The spaces in between

My father died in October of 1989. I was thirteen years old. He died on a Sunday late morning, It was a beautiful nearly perfect autumn day. The leaves were orange and red against a deep blue cloudless sky. The weather had been perfect for days beforehand. My sister, brother and I were driven to a hospital in St. Paul after a worried shaky voiced call from my mother. We knew something was wrong, very wrong. But I thought it would be fine. Dad was young, healthy. It would be fine.

At the hospital we were led to a small brown room off the lobby where my mother sat with a doctor and a nurse and others. We sat down on small chairs. Mom looked all of a sudden 10 years older. Hunched over. Shaking.

Typing the words out that she said next has always been hard for me. They have been in my head for decades now. Swirling around like a swarm of biting flies. They are there when I am out on walks. They are there when I am cooking dinner. They are there when I am lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling. For 30 years they have been my constant companion. The most loyal and trusted friend I’ve ever had.

“Kids, your father had a massive heart attack … and died.”

For years now, ever since I was like 25 or so, I have said — to myself, and on this blog, but never really to other people out loud — that I have lived my entire life in that ellipses. In that space between when I thought my father was alive, and when I knew he wasn’t. I thought it sounded poetic. It allowed me to write about things like cricket and spaces it creates in time, and how it allows us to wallow in those spaces, and dream, and remember other days, and fall backward and forward in time as we so desire, before the game, or life, calls us back.

But in life there are no pauses. There are moments when our lives split into two parts, but there is never a pause. There is just a before and an after. This is where cricket lies to us. The game moves and slithers and ebbs and flows, and through it all there are breaks between deliveries, between overs, after wickets, lunch, tea, drinks, moments when everyone — fans, announcers, players — are allowed to breath, reflect, plan, look ahead and look behind. There are no such pauses in life. There is only before, and after. We cannot live in the pauses. We can only live on either side.

I told my wife I was leaving her at around two in the morning on May 5, 2018. The words tumbled from my mouth and spilled onto the floor and flooded all the space between us. I remember saying those words to her. I remember each word individually, but I was not able to rest in the spaces between syllables. I wasn’t then, and I am not now. I can only live in the space before I said them — in dreams, in regrets, in thankfulness, in pain, in sadness, in joy — and the space after I said them, which is the space I yearn to spend the majority of my time in, an endeavor I fail at over and over and over again.

When I was riding in the car to the hospital on the day my father died, I was in the backseat looking out of the window and thinking to myself: everything I see reminds of my father — the movie theater, the Mexican restaurant, the big box value store — and if he dies all of it will make me sad. I was not far off in this estimation. He died 31 years ago this autumn and my afternoons are still colored by all of the drab gray days that we never got to share. And so I cannot help but time travel back to sadness and a future never had whenever I see something that reminds me of him, of that time. And I cannot help but think back on the words I told my now ex-wife and how they continue to paint broad strokes on the future even though they were intended as a break from the past and the present, toward new, brighter days.

There are no pauses. There is a before, and an after. But the before never real goes away, nor does the after that same before once promised but now cannot deliver on. Because of one sentence uttered in grief and exhaustion on a random morning on a day that should have been just another day.

The cricket match that I think about when I think about this is the 2015 World Cup final, and the moment that broke the game that came so early, the bowling of McCullum by Mitchel Starc. Only a handful of deliveries into the game and Starc cleaved the game into two halves: before the McCullum wicket and after the McCullum wicket. The game after that felt like it was already over, a coronation of Australia rather than a competition between the two teams. And the before bled effortlessly and endlessly into the after, and the promise of the final seeped away into the night.

Every game of cricket has one of these, it seems. And these moments exist in all sports, though in cricket they do feel more pronounced than in other games. Rarely, in baseball, does one pitch or one swing alter the course of the game. It happens, just not as often, nor is it ever as obvious. Football, soccer, basketball, none of them have games that can so consistently be tracked back to a single moment in time. Cricket in so many ways has the illusion of a slow build over hours and days, but in reality so often it feels like one single play is the deciding factor. One decision to leave instead of block, and the before writes a new after.

In some ways, this illusion of the slow build can disguise the moment that broke the dam and flooded the valley, making it seem as though the game is one long unbroken march toward stumps; an illusion one also finds in reality, outside of cricket. It is healthy for our minds to see our lives as one long series of days with events that shape future days, but for so many of us there are moments — single moments, matters of just seconds — that break our lives into two pieces. Perhaps mine are more pronounced than others, but we all have them. And this is where the notion of the pause, the space, does enter the conversation. Does the McCullum wicket fall into the before, or the after, or does it stand alone, a fourth moment differing in structure and meaning from past, future and even the present?

The moment in the little room in the hospital 31 years ago exists in the past. But it also resonates in the present and in the future. It sits almost outside of time itself. Did McCullum’s mind step outside of the relentless dictatorship of minutes and hours and cease to exist as Starc’s delivery came bouncing in? Did everything stop for him? Does he remember a moment that exists not before the wicket nor after it? A space where he lives now, in his quieter moments, a comfortable groove in his brain where he sits and stares into a sea of impossible futures where the delivery harmlessly sailed back unimpeded to the waiting gloves of Brad Haddin? I think he probably does, just like I do. These pauses may only exist within us, but where they live is ultimately meaningless. We create the pause that doesn’t in reality happen because that is a safe space to move into when our minds move too quickly to keep up, when life and the world is just too sad. That space where our father was neither alive nor dead, where my marriage both did and didn’t exist, where Brendon McCullum was just calmly awaiting Mitchel Starc to finish his run up to the opposite end.

One remembers that in A Christmas Carol, Mr. Scrooge is not visited by just three ghosts, but rather by a fourth, his old partner Jacob Marley. Marley represents not the past, the present or the future, but rather a fourth moment, a deciding moment, that exists outside of everything, except for Scrooge’s mind, where it rules with both authority and rage and empathy.

I don’t desire to return to a life that existed when my father was still alive. Nor do I desire to return to a time when I was still married. But I still visit the false space between when those events were real and when they were just imagined. That’s the space that creates magic, because it could have broken the other way so easily, and we would not have the gray day now when the whole world feels sad, but rather a different world altogether; a world that never existed nor can ever exist, and therefore feels not almost magical but truly like magic. It is in these false pauses when we last had the chance to change everything. The split second before time broke us in half. And if there is magic in this world, that is where it sits, waiting for us, outside of everything, in a house we built for it inside ourselves, a house that cannot stand empty. On dark nights when we cannot sleep we visit that house and try to bring magic back into the world. Closing our eyes, listening to our mother’s voice, suddenly old; Starc’s delivery drifting harmlessly into the void.

My top ten favorite cricket terms

There are few people reading this who don’t enjoy the cadence, poetry and beauty of cricket’s unique language. Yeah, some terms are overused and have become meaningless cliches, but in the right hands the commentary and phrases become part of the game’s flow, and help define its intricacies, amplifying the specifics that make each match special.

13 years and change after starting to follow the game, I am still learning the ins and outs of cricket terms. I still hear new ones now and again that I have to look up, an activity I don’t not enjoy. The game is in so many ways like learning a foreign language, from the scoreboards to the way people talk about it, and there is always joy in looking up and realizing you are following along with something that a year ago made little to no sense. I am of the belief that it’s okay for leisure activities to require something of their users, it’s okay for books, sports, movies to be challenging. That’s how it should be. Sure, sometimes it’s nice to turn one’s brain off and take in, say, an IPL match, but most of the time the joy in leisure time comes from the challenge, and the overcoming of that challenge. I would take Terrence Malick over Christopher Nolan any ol’ day of the week.

