‘I can write about anything’

A few days ago I had a post in mind. About cricket. I can’t remember what it was now. I think something to do with The Hundred. But it’s completely gone.

Yesterday I had a post in mind. This time it most definitely was about The Hundred, and what it’s doing to the County Championship fixture schedule for 2020 which was leaked early by The Mail. It shunted the majority of the matches into early spring or late fall. Kneecapping it when its already been kneecapped a few dozen times already. The post went something like this:

When I was in college I worked part time at a financial services firm. It was during the bust of the tech bubble and a couple times the bottom dropped completely out of the market, leaving the entire office shell shocked. It’s not like the movies. When the market drops, the firms are silent. The next day after such a collapse I was out smoking with one of the firm’s old timers. He had to be 70 years old, he had been trading stocks since the 60s. He told me that he didn’t mind the big drops. What he minded were the years back in the 70s when for months and months the market would drop just a little bit every single day. He likened it to — pardon the analogy — have ones balls placed in a vice and the vice tightened just a little more each day.

This is what’s happening in cricket. The administrators have the game in a vice, and they are going to squeeze it until all the money is gone and all that’s left is the dust of the game we all once loved.

I normally try to be positive about the supposed death of cricket. It’s all the boy who cried wolf, or Mark Twain’s famous quote about the rumors of his death … etc. The game in so many ways is actually really thriving. And the game has always experienced sea changes of all shapes and sizes, and it weathered those changes, and this might all just be a bit of growing pains. Stick with it to the other side, we’ll be all right. Maybe this was because I was always looking for that one cataclysmic event that would take down the game, something I think we are all guilty of now and again. But it’s not going to be one thing. It’s going to be many little things, slowly draining the blood of the sport onto the ground until all that’s left is a lifeless husk.

Dramatic? Sure. The good news is that we still have a few more years. Though I find myself already mourning, mourning that I never got to enjoy cricket — especially first class cricket — in its heyday. Those days are gone already. Drained into the dust where soon their brothers and sisters will join them.


And that’s all I had. A post that I had written several times before. A post written by others more astutely all the time. James Morgan just did it yesterday. And he is 10 times the cricket writer I’ll ever be.


Over the weekend I had an idea for a post about a modern dance retelling of Swan Lake that I had gone to which was a lot of things but mostly was a meditation on depression and a scathing takedown of modern day Ireland. But I didn’t write that one either.


The Tweet at the top is in reference to what’s happening to the once brilliant Deadspin, which for a long time was the best written site on the internet. And now it’s being dismantled and left to rot by the side of the road. Following the story, I was struck by its easy comparison to cricket, another beloved institution being slowly but surely gutted by its caretakers. But in that thinking I also realized that it is also about this blog too. It’s a cricket blog, yes, of course. I write about cricket a lot, and have for many years now. But it’s also about a lot more than that. For the last 18 months I have written almost primarily about my divorce and the shell of my former self it left me with. I couldn’t not write about that, it seeped into every post, even the ones that were simply nuts and bolts cricket.

Because John Moe is correct. There is only writing.

I used to feel a little guilty for boring the audience I had built writing about cricket with nonstop posts about depression, but I know I shouldn’t. Writing is writing. There’s the famous Virginia Woolf quote: “I can write anything.” And that is so freeing. Writing is writing. I have to write what I need to write, and this is the space have I carved out in which to do that. You can’t write about anything without also writing about yourself. There is no line between the two. One does not exist without the other.

This line of thinking brought me full circle:

There is only cricket.

All the formats are linked. Once cannot exist without the other. Despite what the cynics of the world might tell you. There’s no good cricket or bad cricket, there is only cricket. Broken, beautiful, outrageous, peaceful cricket. The game’s past does not exist without its future, and of course the opposite is true, so why mourn that the past is gone when the past led you to where we are now?

In an article written after the death of Prince, Hanif Abdurraqib wrote that while we mourn the dead, we can take solace in the fact that the body — which acted as a boundary for all that humans want and need, for all expression and desire — is no longer an obstacle, and their energy and life can spread out over the whole world, infecting us all.

So it is with cricket. The County Championship will someday die. But what it leaves behind will be all the richer for it. All the more beautiful.

There is only cricket.

