Thursday, 31 December 2015

The Cricketing Year - 2015

Fantasy Bob has dutifully immersed himself in the reviews of the cricket year that are all pervasive at this time of year.  
He has been stirred by the elated descriptions of the recapturing of the Ashes, the Australian World cup triumph, Scotland’s qualification for the WT20, and Scotland’s women's deeds in Malaysia. 
He has been McCullumed, Broaded, Rooted, Smithed and Hazlewooded until he knows not whether he is coming or going. (Not much change there, FB's long suffering handful of readers will think.) 
He has bid sad and fond farewells to Tyson, Benaud, Rice, Close and many others who paid their final visit to the crease. 
His blood pressure has been raised to danger levels reading about the ICC’s plans to exclude associates from future world cups. 
    In all it has been a year full of highs and lows for the cricketer with much to live long in the memory.

    Vainly however has he searched those miles of text for a single reference to the most important cricketing story of 2015.  Sadly he concludes that the legions of commentators and bloggers, pundits and analysts, critics and theorists have been guilty of a collective oversight on a grand scale for which there is no explanation.

    It is therefore up to FB to correct this failure by calling to notice the heroic achievement of the Carlton 4th XI in winning their league - the highly prestigious Division 7 of the East of Scotland Cricket Association and gaining promotion to the even more prestigious Division 6 of the East of Scotland Cricket Association. 

    This was a triumph in adversity in facing down the impossible odds of taking to the field under FB's idiosyncratic version of captaincy.  So incisive was his captaincy that when, after a poor start to the team's campaign in which they lost 3 out of the first 4 fixtures, FB departed on an Italian sojourn, the team unselfishly dedicated a series of 4 consecutive victories to his absent memory.  Not even his return to the helm could undermine their collective momentum and the prize of the league flag was duly grasped with one match to go in the schedule. 

    2015's victorious skippers
    Readers wishing to understand the full grandeur of this world beating season might wish to review the match reports on the website of the go ahead Edinburgh club.  They should be warned - this material is not for the faint hearted or even those lacking a decent Encyclopaedia.  Readers may struggle to work out why these reports give such prominent mention to Gustav Mahler, Aristotle, BB King, Mary Queen of Scots, Bob Dylan, Richard Strauss, Bertrand Russell, Epictetus, Sir Van Morrison, Walt Whitman, Henry VIII, TS Eliot and the Lady Boys of Bangkok.  What exactly did they do on the field?*

    FB sometimes wonders about this too but he guesses that it is just one of the wonders of cricket in 2015.

    *FB apologises to those of his handful of readers if some recognise this attempt at a joke from his remarks at the end of season dinner of the go ahead Edinburgh cricket club.  He felt safe in repeating it here for he was sure that none there had stayed awake long enough to hear this passage. 

    Tuesday, 29 December 2015

    And Then There Were None

    Fantasy Bob and Mrs FB worked off the excesses of Christmas by watching the excellent TV adaptation of Agatha Christie's compelling murder mystery.
    Before assuming his athletic posture on the sofa FB observed, 'For once this could be interesting for cricketers.  Agatha Christie was a great enthusiast for the game.  There is a tree on boundary at Barton CC in Torquay which is called Agatha Christie's Oak since it was there that she sat on many an afternoon watching her father play and sometimes scoring the match.'

    FB's enthusiastic hope that the programme might make some reference to this background was met with some indifference by Mrs FB.  As she dipped into the Milk Tray, her thoughts lingered on the prospect of Aidan Turner's shirt failing in its primary role at some point to reveal his celebrated torso.  FB recalled her breathless suggestion during a bare chested episode in Poldark that these rippling abs suggested he could bowl a lively fast medium.  Sadly the show did not present evidence to support this suggestion, its cricketing content being non-existent. 