And so in that spirt, and for a little bit of fun, here are my top 10 favorite cricket terms, ranked.

10. Not out

I work in tech, but not in a tech department. Rather I am embedded with the Marketing team. I am in a lot of meetings where they are discussing what to all something. New podcasts, new newsletter, new programs. etc. My contribution is always the same: “What is it? Okay, call it that.” I abhor names for things that make zero sense to a user. Cricket, despite lots of evidence to the contrary, is quite good at calling something what it is. This is the first of a few of these on this list. “Is he out?” No. “Then what is he?” Not out. I think this simple use of language is where cricket really shines. I am a fan of economy, and cricket does not disappoint in this particular case.

9. Corridor of uncertainty

I like this one as it is equal parts ominous and cheesy. It’s like something out of a Final Fantasy video game. “We must pass through the Corridor of Uncertainty before we are able to reach the Calm Lands for the Final Summoning.” It’s also one that can be a little hard to explain to a non-Cricket person, which is fun.

8. Duck

Normally I am not a big fan of terms that feel a little shaming, but this one is too good. “Oh, you got no runs? You’re a duck, you duck.” Of course, the origins are similar to “goose-egg” in American English, as zeroes tend to look like water fowl eggs (apparently) but I loved how it was shortened and became common place. “Out for a duck,” is just a perfect sentence.

7. Offer the light

This one has become obsolete, at least at the levels I watch. Nowadays the umpires just call bad light and that’s that, instead of offering it to the batsmen. But I love the poetry of this. “Offer the light.” It flows like other, non-cricket phrases like “cellar door” do. There is also a mystical, magical realism quality to it. I can easily picture a character in 100 Years of Solitude saying something like “May I offer the light?”

6. Mankad

I avoided all the cricket terms that to Americans would sound like nonsense baby talk. Googly, doosra, etc. Mankad, to the initiated, sounds like one of those terms, but those in the know, know better. Just a simple word, describing something so terribly fraught with controversy. One mention of it sends Twitter into hysterics. All for a word that to the outsider sounds like nothing at all. Two syllables that don’t belong together. There’s something about that I like. 2 billion people on earth are in on the joke. The rest aren’t.

5. Belter

There is an almost an onomatopoeia quality to this word, which is why I chose it. If a track is ripe for good batting, then it’s a belter, which sounds exactly like what the batsmen might be about to do. Plus it’s fun to say. Belter. Belter, belter, belter.

4. Sticky wicket

I chose this one because it was something my mother used to say when I was growing up. For some reason it is the rare cricket term that made it into the American lexicon. “That’s a sticky wicket,” mom would say over a particularly troubling conundrum, like my math homework or which social obligation I should turn down if i was double booked. When I started following the game in 2007 this was the phrase that stuck out, because I had heard it before. I have always wondered why, of all the words used in cricket’s language, this one made it over here to America. And not just to the big coastal elite cities, but to my mother, who grew up in Appalachia, just across the Ohio river from the West Virginian coal mines. Language is funny, in how it travels. Decades before the internet, phrases made it across oceans, across time, across whole continents. There is something I find comforting about that.

Also she might have learned it from watching Upstairs, Downstairs.

3. Cow corner

This one is not really an odds on favorite, language wise, but I included it in this list because it’s a new phrase for me. For some reason, maybe because it has fallen out of use, or maybe because I wasn’t paying attention, it failed to hit my radar until just this past year or so. Another reminder that no matter how well versed we are in cricket’s language, there is always more learning to do. The game is over 150 years old and is played on every continent on earth. So not only is there history to learn, but that history is also always changing, always evolving, asking us to keep up, but we never can.

The most recent addition to my cricketing vocabulary was ‘the double teapot.’ Despite its newborn stature, I chose not to include it here, though I am doubting myself now, because upon re-reading its definition I realized that I really quite like it. It is very evocative, it paints a solid picture, one which we can all visualize in our heads quite easily, that of the annoyed cricketer, the frustrated cricketer, watching the game crumble around him. Plus, I like how it is reserved for the grumpy fast bowler, one of cricket’s best personalities. But I am not going to rewrite the list, so let’s give it honorable mention and move on.

2. Shepherd the strike

In a discussion about Radiohead a while back, someone mentioned that Kid A was their favorite Radiohead record. I said that that simply can’t be true, in a world here OK Computer exists. Someone replied that would be the case only in a world where Radiohead didn’t exist.

Shepherd the strike is my favorite by a country mile, if we live in a world where number one does not exist.

The phrase describes one of my favorite parts of the game, when a middle or top order batsman is doing his gosh darn best to pull his team over the line, and all he has left to work with at the other end is an off spinner who would rather be anywhere else on earth. Of course, most of the time, it doesn’t work out, but when it does it’s just brilliant. The recent partnership of Stokes and Leach is the prime example of late. But the term also almost perfectly describes what that top or middle order batsman is doing: shepherding. Managing, guiding, watching, keeping things ticking over until everyone is home and safe and dry. It’s also a reminder of cricket’s pastoral past, just like Cow Corner and others are.

Shepherds have been around for thousands of years. We hear the word and we not only picture an idealized vision of a shepherd — high on a green hill in the sun — but we also understand — again, ideally — what a shepherd does, what they do. And the word is noun and verb simultaneously. I am a shepherd, I shepherd.

Shepherd the strike, get us home, get us dry. The wolves are near.

1. Nightwatchman

This is the word that started it all. I first heard it in I am guessing 2008 or so. Maybe a little earlier. And I like to think that it solidified my love for the game, though that probably isn’t entirely true, but it’s a part of my cricket origin story I have chosen to hang onto, even if it is folklore. When I heard it mentioned it sounded so fantastical, it gave Test cricket this mystical, almost sinister atmosphere. Night is falling fast, we are troubled, the enemy is near, go set a watchman. Like earlier words in this list, it is poetic simply in how its letters and syllables and sounds play off each other, and it is — again, like others on this list — so evocative. We hear nightwatchman, we picture nightwatchman: a lone figure with a lantern and a rifle, a low fire behind him, a camp in the distance.

As you may have noticed over the years, I rather like it when cricket takes itself too seriously. And nightwatchman feels like another instance of that. The game is darkness and danger. It’s also poetry and language and light. And a time gone by. And a metaphor for all of the above and everything else. And nightwatchman in my opinion sums up all what cricket is in one single word.

It also, of course, evokes the changing nature of the game. Nightwatchmen are no longer in vogue. Like so many other things not just in cricket but in life, they are seen as obsolete, a part of the game no longer needed, a hold over from a time long since passed. The world has moved on, and cricket has moved on, and it no longer needs nightwatchmen. But we still talk about them. They are still used, now and again. Cricket tries mightily to separate itself from its past, but no matter how hard it tries, it can’t get away completely. And while some might see both the attempt and the failing at escaping its history as problematic, I see it as indicative of cricket’s uncanny ability to keep one foot firmly in the past, while still managing to move forward in fits and starts. Once the watchman is set, he doesn’t rest, even as the camp stirs behind him.

I hear the word, and all of that floods in, and that is why I love it.

Walk me out into the rain and snow

The Minnesota Twins lost on Wednesday to the Houston Astros, ending their post-season almost before it even began.

The loss had me feeling deflated, disappointed, disheartened. Far more so than in previous years (we have gotten pretty used to the Twins losing in the playings around here), partly because it really seemed that they were set up for a run deep in October, but also mostly because 2020 is different.

