July 17, 2014
At 11 o’clock in the morning on July 17th, in the steamy cauldron of Lord’s Cricket ground in the heart of St. John’s Wood, London, a coin was flipped, and 22 players in white – 11 from England and 11 from India – strode out to play cricket for five days.
In Amsterdam, Malaysian Airlines flight number 17 was idling at gate CO3.
It would depart 14 minutes later.
In the Gaza strip, all was quiet, as both sides held fast to a United Nations proposed humanitarian cease fire.
It would end abruptly two hours later.
England won the toss and elected to field. Play started slowly that morning. An hour in at drinks India were 25-1 under a scorching sun on a green pitch that was swinging both ways. At lunch India were 73-2 as Anderson steamed in over and over again and Indian batsmen blocked and blocked again. By tea wickets had started to fall as India’s luck was appearing to run out on the Lord’s green, and they returned to the clubhouse at 140 for 6. But India were far from done. Ajinkya Rahane was only on 26 at the break, but would end the day on 103, as he broke England’s backs with a relentless run-a-ball second 50 through the final session of the day before finally falling.
90 overs and one day in, the Test was well poised with India at 290-9.
In the Ukraine, just as Rahane was starting to find his stroke against the English seamers, at about 15:15 London time, Ukrainian air traffic control lost contact with MH17. A few minutes beforehand, the Boeing 777 was hit by a Russian made surface to air missle and crashed near the Ukrainian village of Hrabove killing all 283 souls aboard.
A few minutes after that, with the temporary ceasefire no longer in effect, a Gaza resident posted this message to Facebook:
“I’ll tell you what is harder than dying in Gaza by an Israeli missile deluxe. What is harder is that you get a phone call from the Israeli army telling you to evacuate your home because it will be bombed in ten minutes. Imagine; ten minutes; and your whole short history on the surface of Earth will be erased.
Gifts you received, photos of your siblings and your children (dead or alive), things that you love, your favorite chair, your books, that last poetry collection your read, a letter from your expatriate sister, reminders of the ones you loved, the smell of your bed, the jasmine tree that hangs off your western window, your daughter’s hair clip, your old clothes, your prayer rug, your wife’s gold, your savings; imagine; all this passes in front of your eyes in ten minutes, all that pain passes while you are struck by surprise.
Then you take your identification papers (passport, birth certificate, etc.) which you have ready in an old metallic candy box, and you leave your home to die a thousand times, or refuse to leave and die once.” -Mahmoud Jouda, Gaza
As the sun set on the Holy Land, Hamas lobbed missles into Israel, and the Israeli Defense Fund thumped northern Gaza with hundreds of shells, killing civilians who would not or could not leave. A hospital was hit by tank fire. And Netanyahu ordered a ground invasion. Operation Protective Edge was in full force.
July 18, 2014
The next morning, Palestinian officials announced their latest casualty numbers: 248 killed and nearly 2,000 wounded since the conflict began.
2,200 miles to the east, day two of play opened, Mohammed Shami was caught by Alistair Cook, India were all out for 295, and it was England’s turn on the tricky pitch.
English opener Cook scored 10 off of 29 in 40 minutes before Bhuvneshwar Kumar took his wicket. Sam Robson scored 17 off of 42 in 62 minutes before Bhuvneshwar Kumar took his wicket. Ian Bell scored 16 off of 56 in 72 minutes before Bhuvneshwar Kumar took his wicket. While Gary Ballance scored 110 off of 203 in…297 minutes – a hair shy of five hours – before Bhuvneshwar Kumar took his wicket. Just as with Rahane, the majority of Ballance’s runs came in the final session. And just as with Rahane, Ballance fell before the day was out, leaving England tottering but ahead at 219-6 when day two saw its final delivery.
It was a Friday. And was the hottest day of year so far in London, topping out at a whopping 30 degrees C.
In the Ukraine, the airplane’s black boxes were looted by separatists. And the finger pointing from all sides began. As did the denouncements. And the world mourned the tragic deaths of HIV/AIDS researchers aboard the plane, who were heading to a conference in Melbourne.
In Gaza, more death from above as missiles rained down on both sides of the Gaza-Israel barrier, but the world, all of sudden, wasn’t watching anymore. The world’s eyes were on the Ukraine.
July 19, 2014
On day three in St. John’s Wood, the English tail collapsed in short order, and despite the heroics from Liam Plunkett and his brave half century, the Indian attack had the home side all out for 319 before lunch.
