I want to write my words on the face of today

One of my favorite things about cricket — especially Test cricket — is how quickly things can change. The game takes place over hours and hours and days and days. From late morning until early evening for nearly a week. Thousands and thousands of deliveries. And yet the game can change in as little as one session, one spell, one over.

Of course, I enjoy the other side of the game, as well. It’s glacial side. When you watch cricket all day long and it feels like absolute nothing has happened but then you look up and it’s late in the day and one side has slowly but surely built a commanding and insurmountable lead.

But the lightning fast change, in a game that prides itself on how the vast amount of time it takes up creates the most equal of playing fields, is what really blows my hair back.

And we were treated to several such moments of whiplash in the most recent England v Pakistan Test in Manchester, that wrapped up in the late afternoon yesterday, a day early. The momentum swung back and fourth over the course of the four days. Just when one team seemed to be primed to walk away with the win, their opponent struck back, fast as lightning. And even when England seemed a sure bet, needing just a couple dozen runs or so, Stuart Broad fell lbw and while it seemed like it was surely too little, too late, for the visitors, the way the Test had gone, it wasn’t out of the question that Pakistan would hit England for a few more and swing the game back their way again. England saw it out of course, but if Pakistan had played one more slip …

I like this side of cricket because it reminds us that when our team appears to be on the wrong side of momentum, things can change, and quickly, despite the snail like pace the game can employ if it wants to.

The opposite is true, too, of course. A team can be cruising along at 180 for two and then look up 30 minutes later and be 197 for eight. We’ve all seen it. Cricket can come at you pretty fast.

And so can life.

We have all seen the meme of course. Nine pictures, one per month, of a celebrity impersonating what it has been like so far in 2020. January, for most people, seems to have started out with a great deal of positive energy. But then by March bodies were piling up in Italian hospitals, and we were being told to shelter in place. From light to dark in the matter of a few short weeks.

But we need to remember what cricket teaches us, that change can happen at any moment. Right now it feels as if — in America at least — we are staring down the barrel of months and months of death and lockdown and mask wars and people unable to make even the smallest of sacrifices to help the sick and the old among us. But. Change can happen. All it takes is a few well timed wickets. Of course, cricket scores can’t go in reverse. You can’t go from 128 for 8 to 250 for two. But you can go from 128 for 8 to 350 for 9. That’s not the lightning fast change that those well timed wickets can provide, but every ball, every over, every day, every hour, is a chance to make forward progress toward victory. Or, at the very least, a well earned draw.

Life is change. Change is life. It happens quickly and slowly and all at the same time. And cricket reflects this, more so than any other sport it seems, for the simple reason that game is long enough to provide space for that change.

*

A couple days ago I was going through the Notes on my phone and came across one from December the 6th. It was a note I was composing to my partner, almost eight months to the day after it was written did I read it again.

“Liz I am just so sad,” I wrote. “And everything is so screwed up. My life has become this unfixable shitty mess.”

I don’t recognize the Matt that wrote that note. The sadness in the words is almost unbearable to read. I was just so, so sad. And it was all the time. And it was horrifying. And it was awful. I don’t recognize that Matt. but I remember him. I remember how that felt, so be so sad I felt sick to my stomach. To be so sad that it no longer felt like sadness, it felt like something else, something far worse, far more terrible. There was a morning the summer before that December when I couldn’t sleep and it felt like I was coming apart, having an actual breakdown. I got out of bed and it was dawn and I went outside and walked up the street. I remember what I was wearing. I remember what the air felt like. I remember being so scared. It was just about as close as I came to the only terrible solution I could think of.

The one part of those months — years, actually — that was most clear to me at the time was that I would feel that way forever. For the rest of my life, I would be sad. It was a crushing weight on my shoulders. It was really the worst part about the entire god awful shitty mess, that feeling of hopelessness. It was pervasive, it was all the time.

But I had forgotten the lesson that cricket tries to teach us. That change happens. It can come at any time. And before you know it, it is is upon you, and everything is different.

Eight months sounds like a long time, and so it would be easy to describe the change I have experienced over this period of time as incremental. Batting all day, turning the game around. But eight months in what is hopefully a long life of 70, 80, 90 years is a drop in the bucket. The change that I have experienced in 2020 has been a whiplash of two or three wickets with the new ball right after lunch. It’s been eight months but it feels like minutes.

I don’t recognize the Matt from 2019, but I remember what it was like to feel that way, and I feel so differently now it’s almost unbelievable. Yes, I still have hard afternoons and bleak mornings, but for the most part I am okay. It has reached the point where — if you can believe this — I miss the depth of emotion that depression provides. When you miss feeling sad, you know you are no longer sad, and that instead you are hopeful for a future you never thought would come.

Eight months ago everything seemed unfixable. Now nothing does. Nothing.

Missing the pain also means that I don’t fully remember how terrible it was. And so if in the future I feel that way again, if I am lost in those same broken awful mazes, I will not remember that there is a way out, as that’s not how memory works. Our brains don’t operate that way. We are doomed to repeat history not because we don’t try to remember, but because of the vagaries involved in that remembering. How many crystal clear memories of youth do we all have that we know cannot be anything but false? And so since the memory of my experiences won’t help me, I hope I am able to remember a Test match in Manchester in the first week of August 2020. When momentum like whiplash changed the game over and over again. And that I will hear the lesson that cricket is so desperately trying to teach us: that nothing is forever. Not even sadness. One day you will look up and it will be mid-afternoon and Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler will have batted you back into the game, seemingly out of nowhere. If God forbid I am ever out walking at dawn again some day, so close to the edge that I can smell the river below, I want to remember that. Woakes and Buttler batting in the long shadows, reminding everyone that things can get better. Even on day four when you’re five down and one wicket away from the tail, it’s not over, change is on the horizon, just hang in there.