    FB digresses.  To return to And Then There Were None.  As is the way of these things, Mrs FB's hopes were fulfilled as the shirt duly failed at a critical point in the mystery.  However FB's hopes were cruelly dashed yet again as the programme's cricketing potential was disgracefully ignored.
    This was clearly an opportunity lost by the show's producers, who had updated a number of aspects of the original story.  They might have looked more closely at the poem which provides a motif throughout the story, describing how the guests lured to the deserted island by a mystery host meet their grizzly fate one by one. 

    Agatha Christie's original verse is now politically incorrect - the poem was revised to refer to Indians and in the TV adaptation to soldiers. 

    This is a great failure on the part of the producers.  For it is clear that Agatha Christie took her inspiration from her early experiences on the boundary at Barton CC and really tells of a struggling cricket team.  One by one they meet their untimely end at the hands of a mysterious fast bowler and a sinister leg spinner. 
    What a great basis for a mystery drama - failing shirt or not.

    Ten little cricketers playing down the line;
    One missed a yorker and then there were nine.
     Nine little cricketers tried to play it late;
     One got a bottom edge and then there were eight.
     Eight little cricketers why aren’t there eleven;
     One missed the team bus and then there were seven.
     Seven little cricketers will always walk on nicks;
     One hung out his bat and then there were six.
     Six little cricketers kept the game alive;
     The fast bowler bounced one and then there were five.
     Five little cricketers playing for the draw;
    One swung across the line and then there were four.
     Four little cricketers holding out till tea;
     The leg spinner turned it square and then there were three.
     Three little cricketers hope the bounce is true;
     One got a shooter and then there were two.
     Two little cricketers think about a run;
     Yes, no, yes, oh, sorry ....…… and then there was one.
     One little cricketer left all alone;
     He’s gone to the bar and now there are none.

    An opportunity lost.

    Thursday, 24 December 2015

    Fantasy Bob's Christmas Appeal

    Christmas time
    and many parents find themselves coming under intense pressure from their children for a new playmate. 
    A furry, fluffy new companion. 

    But Fantasy Bob asks you to think hard before giving into such pleas.

    For the excitement that comes on Christmas morning with that new little playmate; the thrill of feeding him, or taking him for walks, wears off all too soon.  

    And every January, rescue homes all over the
    country face the sad task of taking in hundreds of the rejected and unloved.  

    It is heartbreaking.

    So, this Christmas, 
    Fantasy Bob asks you please to remember


    A Doughty Groundsman can be a wonderful companion for all the family. 
     He is not a toy.

    Wednesday, 23 December 2015

    A Christmas Carol for Cricketers

    Marley was out: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that.

    Old Marley was out - dead as a door-nail. Scrooge knew he was out. Of course he did.  Call him for a quick single? Bah! Scrooge had stayed firmly in his ground. 'Quick singles are humbug!' he said to himself. 'Marley just wanted to keep strike. Humbug!'

    Marley stomped angrily to the pavilion.  He was on 49 and looking good.  He had pushed the ball wide of cover's left hand.  He had called clearly and was at the bowler's end before he realised that his partner, his skipper, Ebenezer Scrooge had not moved.  The throw came in - even the wicket-keeper's fumble could not avert the inevitable.

    Marley glared at his skipper as he passed.  'Some skipper you are,' he muttered, 'that's the third time this season you've run me out. That's the last time I play for this club.'

    Scrooge had once been a talented batter, a fine timer of the ball.  But  that was many, many summers ago.  As his career lengthened his obsession with his average grew year by year.  He lay awake at night dreaming no longer of the ball speeding to the boundary, but of the red ink against his name in the scorebook.  It was the greatest phrase in the English language.  E Scrooge* not out................ It was worth any sacrifice.  And if his teammates couldn't see that, well, 'Bah, humbug to them.'