The whole world lies between

It seems to me that in the orbit of our world you are the North Pole, I the South — so much in balance, in agreement — and yet… the whole world lies between.

― Thomas Wolfe, You Can’t Go Home Again

My grandparents built a house in Wyoming, Ohio just outside of Cincinnati in 1950, and they lived there for 51 years until they passed away within a week of each other in April of 2001. In that house they raised three boys and one girl, who gave them over the years eight grandchildren and even one great grand daughter that they were able to meet before they died. In that house they hosted countless holidays and Sunday lunches. Whiffle ball games in the backyard. Christmas Eves around the tree. From the beginning of the Cold War until just before the Towers fell.

After they passed the house was sold. A few weeks later my aunt, my grandparents’ only daughter, drove to the house just to have a look, and it was gone. Torn down by the new owners, who were only after, apparently, the land.

You can’t go home again. It’s a cliche, but one that is so true it’s coded deep into our DNA. Sometimes you physically can’t go home again, and sometimes when you do go home again, it’s not the same. It can never be the same. Whether you are gone a week or a month or a decade or a lifetime. And even though we all understand this, intellectually, we still have the hope that someday we will get to go home, wherever that happens to be, and that it will be the same, or if not the same close but better. That hope exists in all of us. Until it is taken away, and we are left with the cold, stark reality of that which we already, in our hearts, knew.

This doesn’t make it any less hard.

I think about this a lot when players embark on these seemingly endless tours. England are in New Zealand now, where they will be until December. All that time away from home, to the point where when they do finally return, it will be different, in small ways, but different nonetheless, different enough to notice the changes. That’s the life of the international superstar cricketer. That’s the deal you make: you can go home again, but it won’t be the same. And I think about Ben Stokes, who is from New Zealand, and traveling with the England side, what’s home for him? Is New Zealand home? The city of Christchurch where he lived until he was 12? Or is it England now? Where’s home for him? Where’s home for all of us?

And that’s part of it there. We spend so much time away that we start to wonder where home really is. Is it this apartment where I have lived for the past 18 months? Or is it the house where I lived for the previous 13 years? The place where I am no longer allowed? Or is it my mother’s house that she bought with my father 32 years ago this December, only 19 shy of how long my grandparents owned theirs? Or is it the patch of land where that house first stood?

So it is for these cricketers. These heroes that live to entertain us. They give up the one thing that we all take for granted until it’s gone: home.

But, sometimes, you can go home again. At least for a minute. An afternoon maybe, if you’re lucky. Earlier today David Warner played his first match in Australia since the incident in Newlands 18 months ago. After a summer of boos in England, he was given a hero’s welcome in Adelaide by the home crowd, and he rewarded them with his first ever International T20 century. No matter what you think of Australia, or Warner, or any of them, it’s a good story. One to keep in mind as all the other dark news — in cricket and everywhere — swirls around us.

And it’s another thing that cricket — and sport — can teach us. Sometimes, despite everything, you can go home. Sleep in your own bed. Make coffee in your own kitchen. Share old laughs and old hopes. Hit a century in front of a warm crowd on a warm day 1,300 kilometers from the town where you were born there at the bottom of the world. 1,300 kilometers but closer still than you have been in so long, during that long dark hot summer in England over 15,000 kilometers away. Home again. Hitting boundaries. Winning matches. Hearing the cheers that you thought were gone forever.

So. You can go home again. You can, until you can’t. And the latter is where I sit today on this cold, blustery autumn morning, The door has closed, the same one that I walked out of. Up until a couple weeks ago I still had that horrible hope that the door would stay open. That I could walk out into the sun and hit a century and be okay. But instead I am here, I am this. I know this, I understand it, it is breaking my heart and I am letting it. But still. I hope. I hope for my moment in the sun again. On the latest Bon Iver record Justin Vernon sings triumphantly, “some light feels good now, don’t it?” And that’s all I want. Light. Light on my shoulders. On my face. The kind of light that only home can provide.


Singing in the old bars, swinging with the old stars

Up until two weeks ago, I had been using the same old ancient iPhone 5 that I got way back in the early spring of 2015. I couldn’t update the software. I couldn’t take pictures because the storage was full. I couldn’t download any apps and even if I could I couldn’t use them because my iOS was too out of date.

