It’s day three of the third Test between South Africa and England at Port Elizabeth. The match started in the middle of the night on my watch. That nothing time when it’s still the night before but also when it’s already the next morning. 3 a.m. or so. When the world still isn’t sure what it wants to be. Night still has it in its ceaseless grip, but there is already a disruption in the stillness of the hour previous that cannot help but speak of morning, Sometimes in this strange hour, I lie awake and take comfort in the fact that cricket is happening somewhere. Somewhere there is something as soft and light and perfect as people dressed in white playing a game on an expanse of green under a warm sun.
It was around three in the morning a few days when my dog got me out of bed. He hadn’t been feeling quite right: drinking too much water, not eating his food. And he had to get outside to take care of what was obviously an urgent need. I live in an apartment and I couldn’t fathom him having an accident on the landlord’s nice hardwood floors, so I got up and put long underwear on and a hat and a sweater and jeans and socks and boots and a winter jacket and I put his harness on him and hooked up his leash and told him he was a good boy and we went out the backdoor onto the porch where he would hang out with me in the summer as I read and down the backstairs into the alley and the snow was dirty and cold and the whole world was dark but there was a hint of traffic and we walked around the quiet block and he went to the bathroom the required amount of times and we hustled back inside and I gave him treats and told him he was a good boy again and stripped off my clothes and crawled back into the still warm bed. And then it was night again. And we slept.
My ex-wife and I had adopted Robbie in the fall of 2012. England were touring India. On Nov. 15 India battered their visitors and won by nine wickets. Eight days later England returned the favor, one-upping their hosts and winning by 10 wickets. Every England fan remembers that second game. After India put up a par score of 327 in their first innings, England came to bat just before lunch. And then Alistair Cook batted out the rest of the day. All while I slept. He was calm and patience. A captain. It took 134 deliveries for him to reach his half century. He gave England what they needed: time.
I remember waking up with the dog after Cook’s innings. A Sunday morning, 2012. It wasn’t 3 a.m. like last week, but a more reasonable hour, when night was all but gone, and the day was fully in charge. Robbie was young and full of life and everything seemed okay. I checked the Test score on my phone as he wandered his new yard in search of the smell that would give him impetus to go. I saw that Cook had batted all night. And I smiled.
That was more than seven years ago. So much has happened since. The England XI that day looked like this: Cook, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bairstow, Patel, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson and Panesar. On the other side India sported the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni and of course the great Tendulkar, still a full year away from retirement. Those teams are almost unrecognizable today, just seven short trips around the sun later. That’s how much change there has been in cricket. Which only hints at the amount of change in my life, in your life, in all our lives. In 2012 we had just reelected President Obama. Today we are two days away from President Trump completing three of his four years in the Oval Office.
Time. Change. Life.
Through it all, through everything, through divorce and hardship and new jobs and new presidents and retirements and World Cups and moves and sadness and joy — through it all, everything — Robbie has been there. Quiet, sweet Robbie. A stable rock in a sea of change. His calm eyes guiding me home to a place that was safe and okay.
On Sunday night around 10 p.m. Robbie came stumbling out of the back bedroom. We had been watching a movie. He was shaking and panting. He threw up. And he kept shaking and panting. It was snowing outside. There was a 24 hour emergency vet just down the street. My partner went down and cleaned the cold, white snow off of her car. I put on Robbie’s harness and connected his leash and told him that he was a good boy. There was still light in his eyes. He seemed to be excited to be going somewhere. We went out to the porch and down the stairs just like we had countless times in the last 18 months. I led him to my partner’s running car and opened the back door. But he was shaking too hard to get up onto the seat. So I picked him up and put him in the back and he turned around and lay down and felt almost immediately asleep.
I will spare you the detail. There was a gall stone, and a tear in his pancreas, and nodes in his stomach and bile in places where there shouldn’t be. He stayed the night at the vet’s, we went back to our apartment. In the morning my ex-wife went to see him. He was going in for his ultrasound soon. Shortly before noon my ex-wife called me and told me that we were going to have to put him down. I kicked a chair. And cried out in anger. It was not the reaction I expected. Anger. But that’s what it was.
I met her there. The vet led him into a little room with us and a blanket and a couch and we sat with him and told him that we loved him and he seemed confused and drugged up and he looked a thousand years old. We cried and wailed and questioned. When we were ready the vet came in. He had an IV in his little ankle. The vet game him a muscle relaxant and a tranquilizer and then a third shot that would be his last. She put a stethsocope to his heart, and a few seconds later he was gone. We said goodbye. And left him laying there. On the cold ground. Silenced. Just a shell growing quickly cold, his spirit releasing into the ether.
Dear, sweet Robbie. The only constant in a world of change. Gone forever. It was — and still is — an incomprehensible loss.
Today at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at the bottom of the world, England trotted out a completely different XI players than they did against India in 2012. Except for one: Stuart Broad.
Through all of that change mentioned above, Robbie had been there, but now he is gone. But Broad is still here, a memory of a memory of a time gone by. When Robbie was young. When I was young. When the whole world was young.
My dog is gone, and I can’t believe it, and I miss him so much. But just like many other times in my life since 2007, I find a slight, almost imperceptible comfort in the sport of cricket. For while the whole world has changed — even Robbie, the one constant for the last seven years of upheaval, is gone — Stuart Broad is still there. Still steaming in, all blond and quick. Many sports have players playing today that also were playing in 2012, but how many are playing for the same team, in the same uniform? Stuart Broad is. Still running in for England, in the stark whites, taking wickets for his country. And that is one more reason why cricket rises to the top: the dominance of the international game means men and women wear the same kits, with the same teammates, in the same home grounds, for years. Sometimes decades. A part of sport that no longer exists.
I know it is silly — maybe even a little odd — to take comfort today in the fact that Stuart Broad is bowling for England in South Africa this weekend. But when loss hits home, you take comfort where you can find it. Life has been all change, but through it all, Broad has been there. And I will hang onto that for as long as I can. And I will remember Robbie circling his new backyard seven years ago last fall, and how the night before Cook had batted all night long, while Stuart Broad — 26 year old Stuart Broad already somehow a seasoned veteran — sat in the clubhouse in Mumbai, 2020 a million miles from his mind. The same Stuart Broad that is still there today, in his England whites, a static presence in a blanket of difference.
Cricket is the giving tree, always providing some new comfort, all we have to do is look. History and time march on, but cricket is always there, and sometimes the same players are there, too, despite all the change, all the loss, we can still tune into a Test match and remember that some things are the same, that some things haven’t changed. We take peace where we can find it, and today I am finding it in the 11 overs bowled by a young man who doesn’t even know my name, who has always been there, and might be there for just a little while longer.
Life is change. But not always. And Stuart Broad has reminded me of that.
God speed, Robbie. You were a king among dogs. You were the best of all of us. You taught me patience, and resilience, and that to forgive is to love. I miss you more than I will ever be able to say.
And God bless you, Stuart Broad, thanks for still being there under blue skies.