Sorrow is just worn out joy

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In August of 2011 my wife and I attended a wedding in a small town in Wisconsin. The wedding party all stayed in this gorgeous old hotel overlooking Lake Superior. It was a perfect few days. All our friends together in one place for what turned out to the be last time. The weather was gorgeous. We ate, drank, hiked, slept late. We sat out on the balcony over looking the lake drinking beer and talking late into the night. We sang, we danced. And then on Sunday we got into our Subaru and drove the four hours home, through small town Wisconsin, an old friend in the backseat. We stopped only once. At a gas station somewhere. My friend got out and sat on a curb across the street and smoked a cigarette as I pumped gas. It was sunny and warm. We dropped him off at his mother’s house and we hugged goodbye.

That was four months after I started this blog. And right after everything just kind of fell apart.

And that’s the real story of this blog. Or, maybe, it’s the other story. That I started it in the middle of what for a long time I considered the best year I ever had. From the fall of 2010 until that wedding in August of 2011, it felt like everything in my life was clicking. And then after that, and since, I felt drifty, a little lost, like life is passing me by. And, I don’t know, not to be such a cliche, but just a little sad all the time. Some years are better than others, sure, but that weekend in Wisconsin truly marked, for me, the end of the one good year I got. The one good year in this whole mess of a life. And this blog started right in the middle of that year. Which at least partially explains why, now that I think about it, I keep coming back here, why I see it as a place of refuge, a place of hope. Because when I fired up this site on that morning 10 years ago now, my mind was at peace.

Looking back, it was not all wine and roses. There were moments in that year that were downright awful. Times of real pain, real heartache. real worry, real tension, real conflict. But for whatever reason I was able to focus on all the good happening around me. And while I tend to look back on days with rose tinted glasses, I don’t think I am doing that here. I was aware of how great those days were as they were happening. In the fall of 2010 at a party at our house I gave a toast and said out loud “these last six months have been our best six months.” And I knew at the time, after that wedding, or even during the same weekend, that it was coming to an end, that it was over. That the feeling of just being okay, of my mind clicking, of being able to just exist, and be all right. This week I marked the 10 year anniversary of this blog. In August I will mark 10 years of everything just feeling off. Of a life — my life — slowly collapsing. Like time is running out of me. Physically running out of me. And that it is taking the joy with it. 10 years. 700+ posts. Tens of thousands of page views. And so much sadness.

**

Running alongside me, during that year, was of course the game of cricket. The weekend in Wisconsin was happening during the fourth and final Test between India and hosts England. On August the 22nd, the day after we drove home, England finished off the four Test sweep. The rain soaked Test saw England win the toss and choose to bat and then score 591 runs (Ian Bell scored 235 of those) before declaring. England restricted the visitors to 300 in their first innings, forcing the follow on and then winning by an innings and eight runs. Dravid scored 146 not out in a losing effort in his first innings. Graeme Swann took 6/106 in India’s second innings. Strauss captained England, Dhoni captained India.

In April of 2011, when I started this blog, India had just hosted and won the 2011 World Cup. After the disaster that was 2007, this iteration saw life return to the one day game. Yuvraj Singh was the man of the tournament. Kevin O’Brien embarrassed England with one of the most aggressive displays of batting ever seen. 997 million people watched the final, which India won with just 10 balls remaining, thanks to the aforementioned Dhoni and his unbeaten 91 off of 79 deliveries. One of the great captain’s innings of all time.

The year started in September. With Ireland visiting Zimbabwe and losing two of the three ODIs played. The hosts wouldn’t win another ODI series until 2017, and wouldn’t win one at home until 2019.

Much has changed for all mentioned here. Zimbabwe have been lost in a sea of corruption and poor results. Most of the members of those England and India teams have retired. The names like a who’s who of cricketers from days gone by: Tendulkar, Dhoni, Dravid, Sehwag. Swann, Cook, Prior, Onions. Though the India squad also featured a young Virat Kohli who replaced an injured Yuvraj Singh for the third and fourth Tests. And the England squad was filled with players still out there today.