*

If you feel like you are in a dark place, please reach out. To me, to your doctor, to your family, to your partner, to anyone. Life is short, but it is also long, and it is too long to go through it feeling like it’s never going to be light out again, and it is too long to end it so soon, you will miss out on so much. I am telling you this as someone who has been there: there is a way out of the hole you are in. There really is.

Buttler, Woakes lead England to 3-wicket win over Pakistan- The ...

Apple juice, store brand okay

One day this will end.

It might not seem like it right now. And the other side is still a very long ways off. But, one day, some day, god willing, life will return to some sense of normalcy. There will be concerts again, and full stadiums, and restaurants, and we will be able to leave our homes without anxiety and celebrate milestones with our families.

Of course, it won’t be the same. Too much has changed. I tend not to agree with the prognosticators predicting sweeping social change post-virus, but life has gone on as we have been quarantined — people have died, people have lost their jobs, babies have been born, our favorite restaurants have closed, athletes have retired — and so, no matter what, the world we will emerge into will be different than the one that existed before.

But for the most part, it will be the world we knew. People will still want to gather together in person, America will still be a wild mess of partisan politics. And then time will pass like falling leaves. And this time will become, for the large majority of us, a speed bump in a long life. We will never forget these days, of course, but soon they will just be that: memories, like all of our other memories.

And so how do we remember? What relics do we bring with us to the other side? It can’t just be memories, those erode and fade away and are colored with the vagaries of time. And so it has to be something real, tangible, concrete.

I was thinking about this today while waiting out the rain delay in Manchester.

We will have these cricket matches, of course. That’s where my brain first went. We will have these weird, quiet, dystopian cricket matches. First now in England and later in the UAE this fall. All those head bands, and players using the sweat from their backs to rub down the ball. And the camera panning over an empty stadium, and commentators talking of the bubble, and pandemic protocols.  And the “Black Lives Matter” logo on the score graphics. Five, 10, 50 years from now, we will watch highlights of these matches and our reaction will be something like: “Wow, remember the pandemic? That was weird and awful.”

The images will transport us straight back to these weird days, watching on our laptops at home, where we have been for months and months. And for this reason, I am glad sports are back, even the ones that are doing it wrong, or plowing ahead when they should really be dialing back. Sport, like few other things, marks time. We might not remember what it was like to go grocery shopping in May of 2020, but we will remember watching sports. When I think back on Arsenal winning the FA Cup this summer, I will think about the empty stadium, and watching it in my friend’s backyard with two other friends, our chairs spaced six feet apart. The FA Cup will help me remember. Sports will help us all remember. And I think that is a good thing.

I have been, and I will always be, a believer in the power of sports to help us mark time. But in the age of coronavirus, it doesn’t feel like enough. It doesn’t feel like it will do these days — these dark, frightening, mind-boggling days — justice. The whole — the entire damn world, every damn corner — is affected by this, and it’s here and it’s going to be here and there’s simply nothing we can do but follow the protocols and pray. We are already getting used to all of it, too, which means the chance to hold onto something real that will remind us of all of this is slipping away.

Then I thought about the grocery lists.

I have been grocery shopping for my mother since March. Every Tuesday morning, I buy her apples and her bananas and her Hamburger Helper and her popsicles and her instant oatmeal and her bread and her lunchmeat. And the day before, every Monday, she emails me her list, with instructions on what not to buy unless I can get it on sale, and that she’s always okay with the store brand.

Nothing is forever in the digital space, but I will have these emails for a long time to come. And decades from now, when she is gone, and COVID is a forgotten blip on my radar, I will stumble across them, and they will break my heart like few things have. And then I will be transported back to 2020, and the pain, and the sadness, and the fear, they will become personal, and then the memories will do these days justice. I will think not of mask wars, or pandemic bubbles in the UAE, but of driving to the suburbs every Tuesday, the traffic light for a weekday, bringing my mother her groceries, her waiting on her front stoop for me, as I unloaded the small bags of the things on her list into her garage. And her quiet life, her lonely life, spelled out before me in ones and zeroes, on a laptop screen. Our memories of this time need not be sweeping and large, they need instead to be small, private, ours. Then we will remember. Remember not just life during a global pandemic, but mothers, moms, and the insistent whisper that one day they will be gone, and time is like water in our hands, and then they are gone, and all we have left are grocery lists, and we are both thankful forever for them and terrified of reading through them.

Because of how memory works, because we are all context, patterns in the wallpaper, now when I think of cricket during the pandemic — of Stuart Broad’s “don’t call it a comeback” performance against the West Indies, or of umpires and trainers and commentators in masks — I will also think of my mother, and her grocery lists. Another gift from a sport that continues to give them. When we allow our minds to breathe, associations happen. Sometimes we can’t remember why, for instance, we think of an old boss every time we pull laundry out of the dryer. But sometimes we can remember. At some point in the future, I will think of Dom Sibley batting for nearly 10 hours in Manchester one July, I will then think of butter on sale, and my mother’s worried eyes, and being thankful she was allowing me to help, and how hard it was to pull out of the driveway without being able to stay for a while, drink all of her coffee, talk about dad and growing up, because the world was on fire.

I also hope the opposite is true. That when I think of those grocery lists, I will also think of that summer of cricket in England. When all we wanted is normalcy, something that felt like what we remembered, and how, for short bursts of time, here and there, when our minds drifted into the pace of the overs and the deliveries, we were allowed to remember, and it was a gift, and it was thanks to this old game that is surviving its second pandemic, that’s seen three different centuries, that just keeps marching on, urging us to keep up.

Here comes Knight and the Mets win it

“When I was coming here from New York City, it was real cold. But it’s still summer here.” – Regina Spektor, introducing ‘Summer in the City’.

Tomorrow it will be August.

There’s still lots of summer left, of course. August and September and October and even parts of November are lovely in this part of the world. Dry, warm, calm. But they’re not summer. It’s getting dark earlier and earlier already. The other morning I was up at 6am and the sun hadn’t even come over the horizon yet. Fall is still around several corners, but it’s in the air.