But I was fine with it. I could still use it to surf Instagram and Twitter and send text messages and check email and Slack and order an Uber and use Google Maps. What else did I really need?

Then a couple weeks back the phone started to experience what is called “GPS drift.” In that, it never knew quite where I was. Uber drivers would be trying to pick me up five blocks away. Google Maps became useless. The situation was becoming a little untenable.

And so one Saturday two weeks back I went out to breakfast and then to the AT&T store where I got an iPhone 8 and, wham, just like that, I am back in the zeitgeist.

The following weekend I was staying out at my mother’s to help her with a couple things around the house that I wish she would sell but she won’t. There’s not a ton to do out there in the evenings. It’s either watch crime dramas with mom and stepdad, or hang out and read or surf the internet in my childhood bedroom. It was about this time that I realized that I could download games onto my new phone. Huzzah. I could sit up in my darkened bedroom and play games with headphones on until all hours.

I pulled up CNET’s “Top 50 iPhone Games” article and picked out a few that sounded up my alley. One of those games was a side scrolling snowboarding game called Alto’s Adventure. Apparently it is a beloved classic in the mobile gaming community, but I had never heard of it before, but I could immediately see why. It’s easily the most fun I have had playing a video game in decades. Probably since The Legend of Zelda when I was 10. It’s beautiful and atmospheric and downright fun. The music is like Philip Glass classical with repetition and rhythm. And there is this, for lack of a better word, sweetness to it that is so hard describe, and this despite the fact that it is literally just a character snowboarding down a mountain, jumping over rocks and doing backflips over chasms.

As you are snowboarding down the mountain you collect coins, which then when you have enough you can use to purchase additional gadgets in the game’s store. Stuff like hover boost and a horn that calls a llama herd (for real) and that kind of thing. One of the items is a crash helmet, which you can use to revive yourself after a fall. But just once. And since it’s just once, the game gives you the option to either use it or not use it, and gives you a short amount of time in which to decide. You have to think about where you are in your run, if you are close to hitting one of the level’s goals, or about to set a distance record, and then pull the trigger all while the seconds tick down, your thumb hovering over the red X for decline and the black checkmark for use.

It’s a nerve-racking. And of course it made me think of cricket right off the bat. And those 10 seconds where the batsmen or the captain of the fielding team have to decide whether to use a review or not on a close call. In that decision, there are an infinite number of factors to determine: the score, the time of the day, how many reviews you have left, what innings you are in. And that’s getting started, we haven’t even gotten to the considerations of the actual play itself. Was there an edge or was it bat hitting pad? Was it pitching outside off? Was it going to hit the stumps or was it going over? Hurry up. Make the decision. Time is a-wasting. Your captaincy is on the line. The game is on the line. Make the call and own it.

In the video game, it makes my palms sweat just a little. It’s silly but it’s true. And so I cannot imagine what is like on the field when a decision of that magnitude needs to be made. There’s a sport called chess boxing where participants play chess in between rounds of boxing. And there’s also the biathlon, where athletes cross country ski for scores of kilometers, interspersed by having to hit a target with a rifle. Calm your nerves, steady your heart rate, control your breathing, squeeze the trigger. Chess boxing is a little bit of a sideshow, but I have always considered the biathlon to be one of the toughest sports on earth.

But cricket, when you step back from it, is the same way. Batting is exhausting, both mentally and physically. It takes supreme focus working in concert with supreme athleticism. And then all of a sudden from out of nowhere the umpire calls you out but you are pretty damn sure you didn’t edge it and you have ten seconds to change gears, calm your nerves, see the whole game in your head, talk to your partner, and make the call. I never really thought about it like that before until I played this silly video game. It’s an intruiging part of the game that I always just kind of glossed over as a moment of beauracracy in what is otherwise a ballet of sorts. But it’s a moment. A hard moment. Calm your nerves. Slow your heart. Steady your hands. See the whole field. Squeeze the trigger. Make the call.

It’s just another facet of this wonderful sport that has an infinite number of them. A new one is waiting around every corner for us to discover. I will never look at the DRS call the same way again. All thanks to this silly little video game and a weekend at my mother’s house.

Cricket for Americans: So what’s happening now?