Sadly, and all jokes aside, the 2011 World Cup feels a long way from what is happening today in India. The country is being ravaged by the Coronavirus. And it appears like it is going to get a whole lot worse before it starts to get better. It comes from a place of privilege, but I can’t force myself to look at the pictures of what is happening there. I just want to look away. The whole world feels different. Mass graves. Funeral pyres. People dying in hospital hallways. 2011 doesn’t feel like 10 years ago. It feels like a million light years away. It breaks my heart. I hate saying things like that, since it feels so hollow. Real people are dying, real people are mourning, everyone is scared. But here in Minnesota, on this cloudy Sunday morning, my heart just aches for India, and thinking of the 2011 World Cup win just solidifies how much worse off we all are today. Ten years on.

**

This is the story of this blog. And this is the story I want to write. My life running alongside cricket. Cricket running alongside the world. Two recent posts ended with more or less the same sentence, describing the same idea: cricket counting the days, and urging us to keep up. It’s not metaphor, it truly is doing that. For me, in my life, and for all of us, even those people who don’t even know it. That’s the story of this blog. And that’s the story I want to write.

10 Years After

12 days ago this blog had its ten year anniversary.

10 years.

And I missed it.

I knew it was coming, and I had planned to post that day, but it slipped my mind and now it’s 12 days later. That about sums up how much effort I have put into this site over the last few months: vague plans followed by zero action.

10 years. 700 posts. Tens of thousands of page views (most of them on my post about how to cancel Willow TV. Thanks, Google.) Four mentions in Wisden (thanks, Brian). A mention in the Times of India. A retweet from Harsha Bhogle. Two dead dogs. A divorce. And here we are.

I started the blog on a spring morning right after the 2011 World Cup from my desk at work. It was a sunny, green morning. I had a window that looked into the backyards of suburban homes. Ducks would rest under the pine trees in the shade. An old retiree pulled weeds and mowed his lawn. The job I had at the time was terrible, but I miss it, I miss those mornings, those times, writing here. You can miss anything is something I say all the time. And it might be the only real truth that truly exists when it comes to being human.

In 2011 I had been a cricket fan for four years. It was only six years removed from the 2005 Ashes. Now it is ten years ago. A hair shy of a quarter of my life gone in the snap of fingers. Bam. Just like that.

Thanks, everyone, for reading. This is still a place that I am quite proud of.

*

To say that the game of cricket has changed over the last 10 years would be both an understatement and an overstatement. In 2011 the structures for what the game is now were firmly in place. The Twenty20 was king. The IPL was bullying the fixture calendar. If this blog had started just two or three years earlier, then the emergence of those two things would be the story here. But that’s not the case. Instead the last 10 years is really just the slow march of time, with the T20 and the IPL steamrolling everything in their paths. So what have I been writing about these last years?

There’s what happened in America, with the death of USACA and the growth of the game and the competitiveness of the international team. There’s the new Test Championship. And the last Champions Trophy. There’s Ireland and Afghanistan gaining Test status. There’s India, Australia and England muscling their way into almost total control of the global game. There was and is corruption at every single level of the game.

Sachin hit his 100th 100.

Sachin retired.

Test cricket had its 1000th match.

Ben Stokes happened. Virat Kohli took over the world. There was ball tampering and spot fixing. There was the year that saw two Ashes tournaments. Australia won a World Cup. England won a World Cup. Test cricket died, was resurrected, and died again, several times over. I saw kids playing cricket on a baseball field near my old house. A pandemic shut down the game completely at every level including even street cricket. The women’s game grew in leaps and bounds.

And gosh it feels like so much more must have happened. But right now it’s a blur. All that cricket, all those years, and now it’s like it never even happened.

Except it did. All that cricket. All that marvelous cricket.

And that is the real story of the last 10 years. Not the corruption or slow strangling of the first class game. Or The Hundred or World Cups decided on silly tiebreakers. But the game itself. And the people who played it. Men, women, children and everyone in between. From stadiums to beaches to alleyways to the park near my old house. People got up in the morning, walked outside, and played cricket. And some of us were lucky enough to get to watch the best of these cricketers perform, whether leaned up against a tree in a park, or sat in the luxury box of a stadium, or on our phones in bed in the morning before even first light.

There was just so much cricket that happened. Countless — truly countless — deliveries and overs and wickets and runs. The game has its problems, but the game is soldiering on, and these last 10 years of the game has proven that over and over and over again. People keep playing cricket, and people keep watching cricket. That’s the story here. The game continues to be declared dead, extinct, obsolete, but then it just keeps getting up off the mat. The last 10 years have seen the world change in ways we never could have expected. And sport has changed so drastically it’s almost unrecognizable. And cricket has morphed into the game it was primed to be in 2011. But through it all, through everything, the game just keeps going.

