Test 2, Day 2

South Africa 335 (Amla 78, de Kock 68, Philander 54, Anderson 5-72) and 75 for 1 (Elgar 38*, Amla 23*) lead England 205 (Root 78) by 205 runs

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We didn’t have a lot of money growing up. That is not to say that we were poor. I never wanted for anything, I always had fresh school supplies in the fall, and there was always food on the table and presents under the tree, and while I wore a lot of hand-me-downs from my older cousins, I always had new shoes when I needed them. But we also went without a lot of things that my middle-class peers enjoyed: cable television, VCRs, fancy cars (my mother drove a 1970s orange Chevette hatchback my entire childhood) and vacations that weren’t to my grandparents’ cottages in Michigan or a distant relative’s condominium in Florida. And I remember more than a few hushed arguments about money between my mother and father.

And so when in February of 1987 when I was 11 years old and my sister 13 it was a pretty big deal when at the kitchen table my mother broke the good news that in April we would be flying — FLYING! — to Florida to spend three days at Disney World (!!) followed by four days … on a CRUISE! We were over the moon with excitement. My sister even started packing that afternoon, despite the fact that the trip was over two months away.

In preparation for the vacation to end all vacations, my mother took me clothes shopping. It was the 1980s and I had a very specific style in mind, despite just being 11 years old. Hawaiian shirts and light shorts and pants and pastel polo style shirts. The pièce de ré·sis·tance of the new wardrobe was a pair of white slacks that I would pair with a light blue polo shirt. I planned on wearing it the day we boarded the cruise ship. I was over come with excitement. My own clothes! New clothes! And of the highest fashion (in my mind).

The trip came and it was lovely. We rode rides at Disney World and stayed in a nice hotel and ate dinner out every single night. We spend an entire day at the beach swimming in the ocean and building sand castles. My parents only had one disagreement that I heard, over whether or not it was worth the walk over to Epcot (it wasn’t).

Then midway through the week we drove to the Cruise ship dock and dropped off our rental car and boarded the ship. I was of course wearing my new clothes, my perfect outfit. We dropped our stuff off in our room and went straight to the buffet for lunch (cruises are basically just one big floating buffet table). As we were standing in the line and filling our plates with fruit and little sandwiches, my sister, who was in line next to me, starting scratching at the hem of my shirt. I had no idea what she was doing, I looked down and there was this black, flaky goop all down the side my my shirt and pant leg. I had no idea what it was or where it came from. My new outfit was ruined! I was horrified.

My sister pulled her hand away and looked at it and then back at the goop on my shirt and then looked me in the eye.

“Gross,” she said.

Test 2, Day 1

South Africa 309 for 6 (Philander 54*, Morris 23*) v England

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Like a lot of families in the midwest did — and still do — my family would pack up the car and drive to Florida for a weekend in the sun and at the pool. I think we made the trip two or three times, with the last occasion being when I was seven years old and my sister nine. We would leave first thing in the morning when my sister and I were still asleep, my mother making us beds in the back seat and we would wake up and already be on the road, my dad driving with his ball cap and his flannel shirt and his cigarettes.

We would stop for the night in Tennessee and continue on until we reached Ft. Lauderdale. We didn’t stay in a fancy resort or at Disney World, but rather in a condo that belonged to my uncle’s in-laws which was on the beach with a pool. It was great, but the rules were a little strict (one time a resident yelled at my mother because the resident thought she hadn’t showered long enough before getting into the pool). And it was always a little weird staying in what was essentially someone else’s house. But it was fine. We would spend the week making sand castles and swimming in the pool and playing in the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the main highlights was going out to eat at night, as this was something we rarely did when we weren’t on vacation. When in Florida we mostly went to seafood restaurants because our parents knew that that was something that us kids would eat and it was also something that we didn’t get a lot of in land-locked Ohio.

On our last trip we went out to eat right after arriving. The restaurant was dark and we sat at a circular table near the salad bar. My mother said she felt like she was still in the car. When the waitress came to take our order, my sister asked the most embarrassing question I could ever have imagined.

At this point I must be clear that my sister is a very bright woman. And it was no different when she was nine. She was always in advanced classes, and was a whiz at all subjects: English, math, science, whatever. She was — and is — no dummy, in other words.