Lots of us are staring down a long, hard, lonely, desolate winter. But the Twins were going to be a bright spot. Something fun to distract us, something fun to talk about, just something to make us feel good about anything. But it was stripped of us and yesterday afternoon when I turned off the game after the final out was recorded I felt an almost unbearable sense of melancholy. From hope to absolute nothingness in just 24 hours. And I thought of my poor old mother, a diehard Twins fan, who has so little right now already. The loss felt real. I don’t mean the Twins loss, but the loss of hope, even if that hope took the form of 24 guys who probably couldn’t find Minnesota on a map five years ago.

That’s the power of sports, of course. The power to make us believe that we are a part of something greater than ourselves, and while nothing is working out for us, maybe this will work out, will bring us some little sparks of joy, even if we well know that that joy is fleeting. Even if the Twins would had won everything, we still would have turned the tv off after the final out, and faced down a long winter. But it would have been a fun month, and there were would have been some great memories to savor.

Alas, not this year. Maybe next.

Yesterday after the loss I did that one thing that all of us do when we ache in ways we can’t control, I went outside. I am not sure why we all do this. Or why we think it will make us feel better. But we all do it. I went out onto the porch and sighed and stared off into the distance, the brown and yellow leaves and the low sun and the early rush hour traffic.

I thought about other Twins’ playoff exits, of course, because that’s what I always do this time of year. Baseball is funny in that way: it’s always fall when the season ends. Even this year, this year that was so different in so many ways. And I thought about how my relationship with those memories has changed over the years. In 2003 — and I know I have written about this far too many times and I apologize — the Twins lost to the Yankees on a Sunday afternoon to end their season. It was a real drubbing, the game wasn’t in doubt after the fourth or fifth inning. Earlier that fall — maybe even just a month earlier — my wife and I had closed on our first home. We turned the game off midway through and took a walk through our new neighborhood to the lake four blocks away. It was warm, but fall was coming. It was melancholy and sad and sweet and new. My memories of that walk are of course now tainted by time, loss, distance. I like to think I know what I was feeling that afternoon. But I was also very young, and maybe even a little tipsy. I really don’t know. But over the years it has solidified into my memory, a fixed point in time, in a time, of a time: when I was a newlywed and the world was opening up and my marriage was, for a brief moment or two, a happy one.

Later the hard years would come. And after that the really hard years. That walk took place in 2003, a month after we had sat and drank beers while sitting on the washer and dryer in our new house in the basement, after a dinner of fast food on the dining room floor because we didn’t have any furniture. It was my wife’s first house ever. She had grown up in apartments above pharmacies in small towns. The happiness was real. I might have idealized it before my divorce, just as I do now, after it, but I don’t think that matters. I remember being happy, and so I was happy.

We signed our divorce papers 15 years later on a gray June day in a government building. We both said goodbye to our home separately on a gray April day two years later. And as I was biking away for the last time, the memories were so thick I had to brush them away from my face. And I remembered the last time I had biked away, when I was leaving, when it was over, when she was begging me to stay even though she knew I was already gone, and I looked back and I saw our old dog in the front window, staring at me as I rode off down the road. And that was that.

I think about the years she spent in that house alone after I left but before we sold it. With our dog and our things. Alone. The thought sometimes overwhelms me with sadness. A sadness that used to steal entire days, but now always makes off with just an hour or two before it drifts away. Then our old dog died and she was in the home alone surrounded by all that was lost, and cannot be brought back.

The memories change. They drift in the wind and come back to us different. But they are still memories, so they are still real, cutting through our lives. The memories we have chosen to hold onto are the ones that changed us forever. They are the ones that we carry along, they are the salt into the wounds that just won’t heal. I will never forget that walk on that day the Twins lost now 17 years ago, and therefore I will never forget the pain that followed.

This is what I thought about on Wednesday. Standing on the porch. The apartment silent after the noise of the game.

And I am not alone. I know this. I might feel things deeper than some, but I know I was not the only one last week who thought of dead dogs, dead brothers, old moms, as the last strike was called in the bottom the ninth. We mourn collectively not merely a team and a dream of a championship, but also times gone by, and we wonder where we will be when we are here again. That’s the power of sports. And the power of baseball in particular. Thanks to the harshness of its loss: leaving you empty, naked, facing a long winter.

Cricket is the same, of course. In England the last gasps of summer see also the last gasps of cricket until the cold rains come. I think back to just a few weeks ago as Somerset fell just short. This is an old club, nearly 150 years old. And they have their fan base just as any other team does. And Somerset cricket is surely hardcoded into some DNAs, a generational support. They also have never won a County Championship. The years keep slipping by. Fans grow old. Fans die. And then they were so close, and then it was gone, and then came winter.

Not every Somerset fan of course walked outside and tripped and fell down a chasm of memory and time, but many did, surely. When our teams lose and the leaves turn brown, it’s an almost perfect recipe for memory, melancholy, and the oppressive but very real thought that it is all just passing us by, that all that existed before is gone, and all that exists ahead is more loss.

For Cricinfo, Paul Edwards wrote a few days ago that “(m)any people who love cricket hope to see something in the season’s final match that they can take with them into winter.” He writes of perfect cover drives, flashes of brilliance, a final afternoon in the sun. Most autumns, I would agree with him: sometimes there is just enough cricket, enough baseball, to sustain us through the winter. Sometimes there isn’t.

We all — every single one of us — are processing loss, all the time. It is the very nature of being human. But then on days like this past Wednesday, we are reminded once more that we are doing so. Processing, but also losing. Losing time, losing memory, losing what’s left. Years collapse into sand. Strike three is called. Winter arrives. With nothing to sustain us. A memory is sparked, of an afternoon when you were young and the sun was out and the shadows long, and the trees green and brown and tired, and you wonder where that’s all gone, before you remember that it never left. It’s always been there. It’s a part of you. It’s your structure. It’s what you build your days around. Days that form a house that now stands empty.

In spring hope will return. And together, god willing, we will do it all again, as the memories of loss and sadness and autumn afternoons disappear for a time, maybe, but only to deepen their imprints, reinforce their infrastructure, before reminding us once again — thanks to a called strike in an empty stadium on a September day — that they are with us forever. That they are us. That we are them. We have built a house for them inside, and we cannot leave. And all that we can hope is that a late innings rally keeps those wolves at the door a day or two longer. But no matter what sooner or later they will smash in the door, rip into our frail skin, and remind us again the strength of their jaws.

This is the power of sport. To pick us up and place us down somewhere else. There are days when I think of it as a gift. And there are days when I do not. But it brings memories like cannon fire, because those losses are always in the fall, when all we know is loss and decay, when we cannot see the green that will come, cannot even imagine it. We grieve collectively, always, all the time. And then we move on. We look out the window, and wait for spring.

Am I an England fan?

When it comes to cricket, I don’t have a specific team or country that I follow. It has been this way since I started following the game, over 13 years ago.

I have tried in the past. In 2011 or so I thought I would become a Pakistan fan, since they never really fail to entertain. And while that is still true, the entertainment side, the fandom never really stuck. And before that I decided that Sussex would be my county team, but no go there too. And along the way, at some point, I think I tried to pick an IPL team but that proved to be a non-starter from the get-go.