That’s the story of the last decade. It’s an optimistic tone that I didn’t expect to be able to muster when I started this post. But here we are. And here we will continue to be. Cricket marches on, and we are lucky enough to be here watching as it does.

Oh, cricket is dead? Try again, pal.

Is it sick? Sure. But everything feels sick now. The world and the sports played in it are going through massive sea changes, but it’s nothing we can’t handle, and it’s nothing cricket can’t handle. A Super League is going to destroy soccer? Wimps. Cricket has had a Super League for 150 years and is doing just fine, thanks.

10 years later. And cricket is still on in the background as I type this. And it’s great. I love it. I still love it. Every ball.

And that right there, now that I think of it, is the story of the last 10 years, and of this blog. The one constant theme that runs through every word typed. It’s about a love affair for a game. As I scroll through posts from the last decade that’s so evident it’s like I am hitting readers over the head with it. The game thrilled me in 2011, and continues to thrill me every single day.

I love cricket. And I hope to be saying that in another 10 years. Right here. God willing.

You can’t handle the truth

England’s performance in Asia this tour has ultimately been one that smacks of disappointment. It started off well, but then careened off course since the first test in India.

But still. This is a pretty good England team. I don’t think anyone can really doubt that. They won the World Cup 18 months ago. They are ranked fourth in the Test rankings which is not great but also not terrible by any stretch, and they are ranked number one in the T20 rankings.

They also have some once or twice in a generation talents standing out there most matches, and a little more than a smattering of talented and fun to watch young players. This team is pretty good, and the future looks positive. At least from my chair. Your mileage might — and probably does — vary. But no matter what your opinion, I think we can all agree that the English team we are watching this month is a country mile better than some of the English teams of the past.

The 1980s are seen by most as the dark ages for England cricket. Particularly the last half of that decade, as (saving newly promoted Sri Lanka) they didn’t win a home Test between September of 1985 and July of 1990. Sure, they won the Ashes in 1987. And had a couple nice victories here and there, but they were for the most part poor, and unsettled, especially after the rebel tours which saw players such as Graham Gooch suspended.

As always, the numbers don’t lie. Between 1980 and 1989, they played 104 Test matches and only won 20 of them. Like Kevin Bacon said in that movie from the 90s: “these are the facts, and they are indisputable.” England were poor in the 80s, and that is a fact that is almost impossible to argue, because quite simply the numbers, the data, the stats back it up. You can’t look at that period of English cricket subjectively, because the numbers are far too objective.

Numbers are cricket’s backbone. They are what tell the story. Despite all the witticisms, all the poetry, all the flowery language, the game is defined by wickets and runs, wins and losses. And because of the strength of this backbone, it is very difficult to look at bygone eras for poor teams with any sort of rose tinted glasses. You can’t talk your way out of what the stats say when it comes to cricket. They are too hardboiled into the very marrow of the game itself. The stats say England were poor in the 1980s, and so England were poor in the 1980s. Full stop. One does not look back at the Micky Stewart era and say something like, “Maybe it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I kind of miss those days.”

Life of course isn’t so black or white. We are complex machines of memory and time and regret. We can miss anything, us humans. Bygone eras become utopias in our mind. We look back and without the assistance of math and logic and data, we bend the truth around the negative, and feel our way through to the positive, which is where we choose to stay. “I am glad those days are over” is something people say, sure, but only when those days included the most dire of circumstances. Most times, the vast majority of times, we look back at days gone by and see them as simpler, easier, better. It’s how our brains work. I am not sure why we do it, but we all do it.

What I about to say is not meant to discount the real suffering of so many this past year, but the above can be proven by the simple fact that most of us — yes, most of us — will miss these pandemic times when, god willing, they are finally over. We will look back wistfully at working from home, learning to cook, spending time with our kids, all of it. We will look back and think: “That really wasn’t so bad.” Even though we have the data and the numbers to refute that claim — 2.57 million dead and counting — our brains can’t grasp that number the way we can cricket’s net run rate or runs per over. It’s too big, to abstract, and so we go back to the stories we tell ourselves, to the poetry, to the flowery language, the devices that cricket’s stories have learned to bypass.