And I should also point that while at the time I thought it was hilarious and teased my sister endlessly about it for, probably, years afterward, now when I think back on it it just makes me sad. My smart sister, completely embarrassed, while on vacation, out at a restaurant, something we never go to do, trying to order a shrimp platter, something I know she was excited about. I don’t know. It makes me so very melancholy, so deeply sad. It breaks my heart a little, is the best way to say it. And it makes me want to call my sister and tell her I think she’s great.

The waitress was taking our order, and when she got to my sister, my sister pointed at something on the menu, and — shudder — she asked the waitress how many there were in a half a dozen. How many. There were. In. A. Half dozen. She must have just been confused by something on the menu, as my sister surely, without a doubt, knew exactly how many were in a half dozen. Which makes this all even more embarrassing. She was just confused, not ignorant. Horrible, just horrible. In response, the waitress looked liked she couldn’t believe she was being asked that.

“Six,” the waitress replied, her voice oozing with contempt.

Test 1, Day 4

England 458 and 233 beat South Africa 361 and 119 by 211 runs

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When I was in 2nd grade and my sister in 4th (eight and 10 years old, respectively) my mother entered us in the school’s talent show. She picked out a song (“Side by Side” — a standard made famous by Kay Starr in the 50s), had me get the lyrics from my teacher (not an easy task in the days before the internet), wrote a little dance, made us outfits covered in patches like proper happy hoboes, and made us practice every afternoon after school.

The show was during the day and in front of the entire school plus all the parents of the kids performing. Our dad even skipped his golf game to come watch us.

I was nervous, but not too nervous, it would go fine and be over soon enough.

When it was our turn we got on the stage there in the school’s basement cafeteria and sang our song and did our dance. It was all going well until the very end of the song when one of us — I honestly don’t remember who — screwed the dance part up a bit and we stopped in the middle of performance. I said my sister’s name pleadingly and the crowd laughed. I was mortified. We finished the song and went back into the library which was doubling as the green room for the performers.

I was embarrassed and angry and upset. I stood back in the biography section crying and my sister came up to also crying and apologized over and over again. “I’m so, so sorry, Matt,” she wailed. I didn’t want to deal with her. I went back to my seat in the front part of the library and moped.

This was the 1980s and so the talent show had actual winners and losers. There would be three ribbons awarded: first place, second place and third place. I knew we had no shot after we had screwed up so I just stood on the stage with the other performers and tried not to look my parents in the eye. “I can’t believe my dad skipped his golf game for this. He is going to be so mad,” I thought to myself.

They announced the second and third place winners and then, shockingly, when giving out the first place ribbon, they said my name. And my sister’s name. We had won! Holy cow! It seemed the judges — including the wickedly strict first grade teacher Sister Ann Jerome — had thought the screw up was on purpose, that it was part of the act. But who cares? We had the first place ribbon!

I was beaming. My sister was relieved.

To this day I sing the song to myself on long bike rides and think of my sister and our victory that day.

Oh, we ain’t got a barrel of money
Maybe we’re ragged and funny
But we travel along, singin’ our song
Side by side

Test 1, Day 3

England 458 and 119 for 1 (Cook 59*, Ballance 22*) lead South Africa 361 (Bavuma 59, Elgar 54, Philander 52, de Kock 51, Moeen 4-59) by 216 runs

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The summer after I turned 16 I was grounded a lot. My grades were almost as bad as my attitude and I probably deserved every punishment I received. My parents knew they couldn’t keep me in the house, so my groundings usually simply involved not allowing me to use the car for weeks at a time.

In August such a grounding was under way while my mother, brother and step-father were on vacation, leaving just my sister and me in the house, with my sister in charge. On the Saturday before they were to arrive back home, I took the car against their wishes and drove to the record store. I was gone maybe an hour. My sister told my parents that I had taken the car when they returned, and I was grounded from the car for a further two weeks. I denied every having done so with all my effort but it was no use. Another two weeks it was.

I was livid with my sister. How could she tell on me like that? Betray the sibling trust? Why did she care if I used the car or not?

Years later I was in college and had brought a girlfriend home with me and we all had a family dinner at my parents house. My sister was there with her son, but her husband was not there. Over the course of the meal the subject of the grounding that summer came up — I joked about my sister telling my parents I had taken the car and how mad I was and everyone laughed. Everyone but my sister.

