hamish - that is the legacy of the fine Scottish name that Hamish has to live up to.

FB wishes him well.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Continental Style

As Edinburgh's city fathers contemplate controversial plans to revitalise Princes Street, the planning authorities at go ahead Edinburgh cricket club Carlton yesterday issued their own plans to revitalise their prestigious Grange Loan HQ with continental style cafes and restaurants.
Continental Style Grange Loan - artist's impression

The authorities have been concerned that the iconic venue has lost its place as the premier shopping venue in the City.

'Increasingly we are finding that our shopping offer is not drawing people.  They seem to come here to watch cricket not to shop.  This is not continental enough.'

The club's planners think that the provision of continental style facilities will address this.

'Many a shopper at Grange Loan has trudged to the top of the famous hill only to find no continental style pavement cafe where they can rest and recover in the continental style.  What they need is a choice of continental style pavement cafes serving continental style fare where they can sit and shiver in the non-continental style wind.'

Other improvements being considered are continental style street theatre where continental style actors pose perfectly still, until they are animated by a coin dropped in their hat.

The club has been training hard during fielding practice for this development.

'Fantasy Bob has mastered standing perfectly still, but is struggling with the having to move bit.'

Proposals come before the club's Council shortly and are expected to attract continental style debate.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013


Had he not died in 1897, Johannes Brahms would have been 180 years old today, 7 May 2013. A fair old age you might think.
Brahms at the age of 20

Had Brahms reached his 180th birthday and had he taken an interest in cricket, it is likely that he would be found on the side of those defending the integrity of Test cricket against the tide of T20, ODI and all the rest. For the 19th century musical world was dominated by an aesthetic dispute - the so called The War of the Romantics where there was disagreement about all manner of things - musical structure, the limits of chromatic harmony, programme versus absolute music and the wearing of coloured clothing during matches. 

Brahms took the side of the conservatives revering Beethoven as the highest pinnacle of achievement rather than a force setting off new progressive trends in music. 

But Brahms has not lived to be 180 and his views on the respective merits of Test and shorter form cricket have to be inferred since they are not known.

Indeed it is difficult to find much by way of interest to the cricketer in his work. But there is a flash of something in his German Requiem. This great work was first heard in 1866, the year in which WG Grace at the age of 18 scored 224* which stood for many years as the highest first class score in cricket. Was this an influence on Brahms? Conventional accounts suggest that the work was written in memory of his mother who died in the previous year.

Whatever the stimulus to composition the German Requiem is a great work. It sets a number of texts from the Lutheran Bible and are chosen for the comfort they give to the mourning. Its second movement would seem specially composed to comfort Doughty Groundsmen facing major challenges in preparing playing surfaces. The text is taken from the first Book of Peter - in German it goes

Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen wie des Grases Blumen. Das Gras ist verdorret und die Blume abgefallen.

In English, it is less resonant but still powerful

For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower thereof falleth away.

Many a time has FB come across a Doughty Groundsman slumped over the scarifier with the words 'Das Gras ist verdorret' on his lips.  When that happens only a dose of Brahms will help.

FB's old vinyl recording of this work featured the Edinburgh Festival Chorus - the Morningside accents of the choir clearly articulating the text.  No Morningside accents are on this rendition conducted by the German maestro Otto Klemperer in 1961.  This is how to build a climax.

It is likely that Otto Klemperer, who was reknowned for his fondness for slow tempi, would have sided with Test cricket against T20 and stuff.  But we shall never know.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

The Old Man and the Sea

Fantasy Bob discovers that it is 60 years to the day that Ernest Hemingway was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Old Man and the Sea.  This novel was Hemingway's last major piece of fiction to be published in his lifetime.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954.

The novel tells the tale of Santiago an aging fisherman who has gone many long days without a catch - 84 in fact.  He is dubbed unlucky by his fellow villagers and no one will sail with him.  He sets out alone and hooks a giant fish which he takes days to subdue.  Eventually he is able to lash it to the side of his boat but as he makes his way back to base sharks circle the boat and bit by bit chew up the fish so that when he lands only the skeleton is left.

There have been many critical readings of this work.  It is suggested that it is a meditation on Hemingway's own mortality - he died in 1961.  It is an existentialist allegory.  It is about faith, religion and redemption.  And so on.

It is easy to see why the critics have been mislead into these fanciful interpretations.  Cricket was not a prominent feature of Hemingway's work up until this point.  Bull fights and boxing tended to crowd out the macho possibilities of  depicting leather on willow.

However it is obvious to Fantasy Bob that The Old Man and the Sea is a great cricketing novel.  For Fantasy Bob has been in Santiago's position many times.  He is an aging cricketer. He has bowled 84 overs without the hint of a wicket.  His colleagues dub him unlucky, they leave him alone at deep fine leg.  One day,  he is brought on to bowl when all alternatives have run out. Miraculously, he is on song, his length and line return and there is that hint of late swing so tricky for lower league batsmen.  A wicket is within his grasp, surely.  But he is denied by the circling sharks of dropped catches and perverse umpiring decisions.

Does a cricketer give up?  Will Fantasy Bob?  Not a chance.  For Hemingway captured the cricketer's attitude precisely:

Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes you are ready.” he wrote in the Old Man and the Sea and, further on,

It's silly not to hope. It's a sin he thought.”

Test Match Quality. Pulitzer Prize Quality. And well worth the Nobel Prize for Cricket too.