My life has been, like most lives, a series of different phases. An episodic novel like Huck Finn. My brain looks for patterns in the wallpaper and divides my life up into chunks. There was the period before my dad died. The period after. College. Work. Marriage. Divorce. Growing old. I look back on all of those phases fondly, despite the fact that some of them were truly awful. High school, for me, was horror show. But I miss it. College was lonely and sad and boring. But I miss it. My marriage was flawed beyond doubt — which is proven by the fact that I left it — but I still miss that life, I still glorify that life. Despite the fact that I can remember the fighting and the yelling and the name calling and the days of silence following each storm. I remember that suffering, but I also don’t. I remember the pain of the years after I left, and that causes me to lift the life I abandoned into places of happiness and contentment that maybe it doesn’t deserve.

I don’t like this about myself. I don’t like it at all. I abhor that my brain exists in a constant series of regrets. “If only I could go back to the times before when I didn’t feel this way” ignores the truth that I felt worse before. But that truth doesn’t exist for me. At least not really. Not in any way that I can grab onto. And in this way I am jealous of cricket. Its ability to look back and see how things really were. Thanks to simple addition and division, the story of a season is told, and it’s a picture painted that cannot be undone. Of course, the joy of being human is that we are not reliant on data to decide how we feel about something. And so instead of wanting my memory to be more like cricket’s, maybe instead, again, I can learn something from its aggressive objectivism.

Or maybe I can’t. Maybe there isn’t a lesson here. Maybe I can’t overlay this old game on to my life and take something away from the result. Maybe all of the lessons that I thought the game was teaching me are useless and moot. But I don’t think so. I think some of the lessons have been accurate and helpful, just not this one. Cricket cannot help your brain understand the truth of its past. We look back the only way we know how. There are no numbers to help us write the story. All we have is the opposite of data: memory; flawed, human memory. Cricket’s only job in the evaluation of bygone days is to count. Count the days, count the overs, count the seasons. Show us that time has passed, that eras have passed, that history has been erased, rewritten and erased again. We can look back and think we were happier, and cricket will count the years and remind us how long ago those times really were, and then it will just continue to count. Time marches on. In one direction only. We can look back and think we were happy, and we can try to counter that with memories of hard days, but all that matters, really, is that the overs tick over, the seasons change, and time refreshes us, provides memories and leaves it up to us to interpret them.

England’s cricket team in the 1980s was not great. Today it is better. Maybe that’s all the lesson we need here. Time passes, and takes us with it.

Left-arm around to Gill, with two slips and a short leg.

Cricket is happening. Lots of cricket even. And not just any cricket but Test cricket. The best cricket. 

Being in the USA, I haven’t gotten to watch a ton of overs. Here and there I check in, but mostly I just hop on my phone in the morning as I’m waking up to see what happened the night before. And that’s fine. I love cricket, but I have resigned myself to the fact that the days of watching every ball might be behind me. For the winter months here when the game is on the other side of the world, it’s enough to know it’s happening, that I can check in when I want to. And then this summer god willing there will be cricket in England again and I can waste away the days at my kitchen table with the matches on as I did last summer. 

*

It’s cold here in Minnesota. Damn cold. This morning when I woke up and checked the cricket scores it was fourteen below zero Fahrenheit (-25C). And the cold will be here a while. For another week or so at least. It’ll be a slog on top of a slog as we enter Year 2 of the pandemic. But the nice thing about winter in Minnesota is while it might be cold, it’s also sunny. Today the sky is clear and the earth is crowned with a basket of the deepest, darkest blue. So it might not feel warm, but at least it looks warm. 

Still, though, everything feels frozen. Iced in. The whole world made motionless. Both by the deep freeze as well as by the pandemic. Like we are all stuck in the snowy frozen mud, unable to move forward. Unable to hope for what might come next, for no one knows what what’s next might look like. We sit at our tables in our homes and we work until it is dark and then we go to bed and then we do it all over again. Every day the same, an ocean of white and blue and dark and cold. There might be an horizon out there somewhere, but it’s tough to see right now. 

But life is going on. Just as it has been, just as it will continue to do. People are getting married, people are dying. Kids are growing up, parents are growing old. As are other more trivial events and matters. The super bowl was last night. Movies are being made. Books being written. And they are playing cricket, down there at the bottom of the world, in the sun and the heat. Every morning I wake up and I pull up the scores and even while I slept in this desolate winter landscape, life, somewhere, was happening. People closed their eyes and felt the sun and heard the sounds of cricket echo in the distance.

