One of my favorite things about cricket — especially Test cricket — is how quickly things can change. The game takes place over hours and hours and days and days. From late morning until early evening for nearly a week. Thousands and thousands of deliveries. And yet the game can change in as little as one session, one spell, one over.
Of course, I enjoy the other side of the game, as well. It’s glacial side. When you watch cricket all day long and it feels like absolute nothing has happened but then you look up and it’s late in the day and one side has slowly but surely built a commanding and insurmountable lead.
But the lightning fast change, in a game that prides itself on how the vast amount of time it takes up creates the most equal of playing fields, is what really blows my hair back.
And we were treated to several such moments of whiplash in the most recent England v Pakistan Test in Manchester, that wrapped up in the late afternoon yesterday, a day early. The momentum swung back and fourth over the course of the four days. Just when one team seemed to be primed to walk away with the win, their opponent struck back, fast as lightning. And even when England seemed a sure bet, needing just a couple dozen runs or so, Stuart Broad fell lbw and while it seemed like it was surely too little, too late, for the visitors, the way the Test had gone, it wasn’t out of the question that Pakistan would hit England for a few more and swing the game back their way again. England saw it out of course, but if Pakistan had played one more slip …
I like this side of cricket because it reminds us that when our team appears to be on the wrong side of momentum, things can change, and quickly, despite the snail like pace the game can employ if it wants to.
The opposite is true, too, of course. A team can be cruising along at 180 for two and then look up 30 minutes later and be 197 for eight. We’ve all seen it. Cricket can come at you pretty fast.
And so can life.
We have all seen the meme of course. Nine pictures, one per month, of a celebrity impersonating what it has been like so far in 2020. January, for most people, seems to have started out with a great deal of positive energy. But then by March bodies were piling up in Italian hospitals, and we were being told to shelter in place. From light to dark in the matter of a few short weeks.
But we need to remember what cricket teaches us, that change can happen at any moment. Right now it feels as if — in America at least — we are staring down the barrel of months and months of death and lockdown and mask wars and people unable to make even the smallest of sacrifices to help the sick and the old among us. But. Change can happen. All it takes is a few well timed wickets. Of course, cricket scores can’t go in reverse. You can’t go from 128 for 8 to 250 for two. But you can go from 128 for 8 to 350 for 9. That’s not the lightning fast change that those well timed wickets can provide, but every ball, every over, every day, every hour, is a chance to make forward progress toward victory. Or, at the very least, a well earned draw.
Life is change. Change is life. It happens quickly and slowly and all at the same time. And cricket reflects this, more so than any other sport it seems, for the simple reason that game is long enough to provide space for that change.
A couple days ago I was going through the Notes on my phone and came across one from December the 6th. It was a note I was composing to my partner, almost eight months to the day after it was written did I read it again.
“Liz I am just so sad,” I wrote. “And everything is so screwed up. My life has become this unfixable shitty mess.”
I don’t recognize the Matt that wrote that note. The sadness in the words is almost unbearable to read. I was just so, so sad. And it was all the time. And it was horrifying. And it was awful. I don’t recognize that Matt. but I remember him. I remember how that felt, so be so sad I felt sick to my stomach. To be so sad that it no longer felt like sadness, it felt like something else, something far worse, far more terrible. There was a morning the summer before that December when I couldn’t sleep and it felt like I was coming apart, having an actual breakdown. I got out of bed and it was dawn and I went outside and walked up the street. I remember what I was wearing. I remember what the air felt like. I remember being so scared. It was just about as close as I came to the only terrible solution I could think of.
The one part of those months — years, actually — that was most clear to me at the time was that I would feel that way forever. For the rest of my life, I would be sad. It was a crushing weight on my shoulders. It was really the worst part about the entire god awful shitty mess, that feeling of hopelessness. It was pervasive, it was all the time.
But I had forgotten the lesson that cricket tries to teach us. That change happens. It can come at any time. And before you know it, it is is upon you, and everything is different.
Eight months sounds like a long time, and so it would be easy to describe the change I have experienced over this period of time as incremental. Batting all day, turning the game around. But eight months in what is hopefully a long life of 70, 80, 90 years is a drop in the bucket. The change that I have experienced in 2020 has been a whiplash of two or three wickets with the new ball right after lunch. It’s been eight months but it feels like minutes.
I don’t recognize the Matt from 2019, but I remember what it was like to feel that way, and I feel so differently now it’s almost unbelievable. Yes, I still have hard afternoons and bleak mornings, but for the most part I am okay. It has reached the point where — if you can believe this — I miss the depth of emotion that depression provides. When you miss feeling sad, you know you are no longer sad, and that instead you are hopeful for a future you never thought would come.
Eight months ago everything seemed unfixable. Now nothing does. Nothing.
Missing the pain also means that I don’t fully remember how terrible it was. And so if in the future I feel that way again, if I am lost in those same broken awful mazes, I will not remember that there is a way out, as that’s not how memory works. Our brains don’t operate that way. We are doomed to repeat history not because we don’t try to remember, but because of the vagaries involved in that remembering. How many crystal clear memories of youth do we all have that we know cannot be anything but false? And so since the memory of my experiences won’t help me, I hope I am able to remember a Test match in Manchester in the first week of August 2020. When momentum like whiplash changed the game over and over again. And that I will hear the lesson that cricket is so desperately trying to teach us: that nothing is forever. Not even sadness. One day you will look up and it will be mid-afternoon and Chris Woakes and Jos Buttler will have batted you back into the game, seemingly out of nowhere. If God forbid I am ever out walking at dawn again some day, so close to the edge that I can smell the river below, I want to remember that. Woakes and Buttler batting in the long shadows, reminding everyone that things can get better. Even on day four when you’re five down and one wicket away from the tail, it’s not over, change is on the horizon, just hang in there.
If you feel like you are in a dark place, please reach out. To me, to your doctor, to your family, to your partner, to anyone. Life is short, but it is also long, and it is too long to go through it feeling like it’s never going to be light out again, and it is too long to end it so soon, you will miss out on so much. I am telling you this as someone who has been there: there is a way out of the hole you are in. There really is.