On Friday I watched almost the entire first ODI between England and Australia. With about an hour to go, I realized something: there hadn’t been any commercials. Not a single one. And then I thought: maybe this is why I love cricket? Or, at least, maybe this is why one reason why I love cricket.
My whole life I have, like most people, abhorred commercial breaks. The blasting, insulting wall of noise that assaults us every five minutes or so. But unlike a lot of people who see the ads as just part of the nature of entertainment, I actively avoided anything with advertising breaks. I chose movies over television (not really the case any longer, thanks to streaming services), I never listened to commercial radio (aside from Twins games, which I still have difficulty with), and I avoided the most ad heavy sports like American football, which continues to find new and inventive ways to jam more commercials in.
And while I love baseball, I still have a hard time watching it on TV. And of course soccer is a first love because of its luxurious 45 minutes of ad-less half, but I am worried that the water break is going to become an ad break, and then the slippery slope has begun.
But cricket, at least yesterday, was something else entirely. I watched the match from around 10 in the morning on my watch until late into the afternoon, and there was not a single commercial. The game just hummed a long, with quiet pauses between overs, no breaks, just one long take of cricket.
Of course, this is not always the case with the game. I have watched T20s where there were ads jammed in over the feed between every single over. And in some cases it was the same exact ad over and over and over again until you start to question whether you even exist any more, or if you are simply a vessel in which the ad enters the cosmos. And even when it’s not that bad, there are still, usually, ads when wickets are taken, and during innings breaks of course. But yesterday as the match seamlessly persisted in some sort of beautiful never ending horizon, I realized that more often than not, there are no ads. Especially in Test matches, but also occasionally in one day games. It’s a treat when it happens, a real treat. It’s almost as if you are at the ground. And in a time like now, when no one can be at the ground, it’s even more special.
It’s also a reminder that while there are breaks hardwired into the game’s format and rules — water breaks, innings breaks — for the most part the game is seamless. And the breaks that do form — the pauses, the spaces — are low lying flood plains soon to be filled in with summer rains. It’s in the pauses where the potential is, the magic, the soon to be, the anticipation. Tossing ads in that mix ruin those moments, removes part of the soul of the game. But yesterday they were restored, and cricket was once again a year divided into seasons, sunsets, sunrises; not into hours, seconds, weeks.
This is the time of year when I usually write about the end of summer: the melancholy, the brown lawns, the early dark, the change inherent on the wind which all of a sudden has a bite of chill. But this year was not, and is not, a normal year. And neither was the summer. I had a good summer, despite everything. The weather was pleasant, it stretched on far and long like the summers of youth. We spent a lot of time out doors in the sun with wine in empty parks on blankets. Baseball came back. Cricket came back. If you ignored the world outside as best you could, summer was okay. Despite it all. I am one of the lucky ones, the very lucky in a year like this. But after 20 years of watching summer pass me by, this year it didn’t.
In a couple days England and Australia will play the last cricket of the English summer, such as it was, and that will be that on those shores until next year. A year that might see a vaccine, that might see a full Edgbaston on a Saturday afternoon. And 2020, as awful as it is, could — and might — be slowly forgotten. A speedbump for those of us privileged enough to not be personally touched by the pandemic. But also maybe it won’t, because of how nice the summer was, a summer of cicadas and afternoons on a blanket under blue skies with a thermos of white wine and a book as thick as the day is long.
Summer is ending, I can see it out my window as a I type, the brown leaves on the spindly tree, but unlike so many other summers, it at least was here for a little while first. This morning the cricket is on, later it will be sunny and warm. Let’s get the hammocks out, it’s not over yet.
There are blessings everywhere.
The long summer stretching forward and back in time is like cricket without ads: endless and seamless; the breaks are hardwired but organic; like long slow breathing. It’s not meant to be broken up with trivial matters like other summers are, with the things that we thought used to define our summers, it’s about being outside, letting time drift along to bird song, then a late night storm, dried up before noon by the heat of the day. All one long day, all one long summer, without hesitation or pause. Which of course is how life is: seamless, without end; summer into fall sans melancholy, because fall is just what happens next.
I have been thinking a lot about writing about my divorce. It’s been well over two years now. I have written about it a lot of course, but kind of in an askance way. Glancing blows. There are moments that stand out that I cannot shake, that level me, that bring to my knees, that can sill two years later bring my mind, my day, my week, to a grinding halt. I have tried so hard to leave it all in the past, a forgotten time, events that exist on a different plane. But doing that is ramming a commercial between overs. It’s creating fake breaks in time.
Our lives are the seasons. Flowing from one moment to the next. A long day in Manchester under first bright and then dark skies. The pauses are the valleys between eras, and those matter as much as the eras themselves. I need to connect the now of the okay to the times before. Heal the timeline. Remove the ads. I am a different person than I was two years ago, and while I recognize that I don’t recognize the events that shaped the me that is writing this right now.
There are moments that stand out. They are not part of a different timeline. They are my timeline, as there is only one, for all of us. Cricket is one long day, summer is just a space of light and heat, and our lives move through them, without border, without interruption. The sun doesn’t set, it’s just the world spinning. And if I write about the moments that hurt the most, maybe my timeline will no longer be the choppy, brokendown mess it is now. The events instead will become just one ripple in the river; a pebble; a water break; leaning on a bat in the long shadows, waiting for your new partner to pad up, before it all starts up again.
There is yesterday. There is tomorrow. There is now. But there are no barriers. We are a cricket match with only the breaks that were designed to be there.