I was born in February of 1976, and so the vast majority of my earliest memories take place not in the 1970s, as I normally like to imagine they did, but in the 1980s.
When people think of the 1980s, they think of skinny ties and yuppies and cocaine and loud colors and sleek lines. A decade of decadence and excess, of Depeche Mode and Duran Duran and New Order. But that is not how I remember my childhood. My memories are not false, I just didn’t experience those 1980s, I experienced the lingering years of the 70s. I wore hand-me-down corduroys, passed down from my oldest cousin to my next oldest cousin to me. On the weekends we went hiking in the bleak hills of southern Ohio, and we took one vacation a year, up to the Becker family cottages on little Lake Brevort in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We ate hot dogs cooked over an open fire, and played in the shallows of that rocky shorelined lake, as my parents drank beer and decided which night would be best to go into town for our one dinner in a restaurant.
By the middle or late 80s, of course, my little family had caught up with the times. Dad traded in his old three geared tank of a bike for a brand new lightweight road bike. My sister and I listened to Michael Jackson and George Michael and Bon Jovi and the Bangles. We bought a new car, trading in my mother’s bright orange Chevette for a perfectly normal, suburban 1985 station wagon. I wore Guess and Girbuad and played Nintendo.
But still, until 1984 or so, my family lived the lifestyle that most people equate with late 1970s America. Times were hard, money was short, so you made do, and made the best, and did what they did in the 1970s and found joy and hope in the out of doors and in hot meals and Friday nights at home, eating milkshakes from the United Dairy Farmers, looking forward to that one summer vacation, mom pinching pennies and saving money in a Christmas account at the local Savings and Loan.
All of this is to say that decades bleed into decades, eras into eras, one long stream of time. When the calendar turns over to a new year, or a new decade, or a new century, it feels like a hard stop, a line in the sand that we have crossed over into someplace new, and different. It feels that way, but it’s not true. The calendar we have created over the years does not govern time, or eras, it simply counts the days, it is up to us to govern our time, to decide what kind of place we will live in.
People might say “cricket in the 70s” and a picture will form in your head. But that image in your head might actually be of something that happened five years after they turned the calendar over to the new decade.
The infamous underarm incident screams 1970s, from the uniforms to the haircuts to the people in the crowd. Yet, that event took place in 1981.
Time is time. There are eras, but they are not defined by years and decades, they are defined by us.
Right now, in this time, it feels like we have, for once, reached a point where there will be a before, and an after. When we do emerge from this, the world is going to be a very different place, even if a vaccine or treatment is found. And this new normal will not just affect how we grocery shop or work, but also our leisure time, our sport. Anyone who watched the Bundesliga yesterday received a touch of what sport, including cricket, will look like for the foreseeable future: quiet, full of echoes, the same but also somehow so alien it was hard to watch.
Now that one league in one sport has put their collective big toe into the post-virus waters, fans of other sports can start to picture what they will look like. As a cricket fan, this might be just a little bit easier. We’ve all watched lifeless Test matches on Monday mornings of a dead rubber series, where the grounds are silent and all you can hear is the shouts of the players. But even so, we are not prepared for what cricket will look like on the other side of this. All the stadiums will be empty, tours might become less frequent or end altogether, the domestic game might rise to the top, as players prefer to stay close to home. And the grounds, all the grounds, on all the days, in all the formats, will be a Monday morning Test match. It is hard to picture, but it is getting easier, which in the end is providing us with a little certainty in a very uncertain time. At least, after yesterday’s Bundesliga matches, we know a little bit what sport what look like when we all get to go outside again. And the answer is simply: very, very different.
And this is a hard line in the sand, we tell ourselves. There is cricket before, and there will be cricket after. Pews in the same church but separated by oceans of time and tragedy. There is 70s cricket, and there is 80s cricket, Geoffrey Boycott in the former, Malcom Marshall in the latter. But Boycott made his Test debut in the 60s, and played his last Test in the 80s. And Marshall made his Test debut in the 70s and played his last Test in the 90s. Players bridge decades, styles of play bridge decades, the fashion on the field bridges decades. There are eras, but they are not defined by calendars, nor are they defined by events. Time is time, bleeding into one.
Cricket will be different when it returns, but it will also be the same. In fact, it will be more the same than different. Some players won’t return, but most will. And the formats we know will still be there, and the grounds we love, even if they are empty of fans for the first couple of years. Pitches will still swing, Lords will still have a slope, England will still struggle in Asia. If we list the similarities rather than the differences, we see that in the end, it will be same old cricket, for good or for bad. Time, quite simply, marches on. It has not stopped. It has not drawn a line in the sand. The cricket before will always be not just tenuously linked to the cricket after, but unequivocally connected, joined at the hip.
The same game.
20 years from now, someone will ask you to picture cricket before the virus. And an image will form in your head. It could be of the 2019 World Cup, or it could be from the 2023 World Cup, it will be hard to tell at first. You will need to think about it. For all time and all memory blends into one single memory, one single era. When I picture my childhood, I picture 70s grey, recession America. Even though that is not the America I grew up in.
And the same will hold true for all that came before, and all that comes after. External forces do not govern change, only we can do that, many years down the road. It’s a job for historians. Our job is to live and create and define this world, this time, we are given. Cricket won’t be exactly the same, but it will be close, and over time those lines we thought we saw in the sand will blur and shift until at some point when we don’t even notice it happening, disappear altogether. The sand just stardust, lost in the winds of time and memory.
There is, I think, hope in that.