Too big, too small

Cricket, like so many other things, relies on a connected world. Without such a world — the kind we live in right now — it would not exist in its current form. I think that is something we can all agree on. From British colonizers bringing the game via ships to the far flung corners of the globe (including the Caribbean and southeast Asia — imagine cricket without those parts of the world) to today, when I have access to cricket of all shapes and sizes thanks to our digital landscape. I can listen to County Championship games and stream Shield matches all from the comfort of my bed.

But despite our digital connections, the game still relies on actual, physical human travel. Teams and players travel the world to compete, and not just at the highest level, but at all levels. The USA men’s team, for instance, just played a handful of ODI’s in Nepal, nearly 13,000 kilometers from home soil. The world is huge. And it is fully connected. And cricket not just thrives because of this, but it relies on it to exist in its current form.

And maybe that’s not a good thing. These connections. This connected world.

I am being a little Chicken Little here, but I know that I am not the only one worried about the Coronavirus. This is a disease that is spreading outside of China because of one thing: our connected globe. It is not until a pandemic like this begins, that you realize how much people travel. Ten of thousands of people in and out of China every single day. Maybe hundreds of thousands. Maybe millions. It is remarkable when you stop and think about it. And a little scary. These connections bring us cricket, but they also bring us disease. Would I — and many other westerners — be worried about the Coronavirus if air travel didn’t exist? Probably not. But we forget about small pox and syphillis. So maybe travel of all kinds between continents would have to disappear for us to feel truly safe.

The other side of this coin is that because it is a global crisis, the globe is responding. If China were completely isolated, they would be on their to battle this disease. But now they have the resources of advanced medicine from all over the world. Which will save lives in China. And that is important, that cannot be overlooked.

But part of me, even the part that loves cricket, would be okay if the world was just a little bit larger, that we respected its vastness just a bit more. That instead of USA players flying to Nepal, they played Canada. Or a professional franchise based league was formed to nurture and grow the game. And maybe this respect for the size of our planet would in turn help heal our game, even though the game relies on a small world. Maybe the consternation about franchise T20 leagues or the slow death of the County Championship would be slightly alleviated, if we all just stayed closer to home.

I love to travel, and this all makes me a hypocrite. I went to Germany in November. I am going to Ireland in 12 days. And while I think globalization is problematic in some ways, it’s also not the evil some people think it is. And so I am not advocating for this in any seriousness. I believe in open borders where appropriate, and freedom of travel when safe for those on both sides of a line in the sand. But when pandemics hit, I think about this. And it snowballs into a larger thought of maybe, just maybe, our world is too small. Or, rather, that we think it is so small, when in reality it is almost too large for us to comprehend. And as mentioned above, that vastness maybe could use a little more respect now and again. For while we are all connected, and no country is an island — even the actual islands — when a butterfly flaps its wings in Arizona, it causes a tornado in Texas, not in Kirtipur. And maybe — again, just maybe — we would be better off if we all stayed a little closer to home, saw how green the grass was on our side of the fence.

Perhaps that it is worth the sacrifice of certain parts of this global game that we all love.

All of that said:

Lost in all this is that America has its own epidemic right now in influenza. There have been 48 flu related deaths so far this season just in my home state of Minnesota, and the season still has months to go. There are no global connections causing this outbreak, just simple ones like going to work and buying groceries at the corner market. Yet we all fear the unknown disease hitting China like a ton of bricks. Why? The key word there is “unknown” — we fear the unknown. And what makes the unknown a little more known?

A connected world. A knowledge of other people’s streets and what it means to walk down them in their shoes. Cricket is a global game, and maybe — just maybe — the connections that bring us this game, are the same connections that teach us that we are all connected. And in those connections we breed empathy. And understanding. And the unknown becomes the known, and we all grow a little less scared of what’s around the corner from the safe confines of our bubble.