Summers always pass us by these days, like water through our hands. It is early June and it’s light out until 10 p.m. and then you blink and it’s August and there’s a chill in the early twilight. And you can’t help but wonder: where did summer go? Where do all the summers go?

I think this is because the summers of adulthood cannot compare with the summers of our youth, when days and months stretched on forever, and the skies were always blue, and there were lightning bugs and ice cream and it felt like fall was a million years away.

One such summer that stands out above all of the others is the summer of 1986. We were living in upstate New York in a little suburb with a downtown near the Erie canal. There were bike rides and forts in the woods behind the house and sunsets that seemed to last forever. The sun was so bright all summer that it almost hurts to think about. “A time of innocence” is a line from an otherwise very sad song, but it works here like no other.

Every day that summer I would play a game of baseball with one of the older kids in the neighborhood, Mark. Mark was special. He could do long division in his head. Everything he said made you laugh. A big mop of black hair underneath a blue Mets cap. It would be just the two of us, with ghost runners and a whiffle ball. Mark would always be the Mets, and I would be some other random Major League Baseball team. Mark won every single time, but I didn’t care, and he didn’t care. It was summer and we were young and there was baseball, always baseball.

Mark loved the Mets. That young, swashbuckling bunch of hard partying outsiders. Gooden, Strawberry, Dykstra. They were one helluva baseball team that year.

In August a “for-sale” sign went up in our yard. Mark and I never talked about it. We just played baseball. Talked about baseball. In September a truck pulled up and movers loaded up our things and we were gone. Mark and I never saw each other again, though a week has not gone by where I don’t think about the lifelong friendship that might have been.

That same October the Mets won the World Series. A year later we moved again. A year after that my dad died. And that was that. I never got a summer again.

In their review of the new Taylor Swift record, Pitchfork talks about how Swift knows she’s had better summers than this one, that we all have, but that she, like all of us, has a hope that better summers are still yet to come. I don’t think that’s true. I think our best summers have passed us by, they exist in the ether of the long past, of childhood and loss. We won’t get those summers back.

Yes, this summer is different, harder, sadder. But virus or no virus, it wouldn’t be the summer we had hoped for, the kind of a summer we remember.

Summer in England in 1986 brought a County Championship won by Essex again. And tours from New Zealand (two ODIs and three Tests) and India (same). England lost both Test series. There were no Twenty20s, fewer helmets, it was a different game almost, nearly unrecognizable to what see out there today.

No matter what, we weren’t going to see a summer like that again this summer.

But. The thing is. This summer is somehow, in so many ways, more like the summers of our youth, summers gone by. The only international cricket in England is Test cricket. There’s no T20 tournaments or rock music and there definitely isn’t The Hundred. And we are all a little bored, and the days go on forever, and the sun is out, and all there really is to do is ride our bikes around, and think about a future yet to be fully formed, but which we hope will be better. In that way, this summer is a bit of a gift, a reminder of those long gone summers of youth.

While it is important to see a silver lining in all this, it’s not worth it. It’s not worth the dead, the sick. And it never will be. So in that regard it’s just another summer of adulthood, full of worry, and the constant reminder that we will never have more than we have right now, as far as the people around us are concerned. All the comes next is loss.

But the past is important for one reason: we can’t change it. It is real, it is concrete, for good or for bad, that’s the reality of the times that have gone by. We will always have those unbroken summers of youth, those can’t be taken away from us. It can be impossible for our summers now to live up to those of our past, and that can create disappointment, disillusionment, but it doesn’t have to. Instead, we can take comfort in that while this summer has been awful, and our future summers will never eclipse that one summer when we were 11 years old and the whole world was alive with cicadas and baseball, at least we had that summer, at least we remember that summer, and nothing can take that away from us.

Life is change, and loss, and an emptying, but that is only because it started so full, for a time, at least for me. I watched the Mets win the 1986 World Series in the front room of my grandparents’ house in Pomeroy, Ohio. I thought of Mark, and that perfect — oh, just perfect — summer, and I always do now.

“Here comes Knight and the Mets win it,” was from game six, of course, but it’s the moment that stands out among all the rest. And even though it was deep into the fall, and you could see Roger Clemens’ breath has he prayed in the dugout, to me it was summer.

It might be cold out, but in 1986, it’s still summer, and it always will be.

New York Mets on Twitter: "Happy birthday to 1986 World Series MVP ...

 

On Stuart Broad: when the world was young

Most of the great cricketers that were active and in their prime when I first came across the game in 2007 have long since retired. Gilchrist, Tendulkar, Pietersen, Flintoff, Amla

Those that are still playing are long in the tooth and a little over the hill. They are paunched and their beards are graying and even though they are years younger than I am, they look already old, already fading away. It’s a stark reminder of time’s passing, the relentless march all of us are on toward old age, and all that comes with it. I am not young enough to call the men I watched play cricket 13 years ago heroes, that would be a misuse of the word, but if I were a child, that’s the term I would use, and we have all experienced the melancholic ache of watching once proud heroes disappear into the ether of old age.

When Stuart Broad was dropped before the first test against the West Indies, I thought he would join that sad parade of aging stars. People who just couldn’t play the way they used to, who had to fight for their spot in the starting XI, flailing like a raging Lear against time itself, doing all they can to push the sun back into the sky.

The difference with Broad of course is that he hasn’t seemed to have aged a day. He is still the lanky, blonde, baby faced kid we all watched come up through the system over a decade ago. When, say, Ponting was nearing the end of his career, he looked the part. But Broad didn’t. Neither did Cook. It just adds to the jarring nature of the passage of time. Like the old saying goes, a 50 year old is just a 30 year old who went to bed one night. One can be toiling along without a care, and along will come age and with it the whiplash message that you are old, that we are all old, that the world is no longer young, and that we have moved on along with it.

But we were wrong.

Broad isn’t over the hill. He isn’t used up, tapped out or a has been. He is a very much right now.