After dinner I saw my sister in the family room by herself, obviously not doing so well. I left my girlfriend in the kitchen with an old photo album to browse through and went to check on my sister. She was crying. It had been a hard few years and it was all down to her need for everything and everyone to be perfect. It’s why she had told on me that summer, it’s why her marriage had hit a rough spot, it’s why her whole life had gone in an unfavorable direction. She didn’t like the person who had told on her younger brother, and she was still that person.

She told me that she wanted to learn how to relax, that she was setting new career goals for herself and would achieve them no matter how long it took. And that all she wanted in the end was to be a good mother and to be happy in her life.

And that’s what she did. She got out of her unhappy marriage, she raised a wonderful young man, she stopped worrying what everyone thought and lived her life the best way she knew how to. And she was happy. Is still happy. Sometimes all it takes is to stop shouldering the entire world’s problems, to just relax, and take it all one moment at a time. That’s probably the best lesson my sister ever taught me.

Test 1, Day 2

South Africa 214 for 5 (Bavuma 48*, Rabada 9*) trail England 458 (Root 190, Moeen 87) by 244 runs

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My only sister and I never very close, even though we lived across the hall from each other for over 16 years. And by the time we both were in high school we barely saw one another and rarely spoke unless we were shouting. But she was still a constant presence in my life, a life which lacked consistency and stability, and for that presence I was always at least quietly grateful. And more than that, she was proof that life before my father’s death really had happened, that all that we had shared as a family had been real, not just a figment of my imagination. She, like my brother and mother, was a connection to the time before everything went south for me.

In the late summer of my junior year of high school, my sister was going off to college — moving to Duluth to attend St. Scholastica, which was about a three hour drive away. On a cloudy Saturday in August my mother, brother and step-father were going to drive her up there, stay the night in a hotel, help her move into her dorm room and then drive back home. The morning they were set to leave, I was around, which was odd because I was never around those days. They were all going to breakfast and I was invited along, and I accepted. For some reason I was happy to be around my family, and even happier to be around my sister, I don’t remember why I felt that way, or if there was even a reason for it. Maybe I was just in a good mood — though I don’t remember being in many good moods those days — or maybe it was my way of saying goodbye: subconsciously not being a bastard to my sister during her last hours with us. When we were walking from the car to the restaurant I even put my arm around my sister in a joking manner. I hadn’t done anything like that in probably a decade.

At breakfast I decided I would go along with them to Duluth. Ride in the backseat of the family van, share a hotel room with my little brother and help my sister move. I had nothing going on, and there was a promise of dinners out and hey hotels were fun and so I packed a small bag and off we went.

The drive up was long and boring. We had dinner that night at a pizza place and spent the evening in the hotel swimming and watching cable television. The next morning was hectic. Repacking my sister’s belongings from the hotel into the van and trying to find the dorm and parking and not knowing where to go and then the general franticness of a college parking lot filled with freshmen and their parents and their cars and their belongings and hauling boxes and boxes up flights and flights of stairs. It was an arduous and chaotic two hours but also productive and in the end we had her all moved in and set up and shelves built and ready to go.

After finishing up we ate lunch at a picnic table outside the dorm. Cans of soda and chips and sandwiches my mother had brought from home. It was a nice day, and the college campus was green and warm and there was a pleasant expectant energy in the air. My sister finished her meal and hugged my mother but not me or my brother or my step-father and she dashed off to freshman orientation and her new life, a life that existed outside of us.

We piled back into the van and began the long drive back home.

My mother and my step-father held hands in the front seat and my mother cried and cried and cried. But I didn’t feel sad for some reason, despite the fact that I knew I would miss my sister, miss her presence, miss her connection to my father. Instead after the frantic morning I reclined in the backseat, relaxing and enjoying the silence and calmness.

It was only an hour into the drive home when I realized that that was that. My sister was gone, for good. No more seeing her at the dinner table, no more coming home to find her doing her homework in the kitchen, no more fighting over who gets to watch what on the television or who gets to use the car. She was gone from my daily life forever. And yet I still wasn’t sad, instead I felt a resignation, an acceptance that the period of my life in which I shared a residence with my sister had ended. I looked out the window and at the traffic and the houses that dotted the road side. We passed a sign that said it was 128 miles to Minneapolis. I sighed. The only sadness I felt was that I was stuck in the car with my family for another two hours. I leaned my head against the glass and tried to sleep.