Now, the concept of choosing teams is foreign to most fans. Though it is quite common among people who come to a sport late in life. I have watched friends and sportswriters anguish over which Premier League team to support once they started following soccer. And I have noticed the same behavior from people outside the USA once they start keeping up on the NBA. All of this has become more and more common thanks in large part to technology. Fandom, for good or for bad, is becoming less and less about where one lives. The internet is your community, and Twitter the pub.

It’s not the case as often, but the above is also becoming more prevalent for international sports. Cricket, for sure, because most countries do not play international cricket, but also soccer. I know a lot of American soccer fans whose favorite international side is not the USA, but rather Belgium, or Nigeria.

All fandom is of course a choice, just sometimes it is a less conscious one, or one that is thrust upon you by an oppressive dad or simply based on where you grew up. Or the choice happens before you are even old enough to know what’s happening. People are fans of teams for no other reason than that’s how it’s always been for them. I know Packer fans who can’t remember a time when they weren’t a Packer fan. Their dad is a fan, and their dad before them. I have always found this generational fandom fascinating, and something I must admit I am a little jealous of, and something I have to come to accept that I will never have. At least not from an elder. I do hope, someday, to pass on my obsession with the Minnesota Twins or Arsenal Football Club to a little person who happens to share my DNA.

Speaking of Arsenal, I didn’t choose them, even though I became a fan in my 20s. It just sort of … happened. I remember watching Thierry Henry play for France in like 2002 or 2003 and while it wasn’t a bolt of lightning once I read about his club team at the time, it was a pretty steady roll downhill from that first exposure to crying after the 2006 Champions League final. There are people who can choose a team and instantly become super fans. And there are people who are fans of multiple teams. And there are people who switch allegiance midstream while they are full grown adults. None of those things make any sense to me whatsoever, especially that last one. (There was a DJ at the radio station I work at, a British ex-pat and a life long Manchester United fan, who switched his fandom to LIVERPOOL a few years back. What in the world? People are mad.)

It’s just always been a slow burn toward fandom for me. You kind of are following a team and then all of a sudden you find yourself a little down after a loss, and using the first person plural when you talk about them. It takes a while, but then it hits you like a ton of bricks.

But it just never happened for me for cricket. And after a while, I started to wear it like a badge of honor. I kind of liked that I didn’t support a team or a country (closest I came to the latter is the fact that I really disliked Australia). I felt like not being a fan of a specific team helped me write about the game better. And it allowed me to just enjoy the cricket, without all of that edge-of-your-seat nonsense that makes sport equal parts great and awful. Plus, cricket, I thought, more than any other sport, lended itself to fans without a country, such as myself. I mean, this is a game where the opposing team’s fans applaud their opponent’s achievements. You just don’t see that elsewhere in sports.

Over the last, let’s say, year or so, however, I have started to ask myself: am I an England fan? Do I support England over all others now?

I have always watched a lot of English cricket, but that was mostly because of the friendly time zones. I also watch a lot of Australian cricket for the same reason for that matter and, well, see above. But then after the World Cup last year I realized that I was inordinately happy England had won. This was a new feeling for me. However, I realized at the same time that I also felt pretty terrible for New Zealand, so I thought nothing more of it.

And then I started catching myself reading more and more about English cricket. And I realized that I could understand the grumblings over the team selection better than before and other outside-the-lines intricacies that I normally only pay passing attention to. This summer I found myself actively cheering for England against squads I normally really like: the West Indies, Pakistan. And then, for one second, I looked at the England kits on sale on a cricket equipment site.

I am not sure how I feel about any of this.

Part of me is like: accept it, it’s too late, you’ve dug your grave. And part of me is like England? Really? There’s so much wrong with English cricket in so many different ways, do you really want to hook your wagon to them? And part of me is, correctly, embarrassed. I mean, do I openly start cheering for England on social media now after more than a decade of being a vocal neutral? And who the hell starts cheering for a new team in their 40s anyway?

All of this is to say in answer to the question posed in the title: I don’t know yet, but it certainly feels like it. I must admit it feels almost inevitable that it will happen. And then I get excited about the prospect. But then I get worried that my relationship with the game will change, and change forever. A relationship I have cultivated for long time, a relationship I like.

And that’s what it comes down to: I am torn between two very different kinds of fandom, but all I can do is see what happens, because all fandoms are best when they are allowed to evolve organically. That’s what I keep reminding myself. Whatever happens, it’ll be fine, it’s just cricket.

But England? Really? England? Oof.

We’re floating in space

On Friday I watched almost the entire first ODI between England and Australia. With about an hour to go, I realized something: there hadn’t been any commercials. Not a single one. And then I thought: maybe this is why I love cricket? Or, at least, maybe this is why one reason why I love cricket.

My whole life I have, like most people, abhorred commercial breaks. The blasting, insulting wall of noise that assaults us every five minutes or so. But unlike a lot of people who see the ads as just part of the nature of entertainment, I actively avoided anything with advertising breaks. I chose movies over television (not really the case any longer, thanks to streaming services), I never listened to commercial radio (aside from Twins games, which I still have difficulty with), and I avoided the most ad heavy sports like American football, which continues to find new and inventive ways to jam more commercials in.

And while I love baseball, I still have a hard time watching it on TV. And of course soccer is a first love because of its luxurious 45 minutes of ad-less half, but I am worried that the water break is going to become an ad break, and then the slippery slope has begun.

But cricket, at least yesterday, was something else entirely. I watched the match from around 10 in the morning on my watch until late into the afternoon, and there was not a single commercial. The game just hummed a long, with quiet pauses between overs, no breaks, just one long take of cricket.

Of course, this is not always the case with the game. I have watched T20s where there were ads jammed in over the feed between every single over. And in some cases it was the same exact ad over and over and over again until you start to question whether you even exist any more, or if you are simply a vessel in which the ad enters the cosmos. And even when it’s not that bad, there are still, usually, ads when wickets are taken, and during innings breaks of course. But yesterday as the match seamlessly persisted in some sort of beautiful never ending horizon, I realized that more often than not, there are no ads. Especially in Test matches, but also occasionally in one day games. It’s a treat when it happens, a real treat. It’s almost as if you are at the ground. And in a time like now, when no one can be at the ground, it’s even more special.

It’s also a reminder that while there are breaks hardwired into the game’s format and rules — water breaks, innings breaks — for the most part the game is seamless. And the breaks that do form — the pauses, the spaces — are low lying flood plains soon to be filled in with summer rains. It’s in the pauses where the potential is, the magic, the soon to be, the anticipation. Tossing ads in that mix ruin those moments, removes part of the soul of the game. But yesterday they were restored, and cricket was once again a year divided into seasons, sunsets, sunrises; not into hours, seconds, weeks.

**

This is the time of year when I usually write about the end of summer: the melancholy, the brown lawns, the early dark, the change inherent on the wind which all of a sudden has a bite of chill. But this year was not, and is not, a normal year. And neither was the summer. I had a good summer, despite everything. The weather was pleasant, it stretched on far and long like the summers of youth. We spent a lot of time out doors in the sun with wine in empty parks on blankets. Baseball came back. Cricket came back. If you ignored the world outside as best you could, summer was okay. Despite it all. I am one of the lucky ones, the very lucky in a year like this. But after 20 years of watching summer pass me by, this year it didn’t.

In a couple days England and Australia will play the last cricket of the English summer, such as it was, and that will be that on those shores until next year. A year that might see a vaccine, that might see a full Edgbaston on a Saturday afternoon. And 2020, as awful as it is, could — and might — be slowly forgotten. A speedbump for those of us privileged enough to not be personally touched by the pandemic. But also maybe it won’t, because of how nice the summer was, a summer of cicadas and afternoons on a blanket under blue skies with a thermos of white wine and a book as thick as the day is long.