Murali Vijay walked to the crease just before one o’clock, and that’s where he would stay for the next six hours – seeing 247 deliveries, scoring 95 runs and frustrating the English bowlers to their breaking point.
Four and three quarters of those hours would take place on day three of the Test, a Saturday, as would 50 of the runs. Indian wickets would fall around him, but Vijay’s patience paid dividends and India were safely to 169-4 after three days play and 145 runs ahead with two days remaining. It was becoming more and more clear than India were going to do something that they very, very rarely do: not lose at Lord’s.
As play was closing in London, a Hamas missile hit a Bedouin tent, killing a father and critically injuring a four month old child. The eyes of the world returned to the far eastern shore of the Mediterranean sea. The Palestinian death toll stood at 348. On July 19 alone, Hamas fired 94 rockets at Israel while the IDF hit 140 sites in Gaza.
That same day, a Ukrainian official told a press conference that they “have compelling evidence that this terrorist act was committed with the help of the Russian Federation. We know clearly that the crew of this system were Russian citizens.” And insurgents began removing bodies from the flight wreckage.
July 20, 2014
Hours before day four of the cricket, Israel and Gaza lit up the sky. An IDF armored personnel carrier was hit by a rocket, killing seven soldiers. 120 Palestinians were killed in the ensuing conflict, many of them women and children.
In London, play resumed. And India continued to score. 203-6 at drinks. 267-7 at lunch. A 50 for Jajeda. 334-8 at afternoon drinks. A 50 for Kumar. And – finally – 342 all out at tea.
England were chasing 318, and the light was fading. And the pitch was seaming. And Dhoni unleashed new bowler after new bowler. Cook, Robson, Ballance and Bell all fell before stumps, leaving England reeling and India ascending.
July 21, 2014
Despite a glimmer of hope as England lost only one wicket before lunch on day Five, the Test belonged to India. The tail collapsed with only Prior scoring double digits, and for the first time in three years and 15 overseas Test, India won a Test outside of India. And they had done it at Lord’s against England. And it wasn’t just a win, it was a shellacking complete with fallout. Prior: gone. Cook on the verge. The ECB in shambles. And their best player, Jimmy Anderson, on trial for a charge that could see him miss the last two Tests of the series.
In the Ukraine, order was slowly being restored at the crash site. Observers were allowed in. The black boxes were in the hands of the proper authorities. Dutch and Malaysian emissaries had reached agreements to have their citizens’ remains returned.
But with Russia blaming the Ukraine and the Ukraine blaming Russia, the incident still brought to mind words like “Lusitania” and “Ferdinand.” The world is waiting with bated breath, hoping that cooler heads – and diplomacy prevail.
While in Gaza, war wages. 83,000 Palestinian refugees. 2,000 rockets fired at Israel. 2,800 targets struck by the IDF. 600 Palestinians killed – 400 alone during the five days of cricket. 30 IDF solders killed.
And those are just the raw numbers. The scale of human suffering continuing to happen in Gaza is beyond comprehension. And there is no end in site. In five days – just five days – the region has descended from the brink of peace into the depths of hell.
As the coin was being flipped in London, MH17 was still safely at the gate in Holland and a cease-fire was tentatively being honored in Gaza and in Israel. But since the first ball was delivered, hospitals in Gaza have been shelled, hundreds of innocents have been killed, and Russia let slip the dogs of war – all while an entire nation of Israelis lived in terror of the next rocket, and prayed for the safe return of their sons and daughters in the IDF.
It was a Test match. The world didn’t stop to watch. History marched on beside it. People died – sometimes once, sometimes a thousand times – wars began, lives were ripped apart, history was set in motion toward a dark and unforeseen end.
Only so much can happen during a 90 minute football match, but in five days, the whole world can change. And for many, during those five days in July, it did. Before for many more – in Israel, in Gaza, in a nameless field in the Ukraine – it ended. Over and over again. And will continue to end for days and weeks and months and years to come.
Let us all pray for peace.
One Reply to “Five Days in July”
I thought this was really good, Matt, and similar in terms of feel and scope to what I attempted here:
I was at the whole game and, although I’m used to it, it can still surprise me how cricket can absorb you and make everything that’s going on outside the gates – not just wars and revolutions, but people simply going about their everyday lives – seem distant and irrelevant. As such, watching long-form cricket is just about the best stress-reliever I know.