All of this is to say that the world is very large, and it is also very small, and that we need to respect both, and enjoy the benefits of both. The same is true for life: it is very short, but it is also very long. Which brings me to the one thing I know for sure: it is too short and too long to spend a minute more worrying about the Coronavirus. Time to read about USA Cricket instead, and then maybe a walk in the cold sun, under blue skies.,




The philosophical problem of change

There are no guarantees in life except for death and taxes, or so old the saw goes. But in reality there is but one universal human truth: change. Impermanence. Fluidity. Nothing is forever. Nothing. Not even forever is forever. It’s the primary tenant of humanity. If you want to be happy, content, okay, satisfied, then you have to believe that everything is temporary. Really believe it. Even happiness. Especially happiness. But also pain. And hurt. It is the primary tenet, but it is one humans fail collectively at believing. To a person, we all assume that whatever we are experiencing right now, is what we will only and always experience.

The practice of yoga was developed in northern India over 5,000 years ago. Throughout those five thousand years, it has tried with all its might to teach humans the value of now, and the inevitability of change. You are in a pose, and you are struggling, it is difficult, but it will end. Now take that knowledge, and apply it to your every day. And for 5,000 years humans have listened to that teaching, and the vast majority of us have ignored it. Damning ourselves to unhappiness, discontent, and the belief that the pain we are experiencing will last forever and forever. It is a hallmark of depression; it is the hallmark of my depression. I am writing this today at a coffeeshop. My house just went on the market yesterday and it already has an offer. I have the day off. Just writing and reading and no work. But while I know the contentment I feel right now won’t last, I also wholeheartedly believe that the sadness I feel — the dark colors that run behind my eyes every minute of every day — will be with me until the day I die. This is not abnormal. Every human experiences this. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

A few days ago i wrote about one of cricket’s many gifts, that it reminds us that the world always changes, no matter how we might not believe it at the time. A few weeks before that, however, I wrote about how cricket is consistent, that while it changes, its changes are slower, less noticeable. Players play their whole careers for one country, one team, in one uniform, for decades. How to marry those two disparate ideas? And take comfort in them simultaneously? Is that even possible? Am I running in circles, chasing my tail? These are the questions that matter. How to take comfort in something that doesn’t change while also remembering that life is only change.

Enter cricket once again.

Cricket is an old game, with old traditions, and old grounds, and old teams, played in some of the world’s oldest countries. It is also a modern game. With statisticians and nutritionists and new formats designed for the digital age. And the styles are different. Today it slogs and groans away the overs, while before it tiptoed through them, a walk in a field, a day in the park, interrupted by only the occasional intense heat of the perfect cover drive.

And so there it is, right? Consistency meets change, and vice versa. Becoming one. Showing us that life is change, but also the same. So enjoy the now, but bear in mind that it is not forever.

Now, however, enter the cricket fan.

The changes the game is experiencing are for many of us hard to swallow. The destruction of the game’s longest format, the Hundred, the slog worship. It’s change but too much change. Every day we wake up and load up Cricinfo and are confronted with the reality that everything we enjoy about cricket is slowly drifting away from us. Into the awful ether of change. How can we start to accept change and find joy in change and be reminded that nothing even our struggles are permanent if the change before us is so detestable?

The question answers itself.

Nothing is permanent. Not the Hundred. Not the Test. Not the County Championship. Not the latest T20 Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em franchise league. Everything we dislike — and like — about cricket, and about life, will one day go away. That’s the promise of time, of life, of humanity. And so where is the comfort in that? The comfort is not for those not struggling, and that’s the rub of all of this. If you are okay, then change is difficult. If you are not, then change is all you desire. I take comfort in cricket’s change, even though I dislike those changes. And I also take comfort that the old traditions and styles and formats are still around, and in some cases still thriving.

I say that, but I don’t believe it.

All of us are lost. Lost in the haze of time and change and life and all of it passing us by. Cricket can’t fix that. Yoga can’t fix that. Religion can’t fix that. Meditation can’t fix that. Humans are doomed to the very first sentences of this post: we know happiness isn’t forever, but can’t believe the same idea about struggle.

So, where are we then?