The international side of American sports is mostly non-existent. There’s no such thing in gridiron football. In baseball there’s the World Baseball Classic but that is a bit of a farce and rarely attracts the word’s best players. For basketball and hockey the Olympics every four years can be a really big deal if the NBA and the NHL decide to release their players, but that’s not always the case. Soccer, of course, has a huge international infrastructure, but outside of the Women’s team which is probably the most popular international sports team in America, it’s now largely ignored. The men’s team hasn’t played in a World Cup since 2014. And they might not again until they host in 2026. And last night they lost to Canada. Canada.

And so the domestic competitions, and their championships, are the sports’ main draw in America. In football, it’s the Super Bowl, in baseball, the World Series. Etc, etc, etc. And every year it’s more or less the same format, with a few minor changes here and there. An extra round, or a best of five series made a best of seven.

Not so in cricket. For a couple reasons. One: the international game rules the roost. it’s the money-maker. Two: 70% of global cricket revenue originates in one country, India. The former means holding as many international tournaments as possible, in order to generate as much money as possible for the national cricket councils (which should, rightfully, be used to grow the game domestically, but rarely is that done). And the latter means that India, who makes millions (billions?) on its unilateral tours (like, spending six weeks in South Africa as they are now) **edit: it’s the other way around** would really prefer fewer big international tournaments, as it means fewer tours, and less money.

Phew, right?

This creates a difficult balancing act: keep India happy, and keep all the other countries happy. Which is what gives us what we have now: an ever changing, ever fluid, series of international tournaments. World Cups, World Championships, Champions Trophies and on and on. Up until 2007, there was an international tournament every year. But the international cycle that stated in 2015 — cricket’s international calendar runs on eight year cycles — and runs through 2022 has two years where there is not. India is fine with this. Other countries are not. And so we hit an impasse. And the outcome will probably be a watered down six week tournament in Dubai where the sole purpose will be to print money.

This, more than I think just about anything, is cricket’s biggest issue: it’s utter inability to maintain a consistent international playoff structure. I say international but it’s a problem at the domestic level too. Everything is constantly changing, the goalposts are always being moved, and fans are left bewildered, even the most seasoned ones, who get the double whammy of bewilderment and disillusionment. And that’s not even taking into account the new fans, who are left wondering just what is going to come next in the game that they just decided to check out.

In gridiron football, there’s the Super Bowl. Full stop. And it works. Cricket has gone too far down the river to re-create an event like that — and considering cricket is a global sport it’s really not even possible — but the system they have now is untenable. (Though that’s true with most things in cricket, but that’s a blog for a different day.)

It’s the push pull of money versus tradition, India versus the rest of the world, that might in the end ruin in the game. Until then, all we can do is keep an eye on the international calendar, and do our best to keep track as to what’s coming next. Personally, my suggestion for new cricket fans, especially those in America, would be to avoid everything but the 50 Over and T20 World Cups, and do all you can to follow a domestic first class league. Those change, too, of course, thanks to the above push-pulls, but they are closer to what cricket was 100 years ago then anything else. And therefore might — just might — be the cricket we all come to rely on for the next 100 years.

Optimistic? Sure. But occasionally my glass is half full when it comes to the future of this great game. Follow America’s lead, bring the games back home, away from the international spotlight, and allow domestic leagues to thrive.

World Mental Health Day

It’s World Mental Health Day.

Whatever that means.

Like most of these random days — National Dog Day, Global Best Friends Day, Hug a Sibling Day, or whatever — it feels made up. A meaningless exercise on Twitter where people urge other people to get into therapy and to talk about their struggles with mental health. It all feels vapid, meaningless, self serving. A chance for people who like to hear themselves talk sound smart and full of empathy and, you know, properly woke when it comes to the subject of mental health.

The people whose opinions on mental health struggles that I respect usually take the day off social media platforms. Or if they do post, it’s about the need for resources, not awareness, that we have plenty of awareness. Everyone knows everyone else is struggling, now let’s do something about it, and let’s tell our elected officials to do something about it too (stop laughing). But everyone else posts a picture of a flower with some hackneyed platitude written in calligraphy next to it. You know, the kind where they are too lazy to even use a metaphor. “You are not alone, you really aren’t, for realsies.”