Summer is ending, I can see it out my window as a I type, the brown leaves on the spindly tree, but unlike so many other summers, it at least was here for a little while first. This morning the cricket is on, later it will be sunny and warm. Let’s get the hammocks out, it’s not over yet.

There are blessings everywhere.

The long summer stretching forward and back in time is like cricket without ads: endless and seamless; the breaks are hardwired but organic; like long slow breathing. It’s not meant to be broken up with trivial matters like other summers are, with the things that we thought used to define our summers, it’s about being outside, letting time drift along to bird song, then a late night storm, dried up before noon by the heat of the day. All one long day, all one long summer, without hesitation or pause. Which of course is how life is: seamless, without end; summer into fall sans melancholy, because fall is just what happens next.

**

I have been thinking a lot about writing about my divorce. It’s been well over two years now. I have written about it a lot of course, but kind of in an askance way. Glancing blows. There are moments that stand out that I cannot shake, that level me, that bring to my knees, that can sill two years later bring my mind, my day, my week, to a grinding halt. I have tried so hard to leave it all in the past, a forgotten time, events that exist on a different plane. But doing that is ramming a commercial between overs. It’s creating fake breaks in time.

Our lives are the seasons. Flowing from one moment to the next. A long day in Manchester under first bright and then dark skies. The pauses are the valleys between eras, and those matter as much as the eras themselves. I need to connect the now of the okay to the times before. Heal the timeline. Remove the ads. I am a different person than I was two years ago, and while I recognize that I don’t recognize the events that shaped the me that is writing this right now.

There are moments that stand out. They are not part of a different timeline. They are my timeline, as there is only one, for all of us. Cricket is one long day, summer is just a space of light and heat, and our lives move through them, without border, without interruption. The sun doesn’t set, it’s just the world spinning. And if I write about the moments that hurt the most, maybe my timeline will no longer be the choppy, brokendown mess it is now. The events instead will become just one ripple in the river; a pebble; a water break; leaning on a bat in the long shadows, waiting for your new partner to pad up, before it all starts up again.

There is yesterday. There is tomorrow. There is now. But there are no barriers. We are a cricket match with only the breaks that were designed to be there.

The Clarendon Dry Pile

I have been able to watch a lot of cricket as of late.

On Friday afternoon I was working but set the second laptop up on the kitchen table and put the first England-Australia T20 on. It looked of course at first like Australia was going to run away with it, but the hosts held their nerve under the lights and slowly choked Australia into submission. It was fun to watch. I was a little sad at how much more fun it would have been if there had been a full Friday night crowd at the stadium — T20, more than any other format, really misses the crowds — but I guess you take what you can get these days.

Then on Sunday after a long bike ride I took coffee into the living room and watched the second England-Australia T20, as the morning hazy late summer sun hit the leaves of the still green trees outside my apartment window; cool, a hint of fall, but still summer. In England clouds marched across the sky like an army off to war, with small breaks of blue and sun. Again, England held their nerve, and saw off Australia, only with the bat instead of the ball this time, there in Southampton, at the bottom of the country at the top of the world. A long holiday weekend, lots of cricket to come, and a day off work to follow. The coffee’s hot; settle in.

Both matches were lots of fun. And both reminded me simply of how much I love watching cricket. All cricket. Men’s cricket, women’s cricket, T20, Test, Championship, CPL, IPL. It doesn’t matter. It’s a great game. It’s all good, it’s all worth at least a little time. This is blasphemy to many of my readers, but as I was watching the game yesterday, I thought to myself: The Hundred won’t be so bad, at least it’s still cricket.

There’s just something about the game. I am not even sure what it really is that draws me in, but something does. The pace of it, the sounds, the spaces in between. Even the shorter formats, which require a bit more of one’s attention, allow the spectator time to drift in thought in those spaces between deliveries, between overs, between batsmen. There’s a break in play, a long shot of the crowd, the hills of southern England in the distance, a bank of cloud. Then a run up and we do it again. Each ball a chance for something special to happen: a wicket, a cover drive; and a long, slow build of momentum until the conclusion which is always somehow in doubt, even when you know in your heart it’s not.

On Sunday I thought about how I didn’t miss the crowd as much. The cadence and atmosphere reminded me of a Monday final day of a Championship match drooping toward a quiet draw, where the only noise is the shout of the players, the murmur of a small dedicated crowd. The silence made it better. Noise would have been a distraction, taken us out of the moment we were in. Made us think of tomorrow, or the day before.

And maybe that’s what the something is that cricket has that maybe other sports don’t, at least not for a mind like mine: it just is. It’s cricket. The game soaks in its own history, and it worries about it’s future, but when it’s the middle of an innings and the coffee is hot and the cricket is on all that matters is each run up, each delivery, and the spaces in between.

It grabs you, and doesn’t let go.

**

Two days ago, Ian Bell announced his retirement from professional cricket. He was last of the Class of 2005 to go. The world moves on, and cricket moves one step further away from what it was. With each member of a generation to retire, the game loses something, and when an entire team goes, something further is lost forever. The loss is painful until we remember the gains. We lose Ian Bell, but we gain the gaggle of young, talented cricketers we saw play these last few days.

But rather than losses or gains to the game, what I thought about when I read Bell’s announcement on Instagram was that he was just like me, just like all of us: the game grabbed him, and didn’t let go.

It was no different than a retirement announcement from any sport, at least on it’s surface, but the melancholy surging with pride, as well as the sincere, earnest love of the game, made it stand out for me. And all of that with an unassuming, almost aggressively humble outlook on what he was able to accomplish on the field.

The last sentence is what brought it all home for me: ‘I’m looking forward to chatting and meeting you all as a fellow fan of the sport we love.’

I am probably reading far too much into all of this, but I read that and I think: he knows. He gets it. There is something about cricket, and something about the people who love it, and because of that he knows how lucky he was to be one of the few who played it at the highest level possible. 22 years is a very long time, no matter the profession, but 22 years doing what you love, for this special game, is like a moonshot. And Ian Bell seems to get that. What matters is growing up a Bears fan, winning trophies with the Bears, being in the dressing rooms with the people he loved playing cricket with, all over the world. It’s a love for a game and a moment and a time that I think we can all, as cricket fans, relate to.

One of the items I read about cricketers a long time ago was how they look like us. Other athletes look like test tube raised supermen, but cricketers — at least up until a decade or two ago — looked like us: graying at the temples, a little slouched, crooked smiles, hair flattened from a hat in the sun, necks pink with sunburn. And maybe that’s true still, from a fandom perspective. It doesn’t take a long leap to think that the cricketers we watch have a similar relationship to the game that we have. I can’t see saying that for other sports.

Yesterday on the couch as the day opened up and I was reminded of times gone by in ways that were not unpleasant; you know those feelings, where you notice the passage of time, but you don’t mind it. Autumn in the air, but still summer. Delivery, no ball, do it again, take the single, come back for two, a long shot of the ground, bring your mind back to the now. I sipped coffee and thought how Ian Bell might be doing the same thing, might have the same warm thoughts of love for the game that I was having, that he might not miss the crowd either, that he might enjoy the quiet space to think. He’s just a fan. And we’re all fans. And it’s all cricket. And it’s all great.

**

Alongside his announcement on Instagram, Bell posted two other photos: one of him in his England whites, helmet off, looking up at the sky, the way cricketers do, as they soak in a moment. The look of gratitude on his face in unmistakable, and familiar, as we see it all over the world from cricketers as they take in the moments they were so lucky to be a part of.