Over the course of the five days in Manchester, as we all know, he batted and bowled like it was 2013 all over again. Shaving seven years off like they were nothing, battling against time and, somehow, winning.

In that victory, we can all find hope. We can all be reminded that it’s never too late, that we all have not just one race left to run, but many races, and we are in with a shout at even winning a few of them.

Life is short, but it also very, very long. And because of that it can seem like life has passed us by long before it actually has. We are in the fight a lot longer than we think we are. Time is opportunity, time is chance, time is room for magic, and we have ample amounts of it. We can feel old, broken down, left for dead, but that doesn’t mean we are.

We are never guaranteed a tomorrow. But it’s still a pretty safe bet for most of us, and even if it’s not we can act like it is. And with that tomorrow comes hope. Comes the space to be better, be more. We have all watched our heroes burn out or fade away, but that’s not how it actually works. Even after the spotlight goes out, long after it does even, life carries on, and in that carrying comes joy. In Manchester over these last few days, Stuart Broad showed us a sliver of that hope, that while all of us have numbered days, those numbers stretch long into the future, and as long as we are still breathing, we can still fight. And still smile. And still win.

Stuart Broad took his first Test wicket in December of 2007. He was 21 years old. Life stretched out before him like an endless horizon. He was young, we were young, the whole world was young, Today in Manchester he took his 500th and 501st Test wickets. He is 34 and until five days ago it felt he was old, that we were all old. But today he feels forever young, in his prime, and somehow so does the whole world.

Manchester show reveals why transformed Stuart Broad is far from ...

 

Your first rainstorm

There are a few things in life that I don’t take for granted. Or at least do my damnedest not to. A sunny, warm, pleasant Saturday, for instance. Or how lucky I am to be employed and healthy in these weird, frightening times. Or the fact that I am close with my family.

Included on that list is how fortunate I was to discover cricket as an adult.

The vast majority of us don’t have origin stories for our passions. Those of you reading this probably bonded with cricket as young people. It has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. This is true for my other, non-cricket related passions. Books. Travel. Art. Baseball. Soccer. Bicycles. All things that have always existed in my life, in one form or another, since I was very young. But not cricket. Cricket came late. I was 31 years old. I have an origin story for my love for the game. And that is a gift.

Whenever I watch cricket, I think back on when I first started watching it. It just wasn’t that long ago. The blink of an eye. It feels like yesterday, so close that I can reach out and touch it. I can’t describe this feeling, this remembering, other than to say it is like a warm feeling in my gut, like someone just gave me a bit of really good news.

In 2007, when I was watching the world cup, even a brief mention of the game, much less a picture of a cricketer or video highlights of a long forgotten ODI, would bring this feeling to me. I was high on the game. That, I guess, is the only real way to paint this picture. I was rolling drunk on cricket.

Now, that feeling is more or less gone, except as a memory of that feeling, which is still a feeling. I am watching the West Indies and England play rather dire, rather boring, rather eventless cricket in an empty stadium on a cloudy Sunday in northern England, and the feeling is still there, or as mentioned the memory of that feeling, and the good news is whispered into my ear, and with it the gentle elation that comes with it. These days, I can understand the whisper, it’s not the subtle suggestion of good news, but the good news itself, spelled out and clear: holy cow I love this game.

The fact that I don’t have that feeling for any other of my every day passions, at least not so consistently, so powerfully, tells me that that’s because I came across the game so late in life, during a very impressionable time, when I was open and ready for anything new and different. But it’s also more than that. Discovering the game late in life I think gives me a different impression of it. I have no childhood memories of the sport, all the memories exist almost in real time, as an aware, breathing adult. And what I mean here are the powerful memories, the ones that stick to your guts. You might have such a memory of playing cricket in the backyard with your dad when you were 11 and it was one of those summers that seemed to stretch on forever. I don’t have those. But I do have similarly powerful memories of my first experiences with cricket that define moments in my adult life: dead dogs, divorces, quiet moments when everything was okay, if just for while, moments that have somehow seemed so rare throughout my 40+ years.

Take the power of that memory from your youth, and place it in the context of being 37 and feeling like life is passing you by. That’s what I have.

It’s a gift. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.

*

I had a difficult childhood. We moved around a lot. My dad died suddenly. There are good memories, of course, happy memories, before all of the hard stuff came around, but they feel lost in the fog of a demolished timeline.

Cricket, therefore, in a way, gave me a second childhood. A time when everything felt new, even if by everything I mean this silly old bat and ball sport. I was able to experience something in the way a child would. Not through the eyes of a child, like parents are able to do, that’s a different but also powerful gift, but not quite the same here. I saw cricket not through anyone’s eyes but my own, they were opened to a new world, and time slowed down, and I took it all in, like it was my first rainstorm, or my first Christmas, or like it was one of those summers of youth, when the days stretched on and on and on, and the sky was always blue, and the minutes inched along to the tune of the birds and frogs and crickets. Everything was so new that time, almost, somehow, would stop altogether.

But I wasn’t a child. I was an adult. An adult with hard days and long days and sleepless nights. An adult experiencing loss and regret. I was — and am — soaking up cricket matches the way a child does, but doing so with adult pain, adult worry, adult joy. And that’s how I see the game so differently, I think, why I put so much emotion and melancholy into each ball bowled, because each ball bowled is still momentous, still new, still special, that it allows me to assign meaning to every single one, and to place that meaning into context, and then use that context to remember all the time that has passed, all that has happened, during a five day Test match, during a Championship summer, during a World Cup, during a single, six delivery over.

There is room for magic in the spaces between things. And as those spaces lengthen, there is more room for that magic to grow and blossom. I watch every ball. And time slows, and the magic takes root, and whispers into my ear.

 

You’re finally here and I’m a mess

England won the World Cup one year ago today.

To say that a lot has changed since is of course a profound understatement.