This all sounds so bitter. Because that’s what depression has given me. It has not given more empathy, it has stripped me of empathy. No one could possibly know how terrible this feels, every single day. Only I get what it’s really like to be so sad you can’t lift your arms, or walk down the street without needing to sit down. Only me. Just me. And so I get angry when people I know — either in real life or via social media channels — talk openly about their struggles with mental health. “Fuck that,” I say, “you don’t know what it’s like.” That’s bullshit, of course, but that’s what the disease does. It isolates you, traps you in your own head. Makes you feel more alone than you thought you could ever possibly feel. I read once that depression is a room you build inside yourself that you can never leave. That’s about right. But it’s also a room without windows, closed off to the world. “You are not alone,” the internet says. “No, sorry, I am most unequivocally alone,” I reply.

The only place I really ever talk about it is here, on this blog. I live this sad, silent life. I feel like no one would believe me if I told them how bad it was, and simultaneously I feel like I am annoying the people who do get it when I talk to them about it. Or, in a certain case, my sadness makes them anxious, paranoid, sometimes even a little angry, so I keep it to myself.

So here is where the importance of awareness comes in. It has to be okay to talk about it. And that fact needs to be repeated over and over again. Because loneliness kills people. Which is why I understand that, intellectually, what happens on Twitter on World Mental Health Day is actually important, because it reminds not just those who do not suffer from mental health issues that people — lots of people, maybe most people — are struggling, but it’s also important for people like me, so we know that, yes, we are not alone, no matter what we might think. We are not alone and that’s important, because that means it will get better someday. Out there, right now, on Twitter, there are people posting about how it got better for them. I want to believe them, I really do, but it’s so hard, but still, please, yes, keep repeating it.

Like I wrote a while back, we know that sadness ends, because happiness ended. Nothing lasts forever. Summer will come back.

So in the spirit of the day, I will say to the nine people who might read this: while I don’t yet have an “it gets better” story, I will say out loud once again that I am struggling. Really, really struggling. And it feels like it will never get any better, that I will feel this way forever. There have been so many false dawns, days when I felt okay for a little while, but the struggle always returns. And this silly little cricket blog is the last place I have.

I write a lot about cricket and depression and the intersection of the two here. Probably too much. But indulge me. Last week the proprietor of Different Shades of Green wrote a just lovely piece about Marcus Trescothick, the English batsman, and his retirement from county cricket. Trescothick, of course, was one of the first athletes to admit to his depression, his anxiety, and go public with that as the reason for up and flying home in the middle of a tour of India in 2006, and then doing the same the following year when the England squad were in Australia for the Ashes. He later retired from international cricket, but played county cricket for another decade, up until just this month. In 2009, he released a biography entitled Coming Back to Me, where he talks about how he would be okay playing county cricket because he would know that he was close to home, no matter where he was playing, which allowed his mind to ease.

It’s a beautiful and sad piece, I urge you to read it.

I was thinking about the post — and Trescothick — this morning as I scrolled the Mental Health Day hashtag feed on Twitter, and I realized something: I believe him. For whatever reason, I believe in how dark it must have been for him. I believe him. And Jonathan Trott. And Steve Harmison. And Michael Yardy. And Maninder Singh. And Sarah Taylor. All the cricketers over the years who have pulled out of tours or otherwise gone public with their mental health struggles. Maybe I believe them because they sacrificed so much because of their illnesses. Money, fame. All to get better. It would have to be very, very dark in their heads for them to turn their backs on getting paid to play the game they loved since childhood. It doesn’t matter why, I believe them, these sad, once broken, once brilliant athletes.

Often I muse on whether there is an actual connection between cricket and depression or anxiety. And most people think there is, just because of the nature of the game, and the toll the long tours take on players, but that leaves aside the fans. Is there something about the game that attracts the sad, the disaffected, the struggling? I never quite believed that there was, until this morning, when I realized that maybe the reason I have been writing here so much over the past year, and writing about and being so open about my depression here is because of people like Trescothick. Like Trott. Because they are cricketers who have struggled, and I believe them, and, yes, somehow, someway, they make me feel less alone. 