This morning I woke up and read this: “Those two shots have caused backward square leg to move to midwicket” in the Cricinfo commentary, round about the 4th over of India’s innings. I have written about the poetry of cricket’s language before, and that sentence fragment is awash with beauty. But, more than that, it was a reminder that real people were playing a real game. I closed my eyes and saw the backward point jogging over to midwicket as Rohit Sharma leaned on his bat at the other end. The language gave us a time and a place and it was like an injection of forward momentum into my mind. Right now we are frozen, but the world is still turning, and captains are rearranging fielders, and batsmen are waiting for their turn. 

*

Time is always moving forward. Life is always happening. In our heads and in our lives and even in our actions we can feel stuck, like a record with too deep a groove. We are locked in winter and cannot even imagine not being this way, dreaming of summer. And that’s the right word for it. Dreaming. We can’t imagine it for real, we can only fantasize, create a seasonal phantom based on what we remember summer being like. But life is still happening, even if we can’t picture the future to come, cannot even fathom green and warm. The days tick off the calendar, we age, we break down, we lose, we wonder where it all went, for it felt like it wasn’t going anywhere, that we were just sitting here by a cold, still creek. 

A few days ago I pulled up the Google Street view of my old neighborhood. I tracked around the block, where I used to walk all my old dogs. When I turned a corner Google told me that the image was not from June 2019 like the others, but rather July 2011. Nearly ten years ago. The morning the images were taken I had probably woken at 6am and walked the dog on these very roads. The roads were still sprinkled with our presence, light as it was on the hard earth. 10 years. Time marched on and took me with it. And I didn’t even know it was happening. 

A few weeks before that I found an email that I sent on May 2, 2018. “I am going to wash the sheets and towels,” I wrote. And so there it is. I now know the last time I washed the bedding before I left. And so while time has moved on, and I have moved on with it, now I feel like I am able to fill in holes that before felt bottomless. Two days later I found the last email I wrote before it all fell apart. I stared at it for a long time. It was like looking into a void of time, a reminder of all that has changed, and can’t be put back. I might feel stuck, but the days are ticking by, I am getting better, and time is taking me with it as it marches forward. 

My relationship with cricket has changed. Just like everything else in my life has changed. The cricket over the last few weeks has reminded me of that. And then the game each morning also reminds me that the world is still turning, that captains are moving fielders, that batsmen are scratching out singles, that the warm sun is arcing over a sky, and that soon all this white will be replaced with all that green. 

“No Anderson yet,” wrote the Cricinfo commentator. “Here’s Jack Leach. Good idea, because the ball’s turning and bouncing the most when the ball is hard and new. Left-arm around to Gill, with two slips and a short leg. A deep point too.” The sun crept over the horizon through the window to my left, the glass iced over, the world beyond white and still. But that’s not where the world ended, there’s more out there, a world with movement and warmth, where time ticks over with deliveries and runs and overs. And we see time has moved in the night, and we see that things really have changed, that we have changed, that the whole world has changed. 

You get out of bed and you do it all again. Refreshed with the idea that the cricket will always be there to help you see the march of time as hopeful rather than relentless. Ten years will go by in a blink of an eye, but you won’t be the same when that blink is over. And it will take millions of cricket deliveries to get you there. Even in the night, even in the cold, the seconds — and the cricket — march on. And take you with them.

I can’t remember the last thing that you said as you were leaving

I’ve spent the last two months of lockdown reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I read volume one, Swann’s Way, years ago, and while I have shied away from the other five volumes, reading all six is something I have always wanted to do, and this fall and winter felt like the best time to do so. And I was right. I am on book four and every page has been, in its own way, pure joy.

Proust’s lingering theme throughout the books is of course memory. The vagaries of it. How it shifts and changes. How it is influenced by others and by our own habits. And how through seemingly unrelated present events we can be suddenly bathed in sweet memories of days gone by that we had either forgotten or failed to recognize as something important, something that mattered, something we should have been paying attention to.

When I first came across the game of cricket in 2007 I would read about the game or listen to broadcasts of County matches or watch the slim pickings of highlights on YouTube at the time and my stomach would be filled with this very real, very tangible feeling of warmth. Like I was just told a piece of really good news. This feeling lasted I think maybe a few months. After that, it was quietly replaced by the habit of reading about and listening to and watching cricket matches. The habit took away the new. As it always does.