In the year that has passed, more than 500,000 people all over the world have died from COVID-19, most of them in the last six months. 500,000. Enough to fill Lord’s Cricket Ground 16 times over. Many more millions have gotten sick. And we all to a person have made sacrifices because of the global lockdown put in place to stem the tide of the disease.

Looking back. We all seem so innocent now. We were babes in the woods. The virus was percolating and waiting in the tall grass and we went about our lives like the world was going to just keep spinning forever.

And all that we took for granted just on that one day alone. Strangers hugging strangers. A sold out sports arena. Packed bars and restaurants and living rooms. All those things that we never thought would go away were, in a matter of weeks, gone. And at this point, there is no telling when they will come back.

But, at the same time, we really didn’t take it for granted.

We were treated to one helluva cricket match. There was nothing forgettable about that game. It was a rollicking, back and forth barn burner. Momentum swung probably a dozen different times over the course of the day. And it was a perfect day in London. And the home team won by the sparest of margins, there in the long shadows in one of cricket’s oldest grounds.

Because of that, because we were treated to such a gem of a final, we all remember where we were. We all remember the feeling of those packed bars and restaurants where we watched the game. And we all drank in the packed terraces at Lord’s. They are memories not of just another day, or just another cricket match, but of something very special. And so we take them with us now in these darker times.

There are memories that stick out in our lifetimes. Memories that we can reach out and touch. I was watching highlights of the final earlier today and I realized that that game of cricket is one such memory. A July day out in Minneapolis, sunshine and beer. Laughter and joy in an otherwise hard time.

Life can be an endless sea of days, all bleeding into one. It’s rare when we are able to stop and appreciate one single day, and for that day to sit up and get our attention over all of the other days. And so often those days involve a memorable sporting event. Many people will find that sad, of course, or a little silly, but I don’t care if it’s a cricket game or your kid being born, if the day stands out, if you remember the sights and the sounds and the feelings, then that is all that matters. Especially now as we stare down months where similar memories are not possible.

And the game, the final, therefore, as it is memorable, a memory, marks a moment in time, and says to us: a year has passed, remember where you were? What you did? One year ago? That’s how long a year is, or can be, or can seem like.

And so much can change in a year. The months since the bails were knocked off at Lords have taught us that in spades, a relentless hammering home of how quickly our lives can slip on black ice and spin out of control. Not just our lives, but the lives of every single person on earth, whether they were touched by the virus or not. We think back on the Cricket World Cup final and we know how long a year is, because we can reach out and touch the memories of that day, something that maybe sports fans are not able to do with any of their days over the last year. And in that touching, that remembering, we know of all that change. But while it is easy to lose yourself into a tailspin of remembering of all that is lost, it also a chance to turn it around, to reframe it, to think of all that change in the year that is come, when July 2021 happens. Yes, of course, things could get worse, but 12 months, a year, can bring so much good, so much change for the better. Just one year and this could be over. Just a year.

Think about where you were when those bails were knocked off. Remember that feeling. Think about how long ago that was, but also think about how it was just yesterday, and then remember all that changed, and all that will change again when we were are looking back two years from now, or four years, or a decade. Right now, no one knows, but in the time that is to come, there is possibility, there is potential, there is hope.

I can’t believe it’s been a year already. I can’t believe it’s only been a year. Those are two opposite statements, but both are true. A year ago we were hugging strangers in bars, today that is the furthest thing from our minds, and so where will be a year from now? Count of up the days, feel the time since that final, and think of all that could be better using the same amount of hours and minutes.

A World Cup final, a chance to mark time, to create a memory we can touch, to help us learn the enormity of one single year, and how in the blink of the same eye there can exist an eternity.

A memorable match gives us a chance to reflect, and reflect we do, but also a chance to look ahead. Thank you, England; thank you, New Zealand; for giving us a day out in the sun to remember all we’ve lost, and remember that life is short, but also long, and in those remembrances exist only hope, as there’s no room for anything else.

It feels like a million years ago. It feels like yesterday. I am glad that both are true, and I am glad cricket is able to show me that.

England Defeat New Zealand to Win Dramatic 2019 Cricket World Cup ...

 

 

 

A reminder

And so cricket is back. After more than four months of no international cricket — the longest period without international cricket since World War 2 — England played the West Indies in Southampton. And, as if they wanted to remind their fans of what the normal, pre-COVID  world was like, England capitulated in both the first and second innings, losing yet another first Test match in a series.

That’s not to say that the West Indies didn’t deserve the victory. They mostly certainly did. They dug in and got the runs and wickets they needed, and while England were guilty of poor play at times, a great deal of that was down to the pressure put on them by the West Indies’ batters and bowlers. It was a great Test match, and I think one that we all sorely needed.

I will admit that I didn’t watch a great deal of it. Work is super busy and my mornings just kept getting away from me. But on Sunday I was able to belly up to Willow TV and take it all in. I had a coffee, and the match streaming on the big TV in the living room. It was sunny but cool outside, and the windows were open to the world. And the match quietly paced itself out in front of me, lulling me into perfect contentment. More than once I thought to myself: :”holy macaroni do I love this game.”

For the most part, I was able to nearly forget all about about the pandemic. Sure, the stands were empty, but cricket of all games probably suffers the least from the empty stadiums. I mean, we’ve all watched some great cricket matches in some very empty arenas. The one moment of incongruity was when a wicket was taken, and the only roar heard was that from the players on the field. There wasn’t a peep from the galleries. It was a stark reminder of the world we all now live in.

But other than that, it felt like old times. Times that a few weeks ago I thought were gone forever.

I have watched other sports in the last few weeks. Primarily soccer. But there is something a little more dystopian about that. Something about the juxtaposition of the piped in crowd noise against the empty stadium. It feels like watching a video game. And in soccer the stands are shown all the time, just because of the location of the cameras and the movement of the game. But in cricket, the stands are more or less never shown during the game play — especially in a Test match where sixes are more of a rare commodity.