A tree falls in Guyana

My local baseball outfit the Minnesota Twins are in the playoffs. But probably not for long. The Yankees are rolling over them downhill and are up 2-0 in the best of five series outscoring the Twins 18-6 along the way. Yankee Stadium has hosted the first two games and we are all a little hopeful that the Twins can pull one back tomorrow night on their homefield and at least keep things interesting for a few more days.

I didn’t watch a single day of the India-South Africa Test. The match times all happened while I slept, and in the mornings I was busy and would forget to check the scores and I just saw the final tally and that India had more or less wiped the floor with South Africa on their own patch **edit, on India’s home patch**, despite some valiant first innings batting from the hosts.

This morning I watched Arsenal beat Bournemouth 1-0 in London. They were able to hang on after a very early goal gave them the lead. Bournemouth looked bored for the first hour so, but they turned it on late and I more than half expected them to at least draw level but Arsenal’s shaky defense saw it through to the end. Three points, safely banked, on to the international break.

Right now I am on the porch and watching the Caribbean Premier League. St. Kitts versus Trinidad in an eliminator in front of a mostly empty but still somehow festive atmosphere in Providence, Guyana. I have always found it odd that cricket is played at this high of a level in South America. The other bit of trivia is that it’s the only English speaking nation in South America. I didn’t think there were any, but there you go.

I mention all of this because it’s funny how sport just runs in the background of our lives. I didn’t watch a single inning of the first Twins playoff game as I don’t get the channel on Hulu. I listened on the radio until they went too far behind. I watched only an inning or two of the second game. I had plans. Lenny Holley at the Walker Art Center. The majority of the game happened while I was having a glass of wine at Esker Grove before the show. As mentioned, I didn’t watch a single delivery of the India vs South Africa. But it still happened, running behind the scenes as slept fitfully, dreaming, waking to morning dark. I watched the Arsenal first half. But then breakfast was ready so I turned it off and ate and had coffee and cleaned up the kitchen and then turned the game back on in the 75th minute to watch Arsenal hang on just. At noon today I have a yoga class and then lunch and then a walk on this beautiful fall day, so I will mist the majority of the second innings of the CPL match currently streaming on the tab just to the left of this one.

There’s of course the old adage about trees falling in woods and does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? You know, the kind of stuff that blows the minds of 12 year olds. And there’s also Schrödinger’s cat, which is more of thought experiment on paradoxes but still maybe more fitting here. If I don’t watch the games, do they still happen? Of course they do. Does the fact that I either watch or not affect the outcome? Of course not. I mean. Our actions and our movements and our decisions create ripples all over the world, but turning off Arsenal at half time didn’t stop Bournemouth from drawing level or Arsenal from making it safe.

But still. They run in the background. These games. And if we don’t watch, they more or less are not happening, at least not as far as we are concerned. And we are the people who follow these sports, what about the people who don’t? All of these games happening behind the scenes and billions of people are just living their lives, scarcely the slightest bit aware of their existence. You know, like Hobbits. Or whatever. And that is just sport. All over the world, all the time, life is happening, huge swaths of it, and most of it flies under most of our radars. Not, for the most part, really even existing.

Today there is a cricket match on the continent of South America, in a stadium over looking the Demerara river, which flows into the Atlantic ocean, just a few hundred meters away. St Kitts and Nevis are 54-3 after 10 overs. There is an American playing. Ali Khan. He was born in Pakistan in a city called Attock, not far from the Afghanistan frontier. He’s taken a wicket in three overs bowled, and allowed just nine runs. And that’s just one small story of the game. There’s a dozen more just like it. Maybe five dozen. Maybe an infinite number. All of it happening. Really happening. Making those ripples around the world, even though only a relative handful of people know of its existence. And it’s just one cricket game, with infinite stories, while other infinite stories are taking place the world over. In football matches. War zones. Hospitals. The rise and fall of the human drama, all of it. Happening. Whether we watch or not. Billions of lives, living, of which we are just a drop in the sea, dipping our toes into other seas, trying to find significance in an insignificant and vast ocean of infinite ripples in all directions.

Cricket teaches us a lot, if we let it. Patience, nuance. But more than anything it teaches us that the world is very large, impossibly large. And that life is long, impossibly long at times. Today there is a cricket match in Guyana. And within those three hours that the game is taking place, the entire world will change. And change again. The same world that doesn’t even know that it’s happening.