    Bob Cratchit spoke to his skipper as they packed their kit.  'Skip, I thought you might give me a bat next week.'  Scrooge looked at him sternly. 'And why would I do that Cratchit?'  'Well skip, I come to every practice, I feel in good nick but I've only faced 2 balls all season.'  'And what happened then?'   Scrooge turned his piercing gaze on his gentle seamer. 'Well, you ran me out.'  Even though the whole team had seen Scrooge ignore his call, Cratchit immediately regretted his words. 'Ran you out? Humbug.  You didn't wait for my call. You'll bat 11 as usual and field fine leg - both ends.'
    Cratchit sighed.  It was always the same - each year it got worse.  But he steeled himself - he had something important to ask, 'Skip, you know my boy Tim?' Scrooge's gaze turned even icier.  'Well, he took 6 wickets in the juniors last week - do you think you could give him a turn in the firsts?' Scrooge paused, 'A junior?  In the first team?  Humbug. A junior?  Of all things. Hell will freeze over first before I play with a ....JUNIOR.'

    As Scrooge made his way home from the match his mood was dark.  The team may have won, but he had been LBW'd in the final over. 'Bah. Only 2 more balls and I would have had another red inker.' He slammed the pavilion door.  'Everyone saw it pitched outside leg. Why did I let that idiot Marley umpire?  Humbug.'

    As he passed the nets, he saw some of the junior members energetically  practising in the fading evening light.  He spotted young Cratchit flicking the ball dextrously from hand to hand before whipping it down the track and with the perfect googly giving his opponent no chance.  He scowled.  'You juniors,' he bellowed, 'get out of there.   Seniors only in the nets.'  'But coach said..' 'I don't care what coach said - I'm skipper - BE OFF WITH YOU.'

    Scrooge tossed and turned in his bed that night; his dismissal, the impertinence of the juniors, there was too much on his mind.  Suddenly he heard a sound.  He sat up.  He was not alone.  Standing by his bed was a white figure in full batting gear.  Scrooge was terrified. 'Fear not , Ebeneezer, I am the ghost of cricket past - come with me.'  Still fearful, Scrooge rose and followed the stranger.  They came to the cricket ground - familiar in the sunshine. 'See the young Ebeneezer .....' 

    Scrooge followed the stranger's crooked finger as it pointed to a youngster excitedly strapping on his pads.  A kindly voice was heard, 'Ebeneezer you're next in - you're first innings for the firsts but just play straight and you'll be fine.'  Together Scrooge and the stranger watched as the youngster made his way to the middle and after a careful start begin to stroke the ball with more confidence. 'Do you remember?' said the stranger. 'Yes, yes,' said Scrooge, 'my first match - I was just14 and I got 48 batting with the skipper before I got a shooter.  What a day!'  They watched on as the team cheered the youngster and to a man heartily shook his hand.

    The sun dappled image faded and Scrooge was alone tossing and turning in his bed.  The clock ticked on and suddenly he felt again a prescence - another white clad figure at the foot of the bed tossing a ball from hand to hand.  Before he could scream in terror, the figure spoke, 'Ebeneezer Scrooge, I am the ghost of cricket present - come with me.'  The figure moved and Scrooge followed.  Past the cricket ground this time and on to some houses beyond.  The ghost pointed at a lighted window. 'Watch,' he said.  Scrooge looked in and there he saw Cratchit and his family including Tim.  'Listen, said the ghost.   the youngster was animatedly talking '.................but Dad it's not fair..........why can't we practice in the evening.  No one else was in the nets.  It's just Scrooge he hates us junior members.  He never comes to junior matches.  He never gives us hints.  He wishes we weren't there.  I'm fed up of cricket - and so are my pals.  We're not going to play any more................'  The scene faded as the boy threw his bat into the fireside basket of logs.

    Scrooge lay restlessly asleep again.  A third time he woke with a start to find a white clad figure beside his bed.  This time the figure was old and bent, his eye rheumy, his hair and beard dishevelled, his white clothes stained and tattered.   He spoke in a cracked whisper, 'I am the ghost of cricket yet to come.  Follow me, Ebeneezer, follow me.'  Scrooge obeyed and followed the stranger's lead.  They came to a place that was familiar but it had changed.  An old derelict building lay in one corner of an overgrown wasteland.  A rusty tractor stood in another.  The cold wind blew litter in an untidy swirl.

