The film ‘Stand By Me’ is beloved among people my age. It’s a story of boyhood and friendship and coming of age. It’s a great, well paced script — based on a short story by Stephen King — and the film is lovingly directed by the incomparable Rob Reiner, who was in his absolute prime (in a six year period starting in 1984, Reiner directed ‘This is Spinal Tap,’ ‘The Sure Thing,’ ‘Stand By Me,’ ‘The Princess Bride,’ ‘ When Harry Met Sally … ,’ and ‘Misery,’ which is an unbelievable explosion of creative content.). It stars a veritable who’s who of 80s film household names: Wil Wheaton, Richard Dreyfuss, Kiefer Sutherland, Corey Feldman, Jerry O’Connell, River Phoenix and John Cusack. There is suspense, drama, sadness, action, loss, humor.
Despite all of this, I don’t really like the movie. And I don’t really like it for one singular reason: I never watched it as a kid.
For whatever reason, for good or for bad, ‘Stand By Me’ appears to be one of those films that one needs to bond with as a child in order to enjoy it as an adult. I was not able to watch the movie when I was young because it was inexplicably rated R, and while I was devastated at the time, I kind of forgot about it until I was in my 20s and when I tried to watch it then I thought it was trite and heavy handed and predictable and a little boring.
And it’s not just films that one needs to bond with at a young age.
It’s true for literature: You have to read Kerouac in your teens because if you wait until you are 25 or so you will think it’s juvenile garbage. And for music: U2 has become a running joke of bloated nonsense but the ‘The Unforgettable Fire,’ ‘The Joshua Tree,’ and ‘Rattle & Hum’ meant so much to me at a very critical time in my life that I cannot join in on the fun.
And of course it’s true for sports.
I followed all sports when I was a kid, I lapped them all up, no matter what they were. From Australian Rules Football to the caber toss (ESPN in the 80s was weird) to the Tour de France to the usual American “big four.” All of it. These days though I mostly only have time for the Minnesota Twins baseball team (I listen to parts of most games, but I rarely watch them on TV) and Arsenal (I confess to watching about 90% of their matches over the last 15 years or so). Soccer is just about the only game — other than cricket, which we will get to in a second — that I will watch without having a dog in the hunt.
That said, with the exception of American football which I tend to avoid unless the home team are having a zeitgeisty moment, I will watch playoffs and finals in baseball, hockey and basketball, with one notable caveat: the two teams participating had to have existed when I was young, and that is non-negotiable.
I will watch the Lakers play the Pistons in the NBA Finals, but I would never watch the Hornets play the Lakers. I will watch the Maple Leafs, the Yankees, the Mets, the Blue Jays, the Oilers, but I will never watch the Marlins, the Diamondbacks, or even the Nationals. I even struggle with having Houston in the American League and Milwaukee in the National League.
The Las Vegas hockey team was one of the NHL’s best stories from recent years, but I had 0.0 interest in it because the team did not exist when I was a kid.
Which brings us of course to cricket.
I never bonded with cricket as a young person. But for whatever reason this has not stood in my way. I will leave the discussion about that to the side. I mean, I want to be able to explain why cricket grabbed on to 30 year old me and hasn’t let go, but I just can’t. Especially since all the evidence above points to the opposite scenario. It probably has a lot to do with quitting smoking, but also with the fact that cricket is just an infinitely more interesting game than other sports (in my book anyway).
Instead I want to write about how when I think about how I was unable to enjoy the Las Vegas Golden Knights’ Stanley Cup run, I think about the cricket fans who I know out there on the internet.
The game is very different from when I first started following it, but at the same time it is pretty much the same. In 2007 all three formats were up and running, and the IPL was not alive but everyone knew it was close. The game has changed a lot, but only on the surface, not in its guts.
But what about those people my age, who bonded with cricket in the 1980s? Or a little older, who bonded with cricket in the 70s or even in the 60s? Is it even the same game?
I turn off the Stanley Cup finals if the two teams involved aren’t at least 30 some odd years old. Even the World Series — baseball is a game I adore — means little to me if the teams are newer than 1985. (One of the great World Series of my lifetime was the 2001 Yankees-Diamondbacks and that still makes me wrinkle nose.) Heck, I even get a little squirrely when a newly rich Premier League club is all of a sudden in the conversation every year.
Older fans are not dealing with expansion teams, or a few up start clubs here and there, or a few rule changes over the years, but the very fabric of the game they bonded with has changed. There aren’t just new teams, there are new leagues — dozens of them even — and new formats and the list goes on and on forever. It’s mind boggling to think of, to try to put myself in the shoes of a lifelong cricket fan my age or older. If I had bonded with ‘Stand By Me’ as an 11 year old, it would be like someone took that movie, made it a third as long, and gave the kids a rocket ship to travel on.
Here’s what I am going with this: there are often times when I or other cricket fans bemoan the traditionalists in cricket. Or, not bemoan, but maybe roll our eyes a bit. No, Test cricket is not dying; no, all this growth is not killing the game; no, pink ball tests are not one of the four horsemen.
But now looking at it through a different lens, I can see their point. If someone took baseball, made it a third as long and created all sorts of new leagues and rules and still asked me to call it baseball and think all was hunky-dory, I would not be okay with that.
And with this news lens, maybe we can all understand the frustration and sometimes even anger the old guard expresses as the game careens down slope toward an undetermined future. Maybe it’s okay to say that the IPL and the CPL and all the others are bastards of a once great game. Maybe it’s okay to call First Class cricket “proper cricket.” Maybe it is okay to worry almost to a fault about the Championship and the Test format and all the other parts of the game that bonded them to it so many years ago. And maybe it’s okay to shake your head when people like me talk about how the game just might be stronger now than it ever has been.
Walking in other people’s shoes is difficult, and it is something I particularly have really struggled with in all aspects of my life. But trying to understand what long term fans of the game have to put up with I think will be helpful for all of us in the end. It’s okay to snub your nose at the IPL. It doesn’t make you a racist or a person afraid of change, it simply makes you a human who fell in love with a game that in a lot of ways doesn’t even exist anymore. Instead I think we should all thank them, for getting this great game through a very rough patch, and sticking with it despite everything it asks of them. Without the old guard cricket fan, we are not here today, talking about this. And to honor that we, too, need to be good stewards of this game. To take over and call out corruption and greed when we see it, and we see it all to often, and to not watch or read about or pay attention to what we see as bridges too far: like The Hundred.
Every generation struggles with the changes happening around them. To quote Abe Simpson: “I used to be with ‘it’, but then they changed what ‘it’ was. Now what I’m with isn’t ‘it’ anymore and what’s ‘it’ seems weird and scary.” But in the game of cricket, there has been so much change, and it all happened so fast, almost all at once in the grand scheme of things. It is too late in so many ways to put the genie back in the bottle, but it’s not too late to listen to the people who know the game best, and try to understand where they are coming from, and work together to make the game great.
We are all, in the end, cricket fans. And that’s what matters.