Test 1, Day 1

Stumps, Day 1
England 357/5

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I was raised Catholic. Very Catholic. My sister and I attended St. Francis de Sales Catholic elementary school in Lebanon, Ohio — and my mother, sister and I went to Mass every Sunday (dad stayed home and took advantage of really the only free hour he had to himself all week). My mother was also raised Catholic, going to church every Sunday with her two sisters and their father (conversely, her mother, my grandmother, abstained from attending mass). My mother’s father initially converted to Catholicism when he was serving in the South Pacific during World War 2. A lifelong Presbyterian from a long line of Presbyterians when he enlisted, he saw that the Catholic boys were handling the blood and the death and the slaughter better than the Protestant boys, so on some weekday morning on some lonely atoll in the middle of the ocean, he converted. The sun on his neck; God’s first church in his heart.

When he returned from the war, he went to work, raised a family … and drank. But he also went to church, driving his big old boat of a Buick down the cobblestone hills of the coal black town of Pomeroy, Ohio. Every Sunday without fail. His faith was deep and strong, and he was immensely proud of his Catholicism. Decades later when my sister — his granddaughter — was confirmed in the Catholic Church he called it the proudest moment of his life. This is a man who saw the flag raising on Iwo Jima.

And so, being Catholic, Easter Sunday was a big deal growing up in that little one-story house on Hoffmann Avenue. We went to mass, of course, and were forced to dress a little nicer than usual: a spring dress for my sister, jackets and ties for my brother and me. But despite my mother’s devoutness, we also celebrated the more, er, Pagan side of the holiday. We colored hardboiled eggs with that little Paas kit and my parent’s would hide them throughout the house and yard, and we were given Easter baskets full of candy and hollow chocolate rabbits.

My sister adored Easter. I really don’t know why, but it was most definitely her favorite holiday — even more so than Christmas — and I think it had something to do with the basket full of chocolate we would receive. That’s my best guess anyway. My parents would put out our baskets in the living room after we would go to bed, so we would be surprised by them in the morning — the myth was that the Easter Bunny, similar to Santa Claus’s M.O., would deliver the baskets at night while the good little Christians with middle class parents slept in soft beds.

One Easter Sunday my sister was more excited than in previous years, and in her excitement she got me up way too early to go out to the living room and find our Easter baskets. In previous years, just like Christmas, 6am or so would have been reasonable, but it was far earlier than that. She dragged me out the living room and there were our baskets and she was so excited — I can still see the excitement in her eyes and hear the joy in her voice. Unfortunately, we had woken our parents up. After a few minutes my dad came out to the living room — clad in just a pair of Fruit-of-the-Loom briefs — and told us to back to damn bed, that it was three o’clock in the damn morning. I was scared, my sister was heartbroken, but we did as we were told.

Later we rose at a decent hour, rediscovered our Easter baskets full of chocolate, dressed in our nice clothes, attended Mass, came back home, hunted for Easter eggs, and had a lunch of egg salad on white bread at the kitchen table — the bright Ohio spring sun streaming into our windows. All in all, it was a perfect little Easter in our little house for our little family, despite its unfortunate start.

I have since lost touch with my Catholic upbringing. I no longer attend Mass and honestly have no desire to. And while I don’t believe in the basic tenets of Catholicism — that Christ was the son of God … etc. — I still consider myself a Catholic. But when Easter rolls around, I don’t think of Christ on the cross or chocolate rabbits or egg hunts, I instead think of my sister, and the excitement in her eyes that one morning all those years ago, of my father in his briefs quashing that joy, and the joy rising again later in the day — and I think of the lightness in my sister’s voice, sitting at the kitchen table, looking out into our backyard, eating her egg salad sandwich, all the morning’s disappointment long since forgotten.

It’s a Drag

Up early this morning with the Royal London One-Day Cup on in the background. The match is on ESPN3 which I have legal access to because I am a Comcast internet subscriber, even though I don’t subscribe to Comcast cable television. It’s great to be able to watch the match, though it is bittersweet as it also whets my appetite for even more cricket, but sadly the game can be tough to find here in the states.

ESPN3 carries a fair amount of cricket — though mostly now it is just home England matches and domestic English county cricket, and the occasional odd Twenty-20 tournament. It’s fine. No complaints. The picture is good and it’s better than a dodgy internet stream.