And there was a picture of four of his caps, two England and two Warwickshire. Rumpled and game worn. A part of his past that he obviously holds close, to his heart, in his mind.

He is a fan of the game, he was lucky enough to play it, and we were lucky enough to watch, but we are all still fans. Still people. Take in all the moments, for they are all fleeting, I think that’s what he was trying to say with the final two photos, and maybe that’s what cricket is always trying to teach us. Each ball a universe in and of itself; don’t miss it, magic can happen. A delivery is a blink of an eye, but so is 22 years, let the game stretch out and time will slow down and it’s Sunday morning of a long holiday weekend and here you are and you are alive and the cricket is on and it’s perfect. Tomorrow is tomorrow. But what matters is the now, and he we all are.

Ian Bell set to retire from professional cricket at the end of domestic  season | Sports News,The Indian Express

Compiling

I like to think I came of age during baseball’s last golden age. The first memories I have of the sport are the 1982 World Series, and for the next five years I lived and breathed the game. This was after the 1981 strike so labor relations weren’t a concern, and it was before performance enhancing drugs ruined the sport for a generation. (There were plenty of drugs in 80s baseball, don’t get me wrong, but they were rarely the injections of whatever nasty stuff Roger Clemens and his ilk were filling their arms with a decade later.)

Not only did I get to see young players that would become legends cut their teeth, but I also got to see the last years of the same of the great players from the previous generation. Johnny Bench, Carl Yastrzemski, to name two outfield players, and some of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game: namely Steve Carlton, Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan. Pitchers that had debuted in 60s when the game was still old, and the mound still high. Grizzled veterans who scuffed the ball up and made it move. Strike out pitchers. Like three Kerry Woods who never got hurt.

All three were first ballot hall of famers. And Seaver’s and Carlton’s legacies are solidified: everyone agrees they were great, and great for a long time.

Ryan’s legacy is a little more difficult. He struck out more guys than anyone ever, but he also walked a lot of people, and the on-base-percentage of people facing him was over .300, which is definitely not the case for most pitchers in the Hall of Fame. There are some critics who say that while Ryan was a good pitcher, he was not great, he was just able to stay healthy and pitch for a very long time. They call it “compiling,” which I have always thought is a little boorish. But in some ways, they are right. If you stay healthy, and if you are above average, you are going to put together a lot of stats, good and bad. Does that make you one of the greats? It’s a debatable question for sure.

**

When I first started writing this blog, I compared cricket and baseball quite a bit. Looking back, it’s a little embarrassing. I wasn’t comparing the two like I do now, talking about the games in a more atmospheric sense, but in a nuts and bolts way, with stats and numbers. After a while it became clear that while the games are similar in a couple not insignificant ways, ways that cannot be entirely discounted, they are far too different in too many other ways to compare and contrast them.

There’s a software I use at work — Salesforce Marketing Cloud, an email service provider (ESP) — and when I am training new people on it I tell them that its biggest difference from other ESPs is that everything is at the send level, rather than at the email level. It sounds like a small difference, but it affects how work is done in every possible way.

After a few years — and I am sheepish it took so long — I noticed the one fundamental difference between cricket and baseball: in baseball, the pitcher is on defense; in cricket, the bowler is the attack. Once I saw this, something clicked, and I never looked at cricket the same again, and I definitely stopped comparing the two from a statistical angle, especially pitchers versus bowlers, that just no longer made any sense to me.

But I am going to do it right now anyway. At least kind of.

When Jimmy Anderson got his 600th wicket, I immediately thought of the three pitchers above, and their long, successful careers. But is Anderson more of a Steve Carlton? Or a Nolan Ryan? What will his legacy be when he hangs up the bowling boots? That of great player with a long career, or a good player who just played a lot of cricket?

Personally, I don’t think there is any doubt that Anderson is one of the best cricketers of his generation, and while, yes, he has played a lot of cricket, and that helped him get to the 600 wicket plateau, you simply can’t label him as a “compiler,” though I am sure there are writers out there doing it as I type this. And with some justification, honestly. His average is 26.79, which is high when compared to the other big haul wicket takers: McGrath is at 21.64; Hadlee 22.29; Muralitharan 22.72, etc. And more than half of his 600 wickets came on comfortable English soil (100 of those at Lord’s alone). And only eight other players have played more Tests than he has. And he has the most deliveries ever by a Test pace bowler.

People are surely calling him a compiler, but I don’t agree with that. Yes, the argument can be made, but they made same argument against Sachin Tendulkar — as he was chasing his 100th 100 you couldn’t turn around without someone mentioning how many of them came against Bangladesh — and I think both arguments are incorrect. Anderson is a great bowler who bowls a lot of deliveries, and gets a lot of people out; and Tendulkar was a great (possibly the greatest?) batsman who scored a helluva lot of runs.

There is no such thing as a compiler in professional sports. The games are too hard, played at too high a level. If you are good, and you have a long career, you are simply great.

One baseball writer wrote of Ryan that the strikes (pun intended) against him are boring to talk about (on base percentage, walks), while the stats in the positive column are interesting and long lasting (no hitters, strikeouts). I think the same can be said of Anderson. In 20 years, people won’t think about how much cricket he played, or how he was medium fast and not fast, they will think about his wickets against India at home in 2011, and they will think about number 600 in a pandemic bubble in Southampton. Anderson is fun to watch, an old school bowler in a brave new world. He just gets people out, and gets them out a lot, and that’s his job. And that alone makes him one of the greats.

And 20 years from now, when I am thinking back on my time as a cricket fan, Anderson will be one of the players that I am thrilled that I got the chance to see play, and not just for a year or two, but for going on 13 years now. And that seals it for me there. I want the greats to not burn out, but fade away, to let us enjoy their brilliance for years and years. Whether they be Nolan Ryan and Jimmy Anderson, compile away, because it’s a joy to watch.

**

Steve Carlton though. Watch that slider move. Unbelievable. Those 80s Phillies teams were pretty special.

Why we play the games

From 2009 through 2018, I played in a co-ed recreational soccer league. We played every Sunday evening, May through October. Up until the last couple of years, it was the highlight of my week, but slowly over time I kind of lost interest in playing. Giving up every Sunday night for an entire summer and an entire fall just became too much of a time commitment.

But before that, those games were something very special. I’d ride my bike up to Rosebrook park by the shopping mall about three miles from my old house. We would kick the ball around for an hour, probably lose, and then cap it off with some beers on the sidelines while watching the later games, all before a quiet ride home through quiet Sunday night streets in middle America, a little buzzed on beer and laughs and physical exertion, then a late dinner and off to bed to start the work week.

In 2009, when I first started playing, I was unemployed. Nine years later when I hung up the cleats, I was divorced and living 15 miles away from that little park by the highway. Those years were packed to the gunwales with events and change, but they passed in a blink of an eye, just like they always do. Those Sunday nights were first highlights, later a melancholy reminder of loss, later a time gone by. I think of those bike rides home along the trail by the railroad tracks, over the interstate, the sun sinking low and fat in the west, and feeling as if all was going to be okay forever. Now I can’t think about them without feeling sad.

**

Today was the last day of the English Test summer. And while some pundits might (justifiably) call the summer “wasted“, I can’t help but disagree. Despite the logistical and financial challenges involved in holding Test cricket matches in the middle of a pandemic, they were able to pull it off. Cricket at a time when we needed it the most.