Maybe I am being a bit over dramatic. But there was something yesterday in those few hours I was able to spend watching cricket that made me like everything was going to be okay. If there can something so almost unbearably normal in this oh-so-abnormal world, something so utterly familiar, something like a Test match, then maybe there really is another side to this. Where life goes on. And there are concerts and movies and full stadiums cheering wickets.

When I turned off the TV, the moment was gone. I put on my mask and packed hand sanitizer and biked to a friend’s house where we sat socially distanced in his back yard and watched Arsenal lose to Tottenham and, of course, talked about the pandemic: grocery shopping and politics and getting tested. It was nice to hang out, but it still felt so different.

And that seems to be the case with most with most everything else that’s coming back from the “before times:” to entertain and distract us. It all feels so dystopian. The empty soccer stadiums. The NBA and their bubble, where the talk is not about sports but about how the virus is raging in Florida. The restaurants with quickly converted patios and the servers in gloves and masks. The live streamed concerts in empty venues. All of it is fine, but none of it takes you far enough away from the virus to where things feel even slightly normal again.

But cricket was different. At least, yesterday was different. It felt normal. Virus-free. A relic from a recent past now long gone, but a relic without rust, that maintained its shine.

A few days ago I humbugged the idea of the importance of sport. That it needs to come back in order for our world to heal. A load of nonsense is what I thought of that. They are just games. If it’s not safe, then we shouldn’t do it. But after yesterday I am not entirely sure. The cricket and the breeze through the windows and the iced coffee and the drone of the commentators and the sound of the run up and the chatter of the fielders all felt so normal that I couldn’t help but be comforted by it. The virus never completely left my brain, of course, but the taste of normalcy gave me some hope that there is another side of this.

Right now, we don’t know what that other side will look like, nor when this will be over. It’s going to be months and months, and it’s going to be a slow unwinding with stops and starts and two steps forward and three steps back and that can be so distressing and upsetting, all that time and hardship yet to come. But yesterday I was reminded that, one day, this will end. And that while it will be different, it will still be the same, the world that we used to know. It was a comfort that so far nothing else in this big broken world has been able to provide me.

I don’t think this means that we should have sports at all costs, but maybe it is a reminder of the importance of even a hint of normalcy. We should not pretend that nothing is wrong, we need to stay vigilant, but we also need to remember the rewards of the maintained vigilance: cricket, on a Sunday morning, with the windows open, and the crowd rising as one in celebration of a wicket well earned.

‘To the sounds of cricket bows’

In three days time, there will be international cricket again.

A few weeks ago, I wrote that it seemed almost a sure thing that something would cause the administrators to cancel the match, or even the series. But England is marching on, despite all the health warnings to the contrary, and unless it has been kept a deep, dark secret, no players or coaches or staff have tested positive for COVID from either side. In fact, there is little talk of the virus at all in the build up to the games. The talk on the back pages is mostly squad selection and the like. No mention of the lockdown, or the virus that has killed nearly 45,000 people in the United Kingdom.

(For comparison’ sake, the Rose Bowl which will host the first Test has a capacity of 15,000. So the number deaths is equivalent to a packed Rose Bowl three times over. Chilling.)

No matter what the toll, though, the band is playing on, and it looks like we will have meaningful cricket again come Wednesday. Meaningful cricket, but cricket played under the most extraordinary circumstances. A global pandemic that has sickened 11 million and killed over 500,000. (Everyone single of those numbers represents a person with a family, please bear that mind before tweeting any “the virus is a hoax” nonsense.) And on top of the pandemic there is the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. And on top of that, a worldwide call for racial justice, with protests erupting in nearly ever corner of the globe following the murder of George Floyd not 15 minutes from my house.

But. This will be the 285th Test match between England and The West Indies, dating all the way back to 1928. And so the two teams have played each other under extraordinary circumstances before. Maybe not quite as extraordinary, but it would be hubris to say that our times were the only interesting times.

They played 14 times in the 1930s, for instance. When the Great Depression was raging all over the world. Included in those 14 games was a match in Kingston in 1933, just seven months after the 1932 Bahamas hurricane, one of only a handful of category five storms to hit the region. And those 14 included a match at the Oval in August of 1939, the last England cricket match before the second World War, just a year and a month before the Blitz would begin.

And then the two teams wouldn’t play each other again until January of 1948 in Bridgetown. Nearly a decade. If that is not an extraordinary circumstance, I don’t know what is. The two teams meeting again on that little island after years of war and death and darkness. What does that look like? Probably about the same as it looked before the war, maybe just a little quieter, a little sadder, a little more melancholy, but also tinged with relief, a relief that the cricket is back. And then when the game started, I bet the war was all but forgotten, at least for a moment or two. Which is of course what we all hope will happen next week in Southampton.

Even after that catastrophic event in global history, the two teams met under cirucmstances far from ordinary. There was the wave of independence in the Carribean following the War, as country after country freed itself from the bonds of English imperialism. Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago in 1962. The Bahamas in 1966. Grenada in 1974. Dominica in 1976. St. Lucia and St. Vincent in 1979. Antigua & Barbuda in 1981. St. Kitts & Nevis in 1983. The West Indies and England played 40+ Test matches over the course of those years of independence, and surely there was at least a hint of difference and change and shadow cast over the grounds as the games were played.

The two teams have been playing Test cricket against each other for nearly a century. A century that has seen monumental amounts change. The enormity of that change is impossible to quantify. To say the world was different in 1928 than it is now is one of the most profound understatements one could make. The two worlds are unrecognizable to each other. So much has happened in the last 92 years that 1928 feels like it must have happened on another planet. A World War. Independence. Revolutions. Hurricanes. Famine. Freedom. To put it in some sort of perspective, the West Indian cricketers that day in 1928 at Lord’s were only 94 years removed from the end of slavery in their home nations, which is only two years longer than we in 2020 are removed from that Test match.