For other cricket, I have to turn to Willow.tv for $15 a month. They carry most Indian and South African tours and home matches, and the IPL too of course. Looking forward it looks like they have the Ashes this winter, so I will probably resubscribe around Thanksgiving (I have cancelled and resubscribed probably five times). There’s also a new player in town, Sling TV. I am not sure how it works, though it appears I need a Sling TV subscription AND a Willow.TV subscription. That’s highway robbery. But if they continue to be the provider for ICC tournaments, I will probably pony up — especially for the 2019 World Cup.

And that’s it. Other than dodgy internet streams and the Willow TV channel which — I think — is only available on Dish Network or something like that — that’s how we all watch cricket here in the United States. It’s not ideal, and I wish it was better, but there are options available and with a little money I can see most international cricket. I also have an adaptor so I can hook my Macbook up to my TV so I am not forced to watch with headphones at the kitchen table like I used to have to do. I do wish that I only had to pay for one service, or that ESPN3 would carry more matches, but it’s hard to complain. I mean, not 25 years ago, people in the USA relied on week old newspapers, long distance phone calls and IRC bots to access the cricket scores. We’ve come a long way.

Outside of the television, I of course have access to cricket coverage the likes of which the world has never seen. Match summaries and ball by balls and commentaries and online newspapers from all over the world — not to mention a billion different cricket blogs to choose from. It’s a true fountain of knowledge and one not to sneeze at. Further, I can listen to all sorts of cricket via internet radio — Test Match Special being just one example. At work this summer I will have the sounds of the England v South Africa test series in my ears most days.

All in all, it’s not so bad.

I bring this up because the ECB just signed another TV contract, and the big news is that a few matches will once again be available on terrestrial television. James Morgan of The Full Toss has a great write up on the deal. Sky will continue to air all England internationals, with the exception of a couple T20s starting in 2020 (haha) and a handful of women’s matches (which is GREAT for the game) that will be on the BBC. The bigger news, for me, is that the deal is worth over a billion dollars. A billion dollars! For a game that is supposedly not just dying but stone dead. One can hope that the ECB uses the influx to grow all formats of the game at all levels for everyone — men, women, boys, girls and everyone in between. But we know that won’t happen. They will use the money to promote profit friendly T20 tournaments across the land. And gosh I really can’t blame them. As much as I think it is the wrong call on their part, and is a terrible thing for the game, why would they invest in two formats that don’t make any money? Take the final I am watching now. It’s the final of the one day tournament, at Lord’s, featuring a team that plays right down the road, and there are whole stands completely empty. Sure it’s the first innings, and it might fill in, but still.

Morgan’s other issue is that only having T20 available on terrestrial TV will make it more difficult for young people to be exposed to the longer forms of game — just as he fell in love with the game watching Test matches on the BBC during his summer holidays in the 80s. And I get that — I fell in love with soccer because the 1986 World Cup was on over-the-air TV in the US. But that’s nostalgia talking. People — especially young people — access entertainment and sport in a million new and different ways. A lot of households don’t even have televisions anymore. Gone are the days of kids flipping on the telly on a summer Tuesday afternoon and watching the cricket. Even if it were available on the BBC kids still probably wouldn’t watch it. Because there are literally dozens of other options for entertainment: iPads, laptops, on demand. In the 80s in England there were, what, two TV channels? Now most people have dozens. And so, again, I don’t blame ECB for taking Sky’s money.

All of that said, I wish cricket was available on free TV for everyone in every part of the world. Because as much as I enjoy reading about cricket, or listening to cricket on the radio, or writing about cricket, I love — LOVE — watching cricket. A cup of tea plus a good cricket game is heaven on earth for me. And I am not that much different than other people, and so I think lots of people who would never even think about the game could fall in love with it too, if just given the chance. But we all know that’s never going to happen. And so I will take what I can get. And Surrey vs. Nottinghamshire in a One Day final at Lord’s on my laptop is — all things considered — pretty great.

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The England-South Africa Test series starts on Thursday. Going to trying and write about it every match day. We will see what happens.

Meanwhile the World Cup is ongoing in England and it’s still early days but it looks like it’s India or Australia’s tournament to lose. I hope that England can crawl back from an early defeat to India and make a good run. During the Champions Trophy I mentioned how an England win would be great for the game in that country, and the same holds true but even more so for an England Ladies win — because it would get people into the game that never would have given it a second thought before. This is similar to how people in Minneapolis who would never watch basketball get excited when our WNBA team, the Lynx, do well. The Lynx winning is great for basketball in Minneapolis, and an English ladies World Cup win would be great for cricket in England.

Until Thursday then.