We are at a coffeeshop. And it’s winter but not too cold. The coffee is good and there’s plenty of it. There is sadness but it’s not overwhelming. There are cricket highlights to watch. A green field at the bottom of the world. There is the now. And only the now. Now is this moment, where it’s okay but still hard. All we have is the now. That’s comprehensible. The now. And here is cricket’s lesson:

Every ball is an island, every delivery the only delivery that matters, everything is the now, nothing else exists. Each ball is a reminder that what we have is what we have, this second, this very second, this blissful wicked second, before it passes again, and into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, a bit of banter, a rub of the ball on pant leg, a walk to the bowler’s mark, and then a run up, and the now begins again. Again, and again, and again. Cricket brings the now every few seconds. One ball, one bat, two people, experiencing the now like we all hope we could. It’s all we have. This moment. It’s gone in an instant. Maybe a cover drive, maybe a bad ball and a worse shot, maybe a wide, maybe just an unremarkable delivery to an unremarkable batsman on an unremarkable morning. Life, happening. Tomorrow is change. Too much or not enough or not what we wanted. But that’s later. Here is this moment. Enjoy it. And then move on to the next. See what it brings. And then move on again.

Life is change. Happiness is contentment. Struggles are not permanent. And the now is a place existing outside of all of that, when we can just breathe. One breath. Inhale, exhale, run up, into the gloves, and do it again. Erasing the past. Never minding the future. All that matters is the ball being delivered, and the breath being taken.

England in Sri Lanka

In one of Rachel Cusk’s novels from the Outline trilogy, she encounters a fellow Brit while in Greece. He tells her about how he had been sad his entire life in Britain. Every day was a slog of misery and hurt, his life lurching from one sadness to another for decades on end. And then he moved to Greece. And he sat on the beach for a few years. And he felt the damp and cold of England slowly leave him, as if his bones were literally drying out there in the sun. And as the damp and the cold left, the sadness did too, like it was baked out of him after so many years of wallow and cold.

I think about that scene a lot whenever England travels to Sri Lanka.

It’s always in February. Dark, dank, cold February. The weather for the next week in London calls for rain and wind and highs in the 40s. Sure, it will be colder here in Minnesota, with highs in only the teens, but England has that damp, that wet, that wind, creating the kind of cold that sinks into your bones and sits there and for some people there just isn’t enough sun and warmth to melt it come summer. I know this feeling. I know it well. The coming of summer in the north is something very special. But sometimes that summer never comes, and so sometimes you have to seek it out. Travel to the other side of the world, sit on the steps of an old stone fort, and take in a cricket match. And sometime around day two, in the afternoon, you realize that you aren’t cold, that you aren’t damp, and that maybe — just maybe — everything is going to be okay.

I love watching England play cricket in Sri Lanka. There is a long and storied history between the two sides, despite Sri Lanka only achieving Test status in the early 1980s. In fact, England have been playing cricket in Colombo since 1882, when they stopped in Sri Lanka on their way to Australia to reclaim the Ashes. And after that Colombo became a regular stop on the way down under, playing one day cricket under the sun and shaking off creaky sea legs.

There is a great post about these early days by Nicholas Brookes on Wisden’s blog today.

Today the England fans dress in white and their faces turn red from the sun and the beer and the scene is full of joy and heat. And the cricket is always joyful and warm and entertaining, even when the teams are far apart in the rankings. What’s fun about this year is that there are only four matches, two touring matches and two tests. So not only will the weather be warm and the sky blue, but fans will be treated to the best of what Cricket has to offer. A few lazy, hazy, hot mornings, afternoons and evenings to bake the cold and winter and sadness into submission, and then back to England to see out the winter.

I don’t live in England, and I am not going to Sri Lanka, but I will watch. For even to just be reminded that somewhere, somehow, it is warm, and skin is hot, and there’s a game of cricket on, is enough to keep the fires burning until June. There are other sports, of course, taking place in warm climates right now. And of course we also all intellectually understand that it has to be warm somewhere, that’s just how the world works. But there’s something about seeing those pale Englanders revel in the sun of Sri Lanka that does my heart good.