All of this is to say that these two teams have always, in one way or another, played under extraordinary circumstances. In 1928, West Indian cricketers had great-grandparents who were slaves. In 2020, a pandemic is burning through the world. Nothing has changed, everything has changed. But there is still cricket. And the first ball on Wednesday will be bizarre, sad and melancholy. After an over or two, though, as the game settles into itself, we will forget about how the world is on fire, and we will only know the cricket. And I think that is just fine. Cricket has proven itself over and over since 1877 that it is a survivor, that it soldiers on, that it has known extraordinary circumstances, and ordinary circumstances, and it is still here, still entertaining, still making us forget about life, if just for a while.

I am not a huge believer in the “IMPORTANCE OF SPORT” that you have probably read in articles over the last few months. That sport needs to come back to heal our nations, our societies. I think it would have been okay to wait until next year, and that would have been safer and fine. There was no reason to rush it back. We will heal with or without these little games. What sport does do, however, is show our resliliency, our ability to adapt to new conditions, and just do what we’ve always done. And games like cricket — with long, international histories — are better than other games at doing so. Time is vast and wide, and cricket has seen so much of it, and yet it continues, and looks more or less the same.

1928 and 2020 are worlds apart. But they both saw England play the West Indies in a few games of cricket. No amount of extraordinary shifting change can take that away from us. And it’s a reminder that everything will, probably, be okay.

 

‘a million dollar God with a two cent heaven’

Cricket is back soon. Well, in some respects, it is already back. Today there are matches in the Czech Republic, of all places. ‘There is always cricket’ is something I say a lot. And today is no different, despite a global pandemic and worldwide protests against systemic racism, in America and everywhere else.

But cricket as most of us understand it — first class cricket, Test cricket, international cricket — is back in just a few weeks. The first Test between the West Indies and England starts on July 8. A lot can happen in the next 17 days — if 2020 has taught us anything it i has taught us that — but right now it feels like it is going forward. Daily cases are falling in England and have been for a few weeks. And European soccer leagues have been playing for a few weeks now and no players or coaches or officials have gotten sick. There are about a million things that could happen between now and July 8 that would scuttle the game going on as planned, but right now, things look good.

Of course, none of this is how anyone wanted cricket to be back. When all of this first started happening in March, we all looked forward to this game we love — and everything else lost from our lives in the before times — coming back in just a few weeks, with fireworks and celebrations and hugs and a deep sigh that the world was being put back into place. But as the weeks dragged on, we realized more and more that the reopening of the planet was going to be a grim, slow, sad process, and nothing was going to look or feel the same for a very long time.

Here in Minneapolis, bars and restaurants are reopening. They can serve outside on patios, and are allowed 25% capacity indoors, all with masks and social distancing protocols in place. But it doesn’t make me happy like I thought that it would. Instead it just gives me anxiety, that it’s all coming back too soon, that we should have sheltered in place a little while longer. But life, at some point, has to go on. It’s a grim reality. But it’s reality nonetheless.

And cricket is no different. It will come back — if not on July 8 then at some point — but it won’t be the same game we remember. There won’t be the crowds, of course, though honestly I think cricket is one of the few sports that that aspect won’t really affect. I’ve watched County Championship matches on streams where there were more people in my living room than at the ground. But still, it will be different, not the same, a barrier between us and the game that used to be our escape from this big scary old world. We will be able to reach out to cricket, but we won’t be able to touch it, like we used to do, and it will be shadowed with the same darkness that covers the rest of the world. A shadow of death, disease, and relentless change.

The phrase “bio-secure venue” alone shows us just how different this series is going to be from what we are used to.

We will all watch, probably, and there will be moments when we forget we are watching cricket in the time of Coronavirus, but then we will catch ourselves, and we will remind ourselves that the world is on fire, and that nothing is normal, and might not ever be normal again. And that is an uncomfortable, disheartening, terrible realization.

We will all watch, but it won’t be the same. The heaviness that’s been on all our chests since March will be there, and it might be there for a very long time to come. It could be years, or even a decade, before cricket looks like it used to look, and by then the new normal will be the normal, and we won’t even know what it felt like before we all found out about a mysterious illness in mainland China that had sickened dozens.

**

Yesterday around noon my own personal heaviness came back. I don’t remember what triggered it, I rarely do, but there it was, almost worse than it has ever been. It’s always there, of course, holding me down, pushing me around, putting a veil over all the world, but some days it comes back in full force, and I am reminded that it is still there, that it might always be there. And I sat in the murk and the grime and the filth that is the awful soup in my brain and let it wash all over the rest of my day, and then flow unabated into the future.

We were out for a walk, looking at houses, as we do these days. And there was a house on Mac-Groveland with a little porch with a little table and I thought about how nice it would be to take coffee out there in the mornings with a dog maybe and a book, the morning light soft, the wind still, maybe a lifting haze in the trees across the yard, the sounds of the world waking up to a June day full of promise and hope and blue skies.

But then I remembered. I remember how crappy I felt, how crappy I feel all the time. There is a barrier between me and all that is good in the world, and I can’t reach out and touch that good like I used to do. And I thought about that wonderful morning in some distant future and realized I would probably feel terrible then too, that there was no reason to believe otherwise. I would sit out there with a cup of steaming strong coffee and a book about kings and heroes and for maybe a moment or two, I will forget, but then I will remember, and then I will pull myself back, away from the light, back into the shadows where my heart is.

**

I wanted to end this post with hope. That intellectually I understand that if I keep taking my medication, and I keep going to therapy, and I keep leaning in the joy I find, I will probably be okay. That I will enjoy those mornings out on that dreamscape. And that we all will enjoy the cricket when it comes back and that the new normal will be enough and the barriers will drop and the game will be enough to make us forget about life and the world for a while.

But today, this morning, that optimism is hard for me to hold onto. The world feels too dark, too dangerous, too sad. And my brain is literally screaming over all of it with the constant and consistent reminders that I am not okay, that I haven’t been okay for over two years, and that I probably won’t ever be okay.