    'Surely this is the cricket ground?' Scrooge asked his guide.  'It was the cricket ground, but no cricket has been played for many a year.'  'What happened, the cricket club was such a happy place.'  'Once it was but little by little it died - one by one the players had enough of the skipper and moved to other clubs.  The junior section dwindled, neglected and rejected.  Relegation followed relegation.  Matches were scratched.  No one tended the wicket that was once the best in the area and it became a minefield.  The club played its last match a year ago.  Next year this will be a brand new car park.'

    'No,' said Scrooge,  'No, it cannot be!'  The ghost replied, 'This is what will happen, unless........' The  voice began to fade.  'Unless what, cried Scrooge desperately.  but the figure had vanished and only a whisper came through the air,  '........................unless........................'

    Scrooge woke with a start.  The morning was bright and clear.  The wicket would be firm.  A fine day for batting.  As Scrooge thought of the red ink against his name, he stopped himself.

    He reached for his phone and quickly pressed the numbers in.  'Cratchit,' a voice answered. 'Bob,' said Scrooge, 'can you open the batting today?'  'No problem, skip,' came the reply.  'And your boy, Tim, we could give him a chance - wicket looks like it'll take some spin.' 'Yes - he'll be ready.'  'Tell him to come down early - he can bowl a few at me in the nets.........a fiver if he gets me out!'

    And as Tim left the field after taking 3 wickets for 25 in his first bowl for the firsts, Scrooge smiled kindly, shook the boy's hand warmly and looked around the ground, the ground he loved and would go on loving. 

    Tim looked at his skipper, turned to his pals and shouted out, 'God bless us everyone....................'

    'Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for was always said of him that he knew how to keep cricket well if any man alive possessed the knowledge.'

    Monday, 7 December 2015

    The Turner Prize 2015........................

    But is it art?

    Zulfiqar Babar appeals for James Anderson's wicket
    Pakistan v England 2nd Test
    26 October 2015

    Thursday, 3 December 2015

    Tossed Away

    Long suffering readers of these pages will know that there is little that can excite Fantasy Bob's interest more than the protocols of the toss.
    A classic toss
     Bill Lawry and Ray Illingworth
    Melbourne 1971
    So they will not be surprised that he has read with alarm the recent announcement that the powers that be have decided that there will be no mandatory toss in either division of the English County Championship in the 2016 season.
    With a rising sense of panic, he spent a few anxious hours tracking down the highest executive authorities of the East of Scotland Cricket Association. Eventually he traced a spokesman to a pool side sun lounger in one of the more exclusive resorts in the Canary Islands. To his relief FB was able to extract an assurance that there were no plans to replicate this development in ESCA's lower leagues.

    For it is in those leagues that FB's tossing skills are the stuff of legend. They have been an essential part of the cricketing education of the many junior players who have grown up under FB's so called captaincy. Notwithstanding this experience, they have for the most part grown into upstanding members of the community. But collectively they cannot envisage a cricket match without the preceding ritual of FB striding to the middle with his opposite number only to return minutes later with the wholly expected news that he had lost the toss again.

    'Are we batting or bowling,' his team mates would ask him with eager faces.
    'Definitely,' he would respond confidently, 'but I'm not sure in what order.'

    For FB would be so overcome by the emotional strain of his certainty that heads would come up being shattered, that he failed to pay any attention to his opponent's decision.

    The toss is therefore a matter of importance to FB.  It gives his cricketing day a sense of purpose.  For, as many who have either played with or watched him, there is absolutely no purpose in anything else he does on the cricket field.  To coin a current phrase, the removal of the toss would therefore represent an existential threat.  Who knows where it would lead?

    It is said that the change has been implemented to encourage the development of spin bowling and discourage sides from preparing overly seam friendly wickets.  FB understands that instead of the toss the visiting team will have the choice of whether they want to field first. If they don't wish to take up that option the toss will take place - so they could end up fielding anyway which seems to defeat the object of the exercise - or does it?  Who knows? FB can't decide. It's a bit of a toss up.