Cricket is a feast of traditions, and England’s in Sri Lanka is one of my favorites.


One note from the above linked article is what it meant for the small nation to have England — and Australia — stopping by to play cricket for more than a century.  These “whistlestops” as they were known were more than just opportunity to challenge their colonial masters at their own game — and challenge them well, something they weren’t able to do otherwise day-today — but they also gave generations of young Sri Lankan cricketers the chance to play against the best in the world. Does this small nation achieve Test status and win World Cups if these whistlestops never happen? It’s hard to imagine so. And it’s a shame that these kinds of matches have more or less gone away from the world.

As Brookes writes in the article:

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from them is that exposure brings improvement. Given the ICC’s somewhat exclusionary attitude, we rarely see contests between the game’s giants and those countries trying to find their way. But had Sri Lanka’s cricketing infancy not been punctuated with regular visits by England and Australia, who knows where they would be today?

All those great Sri Lankan teams, lost to history. Imagine that world? I don’t think I want to. Unfortunately, as is said, we live in that world now. With each gift given, one is taken away. England in Sri Lanka is a reminder of warmth and heat, but also a reminder that cricket as we know it is slowly disappearing. Generations of Lasith Malingas and Kumar Sangakkaras and Muttiah Muralitharans playing cricket in a country the ICC doesn’t care about, lost forever to obscurity and time, never even to play with a hard cricket ball their entire lives.

What a shame.

With each gift given, another is taken away. Which means every gift needs to be enjoyed, and that is the lesson here. And that is why I will watch England play Sri Lanka, and enjoy every ball.

Brexit, Trump and Pollyana

The United Kingdom has left the European Union.

Next week — probably on Wednesday — the US Senate will vote to acquit President Trump of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

I will not give you my opinion on either of these events. If you know me, you know my politics, and we can just leave it at that.

But we can all agree that these two events show a shift in where the world’s big western democracies are headed, politically speaking. Whether you agree that this direction is a step forward or a step backward, I think we can all agree that about half of the people believe the former, and about half of the people believe the latter. And so America is truly a nation divided, a nation cleaved in two. So is Britain. I cannot speak for UK political history, but while this is not the most divided America has ever been, it certainly feels like it sometimes. And honestly it feels like the entire world is in the same boat — though I admit that that is a rather insular notion on my part. But really, it feels as if you are either left, or you are right; there is no middle ground. And the gap between the two is growing greater. And — and for me this is the worst part — people on each side are failing to see people on the other side as actual human beings, with thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears. Instead, we see them as monsters, or dullards, or over educated ivory tower racists.

The worst part? I don’t see this really changing at all very soon. Barring a giant squid being dropped on New York City, or a pneumonia like virus named after a shitty beer wiping out, let’s say, a third of the world’s population, I just don’t see the two sides coming back together, at least any time soon.

I remember when I first felt stress, for instance, in early elementary school. And then it went away. And then it came back. And then at some point in like sixth grade I realized that I was stressed all the time, and that’s been the way it’s been ever since. After a while, something — even a terrible something — can be become normal, just the way things are.

You can get used to anything, you can miss anything. These are phrases I say all the time. And sure they sound like empty platitudes, but they are also 100% true.

And so if something is broken, we get used to it. And when it’s really broken — like our politics are — while we get used to it, it’s not going to fix itself. Barring a cataclysm like a civil war, these days are our new normal unless we — all of us — actively try to change that. I talk about old roofs a lot. When a roof is broken, it’s never going to fix itself. No matter how long we hang around, it’s never going to get repaired unless we do something about it. We. Humans. People. For while things cannot repair themselves, humans can heal and grow and change. We can fix this. We have to fix this.

Some folks will point to the 1960s, another divisive time in America. Probably even more divisive and disrupted then our current times. I mean, National Guard troops were shooting kids on college campuses. We’re not quite there yet. Some folks will say the 60s got better, that over time divisions healed. But I don’t really agree with that. I think people just got tired, and then it was the 70s and there were drugs and the 80s and even more drugs and everyone decided to move on and kick the can down the road. The wounds of the 60s never healed, and begot what we have here today.