I thought about this a lot as England played out the useless and unnecessary overs of the second Test against Pakistan. There was no reason to play those overs. The game was gone, simply gone, there was no chance of any result. But out they came anyway, to play the out the game, to finish what was started. Because that’s cricketers do: they play cricket, no matter the situation, they play cricket.

It felt meaningless, sure, but all cricket is meaningless. Just like all my rec soccer games were meaningless. But you still play the games. You still bowl the useless 5:30 p.m. day five overs. You still celebrate when you score a goal on a 42 year old goalkeeper who last put the gloves on in high school. You still play the games, because that’s we do. All of us. Professional, amateur, and everything in between. You find meaning and you go about your day.

Playing Test cricket in the middle of a pandemic was probably a little irresponsible. There are few people who would disagree with that notion. And the reasons the game went ahead had very little to do with the importance of sport, and everything to do with the almighty dollar. But I guess in the end the why here really doesn’t matter. The games are being played, and therefore have meaning. To some, that meaning was distraction when it was needed most, to others it was a chance for cricket to figure out an attack that could win overseas, and to others it was a chance to solidify a place in history.

But for me, they played because that’s what cricketers do. All cricket is meaningless. This summer was no different. But that doesn’t matter. You still play the games, because otherwise there is no meaning to any of if, or anything at all. That is not to say that without sport humanity loses its northern star, but any time meaning of any kind is allowed to leak out of the world, it is a loss, a loss we can’t replace. I took an odd, almost warm, comfort watching day five of the second Pakistan Test. Life was carrying on. It was no different than the joy incarnate to a rec soccer league game and the beers that follow with close friends on the sidelines of a beat up old soccer field. You’re there because you’re there, and that’s all that matters. There is joy in simply participating, and when it comes to professional sports, even spectators participate.

**

This post has been banging around in my head for a couple of days, maybe even a week. There was something about that day five that stuck with me. As said above, there was a comfort in it that I can’t really explain. Watching all the meaningless cricket I would have thought would have left me a little cold, but the opposite was true.

And then I started writing today, at my kitchen table, where I have written for over two years now. And I thought about those rec soccer games, and that maybe there was a connection there, an explanation. Every kick of the ball, every delivery, has meaning, just like every interaction has meaning, weight. Every breath. We get out of bed every single day, an action so simple it happens without a thought, but it’s an action that provides meaning, in this case a hope for a better day than we had the day before. Each kick is a chance to be better, to deliver magic. You have to play those overs, otherwise what’s the point of it all?

But then I started writing and thinking about those bike rides home on those Sunday nights for all those years. May through October. Up the trail past Snelling and the strip malls. Down Hamline by the golf course, cutting through the library parking lot, then west toward home, pulling into a driveway, dusk, lights on in the kitchen.

My life is different now. Perhaps better. But that does not diminish the power of those memories of times gone by, and their lessons on time and its passing. And those memories don’t exist if we don’t play the games.

It’s easy to assign meaning in hindsight, and some might say a little lazy, but I think it’s okay to look back at memories of a house and a time and a dog and a person, at memories worth cherishing, and realize that those memories don’t exist if I don’t play in that silly little Sunday night rec soccer league. We play the games because that is what we do, and later we give them meaning. Just like those overs on day five, which while meaningless, meant something.

Every moment is a chance for a memory. And every memory is a reminder of what has been lost, and that reminder is a cue to open our eyes, and hold on tight to what we have. Many people will not remember much about that second Test match, but I will remember a pandemic, and cycling home on Sunday nights, and a fresh start, and a summer spent realizing that maybe, just maybe, everything will be okay.

‘The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done’

MS Dhoni was a 26 year-old long-haired beast of a cricketer when I first started following the game in 2007. He was almost instantly a favorite of mine. He looked and played like no cricketer I thought existed. For the next 13 years I watched him captain India all over the world. With the pinnacle being — for me, and probably for most — the World Cup win in 2011. To lead India, in India, across the finish line under such intense pressure is one of the greatest accomplishments I have seen in all of sport. That team was packed to the gunwales with some of the best cricketers the world has ever seen — or might ever see again — and he calmly and collectedly guided their ship into harbor. It was a must win moment for Dhoni and his teammates, and he delivered.

Like so many of the cricketers I “grew up” with since 2007, Dhoni was always just there. You watch India playing an ODI and Dhoni is there. Over the years he slowed down, and came under fire, but he was still MS Dhoni, still the general on the field for his home country, dashing in blue, leading them across finish lines over and over again. When Dhoni approached the wicket with his bat you knew that everything was going to be okay for India. Even as he aged, even as this became no longer the case every single time, you forgot about that for a little bit every time he put his helmet on and entered the breach. Only five feet, 10 inches tall but looking like a giant among boys.

As a kid, all my favorite baseball players were catchers. Johnny Bench, Gary Carter, Carlton Fisk. And so it would follow that in cricket I would keep my eyes on the wicketkeepers. And Dhoni was simply the best there was. Sure, there were the 10,000 ODI runs, and sure there was the brilliant captaincy, but watching his demeanor with the gloves on was always a joy for me.

I have always thought that once you reach a certain age, having a favorite player becomes a little juvenile. But maybe life is too short for silly rules like that. MS Dhoni — along with cricketers like Cook, Amla and Malinga — is one of my favorite athletes. Whether he is wearing white, blue or yellow, I love watching him play cricket.

His influence on cricket in India, and cricket the world over, has been immense, and it will be long lasting. He was a giant of the game, and cast a long shadow, a shadow that will linger for generations of cricket to come.

**

Last week my company told us all that we would be working from home until at least March of next year.

My last day in the office was Wednesday, March 11. This was the day it all felt like it was coming apart, that the pandemic wasn’t just a flu-like phantom like SARS or H1N1. Or even like Ebola breakouts which are horrifying but on the other side of the world. March 11 was the day the NBA cancelled their season. It was the day Tom Hanks announced that he was positive.

In the mid-afternoon that day I told my boss that I would be working from home indefinitely. The anxiety of the situation was too much for me. Home was safe, a controlled environment. I might be okay there. I packed up my computer and that was it, thinking I would be back in a week or two, maybe a month. I haven’t been back since. Later that day the company sent everybody home indefinitely. Overnight 700 employees — including reporters filing audio stories — were remote.

In the time since then, the company has experienced an enormous amount of change. Shows were cancelled. 19 people took buyouts, another 28 were laid off, and several more were simply “exited.” Someday this will all be over, and I will go back into the office, but it won’t be the same office I left that Wednesday afternoon in March. Joe, the director in the office across from my cube, was one of those laid off. My boss, Bridget, took a buyout. Brandon, Sladjana, Angie: all gone, and those are just the people on my floor, in my little area. I will go into the office again, but it won’t be the same, just like everything else.

**

Yesterday MS Dhoni announced his retirement from international cricket. We all knew it was coming sooner rather than later. The talk was that he would hang on for the World T20s later this year but once those were delayed we knew the inevitable was now truly inevitable. And so when it came we were ready, but it was still a shock, a stark reminder that despite the fires, the world is still spinning, time is still marching along. People may have slowed down, but the world has not.

And it was yet another reminder that when this all ends, when we emerge from the shadows and head back into the light, that nothing will be as we left it. Things will not return to normal, there is no normal any longer. Cricket will one day come back to something like it was before COVID. There were be tournaments and full houses and players will be allowed to once again go home between games. But it won’t be the same.