But sometimes it comes back. Sometimes when I am able to see the game like I used to see it, the warmth returns. To describe the feeling as pleasant is to not do it the justice it deserves. I cannot control what brings it back, it is just there. And I am washed in sublime joy that is also melancholy — even deeply melancholy — because I know it is fleeting. And it’s not a spectacular moment on the pitch that brings back the feeling either. It can be the way a shadow plays on the crowd. Or the angle of the sun on the shoulders of a fielder in the deep. Or just the shot of the grass in England in the spring. Whatever it happens to be, the joy returns, and then it is gone again.

For 13 years now I have been so happy that I decided to start paying attention to this old game on some random afternoon in April. And I have been happy because of these small moments. A few seconds here, a few seconds there, when I am transported back to when I was young, and the world was opening up, and the skies were clearing, and I was watching cricket in the evenings on a laptop in my old house, utterly and blissfully unaware of all that was to come. When I was looking ahead and only ahead, instead of now when all I can do is look back and hold on.

*

We are only memories. They are what define us, what we use to define others. There is no changing this. It is simply the way it is. But the problem is that our memories are not infallible. They are broken and shattered and all we can do is put the pieces back together as best we can. And often what we piece together is wrong, but we believe it wholeheartedly, even if we know in our heart that it never could have happened the way we think that it happened.

And then we forget or never remember to remember the moments we wish we could. So many things that I wish I could remember are gone forever. I have written about this before here. I don’t remember the last time I walked the dog before I left. I don’t remember the last time I did laundry or changed the bedding. I don’t remember, to paraphrase the lyric that titles this post, the last thing that I said as I was leaving.

These gaps haunt me. I don’t know why. Maybe because I know that if I could remember the humdrum of my life before I left I could reach back to it now, still, when a certain spring breeze kicks up on a late afternoon or a bird calls across a green lawn. I mourn the loss of those memories because I will never, not ever, get them back, the way I get back those early days of following cricket. Not a memory, but a feeling.

That is not to say that I don’t have memories of the years before I left. I do. Vivid ones. But because the last memories are gone, or are tainted with the stirrings of divorce and heartbreak, there is a gulf between them and now, a gulf I can’t seem to cross no matter how many times I have tried. A gulf that doesn’t exist in cricket because there was no breaking point between the discovery and the now. And this is also why I am able to use cricket as tool for memory. I have followed the game through 13 years of trial and failure and joy. And it marks time for me. Guides me back to the good news. For when I am reminded of those early days of following the game, I remember not cricket per se but a feeling and a time and a place. Things that have nothing to do with the game. It’s another part of the reason why I love the game, that I came to it and didn’t leave. There are no lasts with cricket. No gaps to haunt or gulfs to cross. It just is, running along side me, as I toll through the days.

*
The last memory I have of my father is on the Saturday before he died. He is standing in the kitchen. It’s dinner time and the sun is low through the trees, but it is still light outside. He is leaning against the counter talking to my mother. We had just come back from Saturday evening Mass. My little brother and dad had stayed. Dad is telling mom about what they did while we were gone. He is happy. There is some excitement in his voice. I don’t really remember why.

I have many memories of him. I have tried over the years to write them all down. There is the Sunday late afternoon when we are driving back from his brother’s house through cornfields. There is the time he taught me to tie my shoes, a hard candy in his mouth. There is the Christmas morning when my mother gave him a fancy new road bicycle and he rode it up and the down the frozen street in front of our house — a normally busy road silent with early winter Christmas.

But my favorite is the last one I have of him. That Saturday afternoon in October. His sweatshirt and jeans and sneakers. Leaning against the counter. It closes a chapter. I have spent countless hours in that kitchen with him in my mind, on that last Saturday. Letting my timeline heal.

The timeline of my marriage does not have a final memory that is not colored with sadness or loss. It just falls off a cliff in my mind. All so all I can really do is follow the cricket, use it to tie together my days, and slowly close the gaps between the now and the before. Turn on the TV on a winter evening during the Australian summer, and wait for the morning sun on the pitch to be just right so the memories pull me back, and lead me across the broken glass of time, to a place where the humdrum of my former life finally clicks into place, and my eyes start to drift forward again.

*

Happy New Year, everyone. I have lots of plans for the site in 2021. I might not have written much in the last couple of months, but I am still here.

I hope you are all healthy and safe. And that we all have better days ahead.

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. On dark nights when we cannot sleep we visit that space 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.