I want the opposite to be true. But the future holds it what it holds. And only time will tell. When that coin gets flipped in Southampton on July 8, only then will we know if it will be enough, and only when the distant fantasy future of mine arrives will I know if I am okay. We keep moving forward, and finding a way, and we keep getting back up until we can’t.

**

Title of post from here: https://twitter.com/matthewtbecker/status/1273649329119641605/photo/1

 

Corduroy

I was born in February of 1976, and so the vast majority of my earliest memories take place not in the 1970s, as I normally like to imagine they did, but in the 1980s.

When people think of the 1980s, they think of skinny ties and yuppies and cocaine and loud colors and sleek lines. A decade of decadence and excess, of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran and New Order. But that is not how I remember my childhood. My memories are not false, I just didn’t experience those 1980s, I experienced the lingering years of the 70s. I wore hand-me-down corduroys, passed down from my oldest cousin to my next oldest cousin to me. On the weekends we went hiking in the bleak hills of southern Ohio, and we took one vacation a year, up to the Becker family cottages on little Lake Brevort in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We ate hot dogs cooked over an open fire, and played in the shallows of that rocky shorelined lake, as my parents drank beer and decided which night would be best to go into town for our one dinner in a restaurant.

By the middle or late 80s, of course, my little family had caught up with the times. Dad traded in his old three geared tank of a bike for a brand new lightweight road bike. My sister and I listened to Michael Jackson and George Michael and Bon Jovi and the Bangles. We bought a new car, trading in my mother’s bright orange Chevette for a perfectly normal, suburban 1985 station wagon. I wore Guess and Girbuad and played Nintendo.

But still, until 1984 or so, my family lived the lifestyle that most people equate with late 1970s America. Times were hard, money was short, so you made do, and made the best, and did what they did in the 1970s and found joy and hope in the out of doors and in hot meals and Friday nights at home, eating milkshakes from the United Dairy Farmers, looking forward to that one summer vacation, mom pinching pennies and saving money in a Christmas account at the local Savings and Loan.

All of this is to say that decades bleed into decades, eras into eras, one long stream of time. When the calendar turns over to a new year, or a new decade, or a new century, it feels like a hard stop, a line in the sand that we have crossed over into someplace new, and different. It feels that way, but it’s not true. The calendar we have created over the years does not govern time, or eras, it simply counts the days, it is up to us to govern our time, to decide what kind of place we will live in.

People might say “cricket in the 70s” and a picture will form in your head. But that image in your head might actually be of something that happened five years after they turned the calendar over to the new decade.

The infamous underarm incident screams 1970s, from the uniforms to the haircuts to the people in the crowd. Yet, that event took place in 1981.

Time is time. There are eras, but they are not defined by years and decades, they are defined by us.

Right now, in this time, it feels like we have, for once, reached a point where there will be a before, and an after. When we do emerge from this, the world is going to be a very different place, even if a vaccine or treatment is found. And this new normal will not just affect how we grocery shop or work, but also our leisure time, our sport. Anyone who watched the Bundesliga yesterday received a touch of what sport, including cricket, will look like for the foreseeable future: quiet, full of echoes, the same but also somehow so alien it was hard to watch.

Now that one league in one sport has put their collective big toe into the post-virus waters, fans of other sports can start to picture what they will look like. As a cricket fan, this might be just a little bit easier. We’ve all watched lifeless Test matches on Monday mornings of a dead rubber series, where the grounds are silent and all you can hear is the shouts of the players. But even so, we are not prepared for what cricket will look like on the other side of this. All the stadiums will be empty, tours might become less frequent or end altogether, the domestic game might rise to the top, as players prefer to stay close to home. And the grounds, all the grounds, on all the days, in all the formats, will be a Monday morning Test match. It is hard to picture, but it is getting easier, which in the end is providing us with a little certainty in a very uncertain time. At least, after yesterday’s Bundesliga matches, we know a little bit what sport what look like when we all get to go outside again. And the answer is simply: very, very different.

And this is a hard line in the sand, we tell ourselves. There is cricket before, and there will be cricket after. Pews in the same church but separated by oceans of time and tragedy. There is 70s cricket, and there is 80s cricket, Geoffrey Boycott in the former, Malcom Marshall in the latter. But Boycott made his Test debut in the 60s, and played his last Test in the 80s. And Marshall made his Test debut in the 70s and played his last Test in the 90s. Players bridge decades, styles of play bridge decades, the fashion on the field bridges decades. There are eras, but they are not defined by calendars, nor are they defined by events. Time is time, bleeding into one.

Cricket will be different when it returns, but it will also be the same. In fact, it will be more the same than different. Some players won’t return, but most will. And the formats we know will still be there, and the grounds we love, even if they are empty of fans for the first couple of years. Pitches will still swing, Lords will still have a slope, England will still struggle in Asia. If we list the similarities rather than the differences, we see that in the end, it will be same old cricket, for good or for bad. Time, quite simply, marches on. It has not stopped. It has not drawn a line in the sand. The cricket before will always be not just tenuously linked to the cricket after, but unequivocally connected, joined at the hip.

The same game.

20 years from now, someone will ask you to picture cricket before the virus. And an image will form in your head. It could be of the 2019 World Cup, or it could be from the 2023 World Cup, it will be hard to tell at first. You will need to think about it. For all time and all memory blends into one single memory, one single era. When I picture my childhood, I picture 70s grey, recession America. Even though that is not the America I grew up in.

And the same will hold true for all that came before, and all that comes after. External forces do not govern change, only we can do that, many years down the road. It’s a job for historians. Our job is to live and create and define this world, this time, we are given. Cricket won’t be exactly the same, but it will be close, and over time those lines we thought we saw in the sand will blur and shift until at some point when we don’t even notice it happening, disappear altogether. The sand just stardust, lost in the winds of time and memory.

There is, I think, hope in that.