There are a few things in life that I don’t take for granted. Or at least do my damnedest not to. A sunny, warm, pleasant Saturday, for instance. Or how lucky I am to be employed and healthy in these weird, frightening times. Or the fact that I am close with my family.
Included on that list is how fortunate I was to discover cricket as an adult.
The vast majority of us don’t have origin stories for our passions. Those of you reading this probably bonded with cricket as young people. It has been a part of your life for as long as you can remember. This is true for my other, non-cricket related passions. Books. Travel. Art. Baseball. Soccer. Bicycles. All things that have always existed in my life, in one form or another, since I was very young. But not cricket. Cricket came late. I was 31 years old. I have an origin story for my love for the game. And that is a gift.
Whenever I watch cricket, I think back on when I first started watching it. It just wasn’t that long ago. The blink of an eye. It feels like yesterday, so close that I can reach out and touch it. I can’t describe this feeling, this remembering, other than to say it is like a warm feeling in my gut, like someone just gave me a bit of really good news.
In 2007, when I was watching the world cup, even a brief mention of the game, much less a picture of a cricketer or video highlights of a long forgotten ODI, would bring this feeling to me. I was high on the game. That, I guess, is the only real way to paint this picture. I was rolling drunk on cricket.
Now, that feeling is more or less gone, except as a memory of that feeling, which is still a feeling. I am watching the West Indies and England play rather dire, rather boring, rather eventless cricket in an empty stadium on a cloudy Sunday in northern England, and the feeling is still there, or as mentioned the memory of that feeling, and the good news is whispered into my ear, and with it the gentle elation that comes with it. These days, I can understand the whisper, it’s not the subtle suggestion of good news, but the good news itself, spelled out and clear: holy cow I love this game.
The fact that I don’t have that feeling for any other of my every day passions, at least not so consistently, so powerfully, tells me that that’s because I came across the game so late in life, during a very impressionable time, when I was open and ready for anything new and different. But it’s also more than that. Discovering the game late in life I think gives me a different impression of it. I have no childhood memories of the sport, all the memories exist almost in real time, as an aware, breathing adult. And what I mean here are the powerful memories, the ones that stick to your guts. You might have such a memory of playing cricket in the backyard with your dad when you were 11 and it was one of those summers that seemed to stretch on forever. I don’t have those. But I do have similarly powerful memories of my first experiences with cricket that define moments in my adult life: dead dogs, divorces, quiet moments when everything was okay, if just for while, moments that have somehow seemed so rare throughout my 40+ years.
Take the power of that memory from your youth, and place it in the context of being 37 and feeling like life is passing you by. That’s what I have.
It’s a gift. It’s a gift I don’t take for granted.
I had a difficult childhood. We moved around a lot. My dad died suddenly. There are good memories, of course, happy memories, before all of the hard stuff came around, but they feel lost in the fog of a demolished timeline.
Cricket, therefore, in a way, gave me a second childhood. A time when everything felt new, even if by everything I mean this silly old bat and ball sport. I was able to experience something in the way a child would. Not through the eyes of a child, like parents are able to do, that’s a different but also powerful gift, but not quite the same here. I saw cricket not through anyone’s eyes but my own, they were opened to a new world, and time slowed down, and I took it all in, like it was my first rainstorm, or my first Christmas, or like it was one of those summers of youth, when the days stretched on and on and on, and the sky was always blue, and the minutes inched along to the tune of the birds and frogs and crickets. Everything was so new that time, almost, somehow, would stop altogether.
But I wasn’t a child. I was an adult. An adult with hard days and long days and sleepless nights. An adult experiencing loss and regret. I was — and am — soaking up cricket matches the way a child does, but doing so with adult pain, adult worry, adult joy. And that’s how I see the game so differently, I think, why I put so much emotion and melancholy into each ball bowled, because each ball bowled is still momentous, still new, still special, that it allows me to assign meaning to every single one, and to place that meaning into context, and then use that context to remember all the time that has passed, all that has happened, during a five day Test match, during a Championship summer, during a World Cup, during a single, six delivery over.
There is room for magic in the spaces between things. And as those spaces lengthen, there is more room for that magic to grow and blossom. I watch every ball. And time slows, and the magic takes root, and whispers into my ear.