Yes, Dhoni was on his way out before the pandemic, but we were supposed to be treated to one last look, and he was to receive the send off he deserved. But now, just like so many other things, that was taken from him, from all of us. To say it is sad would be true, but it’s also more than that. It’s the melancholic emotion of watching time pass us by; we reach out for it but it slips through our fingers. And with it so much that we have missed out on, and so many people whose presence we will mourn the loss of once we reach the far shore.

Dhoni was a giant. He changed cricket forever. His retirement is a shock wave. A reminder of our new normal, of that while there might be another side to all of this, that other side won’t look like it did before. It will be very different. When we go outside again, all that we will see will be change. We have sheltered in place, but the world has moved on without us. And when we do catch up with it all will be different.

And when cricket comes back, like everything else, it won’t be the same, for so many reasons, but mostly because it will be missing its captain.

MS Dhoni Retirement News: Mahendra Singh Dhoni announces ...

‘We were on the roof of America and all we could do was yell’

The film ‘Stand By Me’ is beloved among people my age. It’s a story of boyhood and friendship and coming of age. It’s a great, well paced script — based on a short story by Stephen King — and the film is lovingly directed by the incomparable Rob Reiner, who was in his absolute prime (in a six year period starting in 1984, Reiner directed ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ ‘The Sure Thing,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ ‘The Princess Bride,’ ‘ When Harry Met Sally … ,’ and ‘Misery,’ which is an unbelievable explosion of creative content.). It stars a veritable who’s who of 80s film household names: Wil Wheaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix and John Cusack. There is suspense, drama, sadness, action, loss, humor.

Despite all of this, I don’t really like the movie. And I don’t really like it for one singular reason: I never watched it as a kid.

For whatever reason, for good or for bad, ‘Stand By Me’ appears to be one of those films that one needs to bond with as a child in order to enjoy it as an adult. I was not able to watch the movie when I was young because it was inexplicably rated R, and while I was devastated at the time, I kind of forgot about it until I was in my 20s and when I tried to watch it then I thought it was trite and heavy handed and predictable and a little boring.

And it’s not just films that one needs to bond with at a young age.

It’s true for literature: You have to read Kerouac in your teens because if you wait until you are 25 or so you will think it’s juvenile garbage. And for music: U2 has become a running joke of bloated nonsense but the ‘The Unforgettable Fire,’ ‘The Joshua Tree,’ and ‘Rattle & Hum’ meant so much to me at a very critical time in my life that I cannot join in on the fun.

And of course it’s true for sports.

I followed all sports when I was a kid, I lapped them all up, no matter what they were. From Australian Rules Football to the caber toss (ESPN in the 80s was weird) to the Tour de France to the usual American “big four.” All of it. These days though I mostly only have time for the Minnesota Twins baseball team (I listen to parts of most games, but I rarely watch them on TV) and Arsenal (I confess to watching about 90% of their matches over the last 15 years or so). Soccer is just about the only game — other than cricket, which we will get to in a second — that I will watch without having a dog in the hunt.

That said, with the exception of American football which I tend to avoid unless the home team are having a zeitgeisty moment, I will watch playoffs and finals in baseball, hockey and basketball, with one notable caveat: the two teams participating had to have existed when I was young, and that is non-negotiable.

I will watch the Lakers play the Pistons in the NBA Finals, but I would never watch the Hornets play the Lakers. I will watch the Maple Leafs, the Yankees, the Mets, the Blue Jays, the Oilers, but I will never watch the Marlins, the Diamondbacks, or even the Nationals. I even struggle with having Houston in the American League and Milwaukee in the National League.

The Las Vegas hockey team was one of the NHL’s best stories from recent years, but I had 0.0 interest in it because the team did not exist when I was a kid.

Which brings us of course to cricket.

I never bonded with cricket as a young person. But for whatever reason this has not stood in my way. I will leave the discussion about that to the side. I mean, I want to be able to explain why cricket grabbed on to 30 year old me and hasn’t let go, but I just can’t. Especially since all the evidence above points to the opposite scenario. It probably has a lot to do with quitting smoking, but also with the fact that cricket is just an infinitely more interesting game than other sports (in my book anyway).

Instead I want to write about how when I think about how I was unable to enjoy the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup run, I think about the cricket fans who I know out there on the internet.

The game is very different from when I first started following it, but at the same time it is pretty much the same. In 2007 all three formats were up and running, and the IPL was not alive but everyone knew it was close. The game has changed a lot, but only on the surface, not in its guts.

But what about those people my age, who bonded with cricket in the 1980s? Or a little older, who bonded with cricket in the 70s or even in the 60s? Is it even the same game?

I turn off the Stanley Cup finals if the two teams involved aren’t at least 30 some odd years old. Even the World Series — baseball is a game I adore — means little to me if the teams are newer than 1985. (One of the great World Series of my lifetime was the 2001 Yankees-Diamondbacks and that still makes me wrinkle nose.) Heck, I even get a little squirrely when a newly rich Premier League club is all of a sudden in the conversation every year.

But cricket?

Older fans are not dealing with expansion teams, or a few up start clubs here and there, or a few rule changes over the years, but the very fabric of the game they bonded with has changed. There aren’t just new teams, there are new leagues — dozens of them even — and new formats and the list goes on and on forever. It’s mind boggling to think of, to try to put myself in the shoes of a lifelong cricket fan my age or older. If I had bonded with ‘Stand By Me’ as an 11 year old, it would be like someone took that movie, made it a third as long, and gave the kids a rocket ship to travel on.

Here’s what I am going with this: there are often times when I or other cricket fans bemoan the traditionalists in cricket. Or, not bemoan, but maybe roll our eyes a bit. No, Test cricket is not dying; no, all this growth is not killing the game; no, pink ball tests are not one of the four horsemen.

But now looking at it through a different lens, I can see their point. If someone took baseball, made it a third as long and created all sorts of new leagues and rules and still asked me to call it baseball and think all was hunky-dory, I would not be okay with that.

And with this news lens, maybe we can all understand the frustration and sometimes even anger the old guard expresses as the game careens down slope toward an undetermined future. Maybe it’s okay to say that the IPL and the CPL and all the others are bastards of a once great game. Maybe it’s okay to call First Class cricket “proper cricket.” Maybe it is okay to worry almost to a fault about the Championship and the Test format and all the other parts of the game that bonded them to it so many years ago. And maybe it’s okay to shake your head when people like me talk about how the game just might be stronger now than it ever has been.

Walking in other people’s shoes is difficult, and it is something I particularly have really struggled with in all aspects of my life. But trying to understand what long term fans of the game have to put up with I think will be helpful for all of us in the end. It’s okay to snub your nose at the IPL. It doesn’t make you a racist or a person afraid of change, it simply makes you a human who fell in love with a game that in a lot of ways doesn’t even exist anymore. Instead I think we should all thank them, for getting this great game through a very rough patch, and sticking with it despite everything it asks of them. Without the old guard cricket fan, we are not here today, talking about this. And to honor that we, too, need to be good stewards of this game. To take over and call out corruption and greed when we see it, and we see it all to often, and to not watch or read about or pay attention to what we see as bridges too far: like The Hundred.

Every generation struggles with the changes happening around them. To quote Abe Simpson: “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary.” But in the game of cricket, there has been so much change, and it all happened so fast, almost all at once in the grand scheme of things. It is too late in so many ways to put the genie back in the bottle, but it’s not too late to listen to the people who know the game best, and try to understand where they are coming from, and work together to make the game great.

We are all, in the end, cricket fans. And that’s what matters.