Wisden and the coronavirus

The 9/11 terrorist attacks were 19 years ago. I was 25 years old, working at a toy company in downtown Minneapolis. Cricket not even a glint in my eye. I saw the towers fall from a bar on the ground floor of my office building which had opened up early so people could watch the TVs. It was surreal. All I could think about was how everything was going to change forever. I was, of course, sadly, right.

A few days after the attacks, a friend and I were emailing. Her reaction has stuck with me: she said she couldn’t stop thinking about all of the stuff in the buildings. Desks and chairs and paper and briefcases and knick knacks and phones and filing cabinets and on and on the list would go. Acres of everything. Now dust, rubble, particles in the lungs of first responders. She said she couldn’t stop thinking about all of that stuff, and how odd it was that it was all just … gone.

**

My copy of the 2020 Wisden Almanack arrived last week. I am ashamed to admit that it’s my first ever copy of the venerable bible of cricket. I always just assumed that they wouldn’t bother shipping to the states, so I never even tried to order one. But as I had nothing better to do a couple weeks back, I went on the Bloomsbury website and ordered it and paid my ten quid for international shipping — a steal of a deal when you think about it — and a few days later, there it was.

It is, as you know, an impressive volume. Heavy enough to press tofu with, despite it’s thin pages, and packed to the gunwales with all things cricket in 2019. Scores and match recaps and essays and “best of” lists, from England to the rest of the world. 1,500+ pages of cricket. It’s a reminder of how much cricket there is in a given year. Not just the men’s international game but the women’s game and domestic cricket and backyard cricket and it’s an almost endless parade of the sport.

And this is just one year. There are 156 more volumes just like it. The game is an army of locomotives, steaming through the years, a ceaseless cavalcade of overs, and deliveries, and fours, and sixes, and dot balls, and singles, and catches at first slip, second slip, boundary rope, silly point.

Until. All of a sudden. It wasn’t there. All of it. All at once. A screeching halt to what just a few weeks ago felt endless. And here we still are, in all of this silence. And it’s not just cricket. It’s all sport. And it’s restaurants and airports and shopping malls and dentist offices and so much more. All of it gone quiet. The world has settled down, taken a deep breath, and gone silent.

Like my friend who couldn’t stop thinking about all of that stuff in the World Trade Center, I can’t stop thinking about all of that cricket, cricket now gone dark. I read this year’s Wisden and try to imagine a world — a world I currently reside in — without all that I am reading about. And I cannot. I read and try to imagine what next year’s volume will look like, and I cannot. How could so much just … stop? It doesn’t seem possible. But it has. 2020 has already lost almost one full quarter’s worth of cricket, and if it loses less than three quarters I will be shocked, which means next year’s book will contain that much fewer cricket. 75%. Vanished. Just like that. Poof. Gone forever. Never to return.

It’s surreal. And even if it does someday come back, the moments we lost never will. I am typing this out on my porch in the afternoon sun. It feels like a normal day. Traffic is lighter on the street out front but nothing I would have noticed if not for everything that’s going on. The 2020 Wisden is on the table next to me. I keep glancing to the cover. Jos Buttler knocking the bails off in the long shadows at Lord’s that afternoon last summer that feels like a million years ago now. What if we lost that moment instead? What if we had lost all of the 2019 cricket? Gone, vanished from the earth, like it never happened, because it never did, the book on my table suddenly fiction. That’s what is happening right now, to all of us, to all of those moments, in cricket, in life, everyone, everywhere, everything. All of life gone quiet, stopped, a brick wall ceasing all forward motion.

I can’t stop thinking about all of those overs, all those singles, all those wickets, that will just never exist. It’s only in picturing such things that we can start to understand the level of loss we are experiencing. We add up the desks and papers and cabinets, we think of the overs and wickets and games, and they pile up, until we are overwhelmed. I look at the 2020 Wisden and I see all that we have lost in these fires that continue to burn, all over the world. It’s a constant, sad reminder of all that this virus has wrought.

In the same book, of course, exists hope, tangible hope. 157 volumes. It has been published uninterrupted since 1864, a year before the American Civil War ended, before Lincoln was shot. The Almanack has survived a pandemic before, just like cricket has, and two World Wars, and those towers coming down 19 years ago that changed the world forever. Next year’s Almanack will look different, everything this time next year will look different. But there will be cricket. And there will be an Almanack. On that we can all rest confidently assured. We have been here before, we will be here again, and we always come back swinging.

There were will be a 2021 edition of the Almanack. It will feel lighter, emptier, but unlike the desks and cabinets in those towers, the game will return, and with it the words that surround it. We will all breath new life into those things that we lost, and watch them return, in a shower of sparks and awe and joy. The moments we lost are gone, and we won’t get them back, but we have yet to lose everything, and one day soon the shadows will be long again in London on some distant afternoon and the bails will come off and a new moment will be born. That moment, and countless more, will fill countless pages someday again soon. Cricket is a series of overs, of deliveries, of matches, all defining natural pauses in the game, this pause is just a little longer than we are used to. I am reminded of this every I time I look at the spine of this year’s Wisden: 157th edition.

I just can’t stop thinking about all of that stuff. All those moments. Now dust, now sadness, now ether. Just echoes until even the echoes are gone. Never to return. 1,500 pages worth of cricket vanished from the earth.

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