Roofs don’t fix themselves. Neither do furnaces or cars or toilets.

Or politics.

But everything can be fixed.

This is the point in the post where I usually relate this back to sport, to cricket. And I will still do that, but I will do it with the warning that this is not enough, not nearly enough.

Yes, sport heals. It brings people of all walks of life and political persuasion together to share a common goal. I play soccer with people whose world view I abhor. I watch Arsenal with people whose world view I abhor. And while we might never agree on some things, we know each other as people, as friends. We care about each other and see each other as humans. The importance of that cannot be overstated. And I think sport is one of the very few bridges between our two worlds. I would not know these people otherwise. We would all just be in our insular little bubbles. Art, music, work, movies, television, all of these things for the most part feel like extensions of these bubbles. While sport does not.

And cricket? As usual, even more so. Even more than soccer, or other global sports. I am a 40-something while male in the United States who has a pretty good grasp on the political situation in India, who can point out Bangladesh on a map, who has friends in New Zealand, England, Guyana. Soccer is a global sport but we still just cheer our national team, and watch teams in Europe, firmly in our bubble both. But cricket breaks us out of our shells, and shows how big the world really is, and how long life really is.

I haven’t been watching a great deal of cricket lately, but the game is still teaching me.

But the irony in all of this, however, is that the path the world is currently taking might make it more difficult for cricket to bridge these gaps between us. Take Jofra Archer, for instance. Born in Barbados, he has English citizenship through his father, and is allowed to play for England after the ECB relaxed its residency requirements. No one right now sees the rules for citizenship and immigration changing to the point where Archer would not be allowed in England or to play for England, nor do people on either side want those rules to change, but that is where we are all heading: to a closed border society, where my side of the river is my side of the river, and your side of the river is your side of the river. I am not saying that that point of view is wrong, I am just saying that is the way the tide is turning, and that it might end up hampering this great international game that has so much more to teach us.

And it’s already happening, with Brexit eliminating Kolpak status for cricketers. And even without Brexit, the Cotonou Agreement is set to expire at the end of the month, which is going to severely limit players from the Caribbean and South Africa and their pursuit of the work permits needed to play county cricket in England.

Our world is getting bigger, but also getting smaller. Borders are closing, maybe forever, and as those borders close, we lose out on the chance to see the people on the other side of those borders as human beings, people, friends.

Maybe I am overstating things, playing Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf. And maybe smaller worlds are better worlds, maybe our silos will protect us, and maybe even protect our planet. But it’s hard to see fewer interactions, fewer shared goals, as a net positive, and it’s easy to slip into doomsday scenarios where once again all we know looks the same, and all we know is what is around us, and where what we don’t know is remote and evil and wrong.

I don’t want to live in that world.

I don’t think anyone does. No matter their side of the aisle.

And so let’s work together to find common ground. Because there is always common ground. Let’s make sure future Jofra Archers can go to England and play cricket, but let’s also make sure people with similar backgrounds who aren’t world class bowlers also have opportunities to better themselves. Let’s reasonably protect our borders to provide safety and comfort, but let’s also allow the people who need to cross them to cross them.

Now I have reversed course, now I am Pollyanna. But when I look at the people I have met through sport, through cricket. When I look at what I understand about this big old world because of sport, because of cricket, I cannot help but feel a little hopeful. We are all people, we are all in this together, and the vast — vast — majority of us want the world to be a better place for all those who live here. When I look back on the World Cup last summer, I don’t see a country divided, embroiled in a once-in-a-generation fracture, but I see a country rising as one to cheer on Jofra Archer, bowling at Lord’s, in the world’s greatest international city, while the whole planet watched. That’s the future I want. Not just for cricket, but for all of us, everywhere. Our politics divide, but we are all human, and we all want great things, and that afternoon in London I think showed us all that we are capable of getting there.

Of getting there together.

It’s a big world. We’ll be okay. I really do think so. And I think so because of cricket.