Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Another Fine Mess

Many who have watched Fantasy Bob's efforts on the cricket field will have wondered what his early cricketing influences might have been.

As FB puffs his way up the hill against the wind, they will confidently exclude the possibility that he has taken anything from the athletic power of Fred Trueman's bowling action; as FB swings his bat in a mighty heave missing the ball by a country mile, they will discount the chance that he has based his technique on the grace and balance of Ted Dexter's cover drive.

Instead they may note FB's timeless combination of slapstick and frustrated ambition and say to themselves, 'Another fine mess - this man was surely exposed to Laurel and Hardy at a young age.'

Norman Gifford
in action for Worcestershire
And they would be correct. For Laurel and Hardy were a huge part of Fantasy Bob's childhood. FB's Dad was a dedicated fan. At many children's parties a projector would be set up to show some of their shorts. Their output was regularly on regularly on TV. There were even occasional reruns at the cinema.

However it is many years since FB has seen them at work. So it was a delight to discover that newly restored versions of two classic Laurel and Hardy films were on show in Edinburgh this weekend. FB duly spent a most enjoyable afternoon in the company of the greatest comedy duo ever as they went through their timeless routines in Way Out West and Towed in the Hole. Test Match Quality.

Laurel and Hardy made 106 films together. The only failing in this golden catalogue of mirth is that none of them contains any cricketing material.

FB concedes that Hardy may have had an excuse, being a native of Georgia, but there is no similar let off for Laurel. For Stan Laurel was born Ulverston, then in Lancashire, and spent a significant part of his childhood in Bishop Auckland in County Durham. Cricketing country.

Gary Pratt congratulated by teammates
after running out Ponting
Ulverston's most celebrated cricketing son is Norman Gifford, a class left arm spinner who played 15 Tests between 1964 and 1973. He was unlucky to be at the top at the same time as Derek Underwood and missed out a more extended run in the side.

Bishop Auckland is the home of Gary Pratt whose place in cricket's annals is secure by virtue of his appearance as a sub-fielder during the Trent Bridge Test of the 2005 Ashes in which capacity he ran out Ricky Ponting 'Quick, quick oh he's gone I think........'

So the potential for Stan Laurel was there. And this seems to have been recognised by the creators of the Laurel and Hardy comic strip that featured in the UK comic book Film Fun which ran throughout the 1930's and 40's.  Cricket's loss was the world's gain.

Frame from Film Fun

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Annual Dinner

At the end of the Hundred Acre Wood CC's last match of the season,  Rabbit, the team's self-appointed skipper and opening bat, who was an animal of strong opinions and frequently cross, addressed the team.

The Annual Dinner of the Hundred Acre Wood CC

'Now I expect you all to attend the dinner,' he said crossly, waving his arms in his most captainly fashion. 'It is important that you show your support.'

'I don't wear a support',  from a dark and gloomy corner at the back of the room came a voice which sounded suspiciously like Eeyore's.

Rabbit crossly ignored the snigger that went round the room and waved his arms a bit more vigorously.

'There will be prizes for the best batter and best bowler.'

Pooh, who was the team's wicket keeper listened hard.  He quite liked the word dinner - it generally meant that there would be food available.   And food was always of interest to Pooh.  And Pooh was sure it must be very nice to get a prize. For he had nothing against prizes as far as they went.  He just thought that they didn't go far enough.

'Is there a prize for best wicket keeper?'  he asked.

'Of course not.   You're the only wicket keeper, so you would always win it.  What kind of prize would that be?'

Rabbit looked crossly at him and Pooh felt again that he must be a bear of very little brain.

'But......,' piped up a small voice. '................but...............,' it was Piglet, who batted number 3 although as a very small animal he didn't really like fast bowling.'..................but.................,' and as a small animal he was not very bold at speaking in public. '............but..............., you always win the best batter prize.'

'So?' said Rabbit even more crossly.  Piglet swallowed hard.  He was a back foot player and finding himself on the front foot made him feel uncomfortable.  He had no option but to swing through the line of the ball.

'Well,' he said a little squeakily, 'shouldn't it go to the batter that scores the most runs?  I got 43 not out in one match.'

Rabbit sighed and waved his arms again.  He was getting crosser by the minute. 'You only got that because Owl was umpire and he doesn't know the LBW law - you were really out 3 times.'

'But you were out for nought in every innings.'

'Only because Owl doesn't know the No Ball law.  You see the Committee has to take these things into account.'

Eeyore looked up gloomily from packing his kit.  He was the team's slow left arm bowler and had never won a prize either.

'Will the Committee take into account that I would have had a shedload of wickets and a couple of hattricks if the slip fielder hadn't dropped everything that came to him?'

Rabbit felt the eyes of the team turn towards him as one.  'I couldn't help that the sun was always in my eyes.'

He had explained many times to his team how all the best skippers stood at slip so they could read the game better.  Rabbit felt it was certainly true that at slip everyone could see you as you waved your arms in a skipperly fashion but reading the game at the same time took lots of concentration which was difficult when a bear of little brain stood beside him and continually asked whether it was nearly time for tea.

'Who is the Committee?' asked Pooh, who thought it might be able to make sure that there was honey on the dinner menu.

'I am, of course,' said Rabbit.  'I have to do all the work in this club.'  He added crossly in the manner of skippers everywhere.

Pooh and Piglet make their way home from the clubhouse.

Later Pooh and Piglet made their way home from the clubhouse.  After a long and thoughtful silence they began to speak.

'I expect the dinner will be lots of fun.'

'It usually is.'

'As long as you don't expect to win a prize.'

'And you know Rabbit really does do all the work......'

'....even if he can't bat....'

'.....or catch......'

'He does do all the work.'

'The team wouldn't work without him.'

'Yes, he deserves a prize.'

Saturday, 3 October 2015


Fantasy Bob is pretty sure that he was the only one in the audience enjoying Waiting for Godot at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre this week who took a cricketing interest in the show.

FB urges all cricketers to see this show - it is Test Match Quality.  For this is the greatest work of the only cricketer with a mention in Wisden to have gained the Nobel prize for literature.

Samuel Beckett was an opening left hand batsman and left arm medium pace bowler for Dublin University (which played first class fixtures from 1895 to 1926). He played twice against Northamptonshire. His performances were indifferent, with a top score of 18.

Critics have been reluctant to acknowledge the cricketing insights within this great play. There have been interpretations existential, Freudian, Jungian, Marxian, Martian, mystical, religious, JudeoChristian, atheistic, pantheistic, absurdist and many more. But never cricketing.

FB is stunned at this oversight. He admits that as a cricketer Godot himself is not clearly drawn. The audience is left in ignorance of his bowling action. He may not be a bowler at all - he may be a batsman. We must wait for him to find out.
Even the most cursory reading of the text should convince the reader that it is replete with references to cricketing situations. After all, each Act closes with the lines:

- Well, shall we go?
- Yes, let's go.

And the stage direction, they do not move.

Only a cricketer could have written this - it is an acute depiction of the existential difficulty of deciding whether a quick single is on. Well worth the Nobel Prize in itself.

But there is more, much more, of cricketing significance in all the play's most famous lines.

Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awful

The frustration of the fielding side unable to break a long and slow opening partnership

- There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet.

The bowler called for his umpteenth no-ball who makes a pantomime of tying and retying his laces.

- Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better.

The anxieties of players knowing that the selection committee may be looking carefully at their run of low scores. Will their big car and large boot be enough to gain them selection for the coming away fixture?

- We always find something to give us the impression we exist?
- Yes, yes, we're magicians.

The bowler who miraculously has landed his doosra on the spot for the first, and possibly only, time.

- What do they say?
- They talk about their lives.
- To have lived is not enough for them.

- They have to talk about it.

The chat in the bar after the match may not live up to expectations - particularly when the man who has just scored his first half century after many years of trying tells yet again of how his top edge through the slips was in fact carefully steered by his deft opening of he face of the bat.

- Well? What do we do?
- Let's do nothing it's safer.
- Let's wait and see what he says.
- Who?
- Godot.
- Good idea.
- Let's wait till we know exactly how we stand.

The players wait anxiously for the skipper to return from the toss. (We may not be able to identify Godot as a batter or bowler but we can infer that he is the skipper).

- That passed the time.
- It would have passed in any case.
- Yes, but not so rapidly.

The lower league cricketer's appreciation of his Saturday afternoon's efforts.

- Let's go.
- We can't.
- Why not?
- We're waiting for Godot.

The skipper is late for the meet for the away match again.

FB rests his case.

There's a famous story of Beckett watching a match at Lord's on a gorgeous summer afternoon, with a great batsman completing a classic century. A friend turned to him and said, "It's things like this that make one glad to be alive, eh Sam?" Beckett pondered this for some time, then replied, "I'm not sure I'd go that far..."

Beckett (second from left) with his school cricket team in 1920.