The philosophical problem of change

There are no guarantees in life except for death and taxes, or so old the saw goes. But in reality there is but one universal human truth: change. Impermanence. Fluidity. Nothing is forever. Nothing. Not even forever is forever. It’s the primary tenant of humanity. If you want to be happy, content, okay, satisfied, then you have to believe that everything is temporary. Really believe it. Even happiness. Especially happiness. But also pain. And hurt. It is the primary tenet, but it is one humans fail collectively at believing. To a person, we all assume that whatever we are experiencing right now, is what we will only and always experience.

The practice of yoga was developed in northern India over 5,000 years ago. Throughout those five thousand years, it has tried with all its might to teach humans the value of now, and the inevitability of change. You are in a pose, and you are struggling, it is difficult, but it will end. Now take that knowledge, and apply it to your every day. And for 5,000 years humans have listened to that teaching, and the vast majority of us have ignored it. Damning ourselves to unhappiness, discontent, and the belief that the pain we are experiencing will last forever and forever. It is a hallmark of depression; it is the hallmark of my depression. I am writing this today at a coffeeshop. My house just went on the market yesterday and it already has an offer. I have the day off. Just writing and reading and no work. But while I know the contentment I feel right now won’t last, I also wholeheartedly believe that the sadness I feel — the dark colors that run behind my eyes every minute of every day — will be with me until the day I die. This is not abnormal. Every human experiences this. Why? Why do we do this to ourselves?

A few days ago i wrote about one of cricket’s many gifts, that it reminds us that the world always changes, no matter how we might not believe it at the time. A few weeks before that, however, I wrote about how cricket is consistent, that while it changes, its changes are slower, less noticeable. Players play their whole careers for one country, one team, in one uniform, for decades. How to marry those two disparate ideas? And take comfort in them simultaneously? Is that even possible? Am I running in circles, chasing my tail? These are the questions that matter. How to take comfort in something that doesn’t change while also remembering that life is only change.

Enter cricket once again.

Cricket is an old game, with old traditions, and old grounds, and old teams, played in some of the world’s oldest countries. It is also a modern game. With statisticians and nutritionists and new formats designed for the digital age. And the styles are different. Today it slogs and groans away the overs, while before it tiptoed through them, a walk in a field, a day in the park, interrupted by only the occasional intense heat of the perfect cover drive.

And so there it is, right? Consistency meets change, and vice versa. Becoming one. Showing us that life is change, but also the same. So enjoy the now, but bear in mind that it is not forever.

Now, however, enter the cricket fan.

The changes the game is experiencing are for many of us hard to swallow. The destruction of the game’s longest format, the Hundred, the slog worship. It’s change but too much change. Every day we wake up and load up Cricinfo and are confronted with the reality that everything we enjoy about cricket is slowly drifting away from us. Into the awful ether of change. How can we start to accept change and find joy in change and be reminded that nothing even our struggles are permanent if the change before us is so detestable?

The question answers itself.

Nothing is permanent. Not the Hundred. Not the Test. Not the County Championship. Not the latest T20 Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em franchise league. Everything we dislike — and like — about cricket, and about life, will one day go away. That’s the promise of time, of life, of humanity. And so where is the comfort in that? The comfort is not for those not struggling, and that’s the rub of all of this. If you are okay, then change is difficult. If you are not, then change is all you desire. I take comfort in cricket’s change, even though I dislike those changes. And I also take comfort that the old traditions and styles and formats are still around, and in some cases still thriving.

I say that, but I don’t believe it.

All of us are lost. Lost in the haze of time and change and life and all of it passing us by. Cricket can’t fix that. Yoga can’t fix that. Religion can’t fix that. Meditation can’t fix that. Humans are doomed to the very first sentences of this post: we know happiness isn’t forever, but can’t believe the same idea about struggle.

So, where are we then?

We are at a coffeeshop. And it’s winter but not too cold. The coffee is good and there’s plenty of it. There is sadness but it’s not overwhelming. There are cricket highlights to watch. A green field at the bottom of the world. There is the now. And only the now. Now is this moment, where it’s okay but still hard. All we have is the now. That’s comprehensible. The now. And here is cricket’s lesson:

Every ball is an island, every delivery the only delivery that matters, everything is the now, nothing else exists. Each ball is a reminder that what we have is what we have, this second, this very second, this blissful wicked second, before it passes again, and into the wicketkeeper’s gloves, a bit of banter, a rub of the ball on pant leg, a walk to the bowler’s mark, and then a run up, and the now begins again. Again, and again, and again. Cricket brings the now every few seconds. One ball, one bat, two people, experiencing the now like we all hope we could. It’s all we have. This moment. It’s gone in an instant. Maybe a cover drive, maybe a bad ball and a worse shot, maybe a wide, maybe just an unremarkable delivery to an unremarkable batsman on an unremarkable morning. Life, happening. Tomorrow is change. Too much or not enough or not what we wanted. But that’s later. Here is this moment. Enjoy it. And then move on to the next. See what it brings. And then move on again.

Life is change. Happiness is contentment. Struggles are not permanent. And the now is a place existing outside of all of that, when we can just breathe. One breath. Inhale, exhale, run up, into the gloves, and do it again. Erasing the past. Never minding the future. All that matters is the ball being delivered, and the breath being taken.

England in Sri Lanka

In one of Rachel Cusk’s novels from the Outline trilogy, she encounters a fellow Brit while in Greece. He tells her about how he had been sad his entire life in Britain. Every day was a slog of misery and hurt, his life lurching from one sadness to another for decades on end. And then he moved to Greece. And he sat on the beach for a few years. And he felt the damp and cold of England slowly leave him, as if his bones were literally drying out there in the sun. And as the damp and the cold left, the sadness did too, like it was baked out of him after so many years of wallow and cold.

I think about that scene a lot whenever England travels to Sri Lanka.

It’s always in February. Dark, dank, cold February. The weather for the next week in London calls for rain and wind and highs in the 40s. Sure, it will be colder here in Minnesota, with highs in only the teens, but England has that damp, that wet, that wind, creating the kind of cold that sinks into your bones and sits there and for some people there just isn’t enough sun and warmth to melt it come summer. I know this feeling. I know it well. The coming of summer in the north is something very special. But sometimes that summer never comes, and so sometimes you have to seek it out. Travel to the other side of the world, sit on the steps of an old stone fort, and take in a cricket match. And sometime around day two, in the afternoon, you realize that you aren’t cold, that you aren’t damp, and that maybe — just maybe — everything is going to be okay.

I love watching England play cricket in Sri Lanka. There is a long and storied history between the two sides, despite Sri Lanka only achieving Test status in the early 1980s. In fact, England have been playing cricket in Colombo since 1882, when they stopped in Sri Lanka on their way to Australia to reclaim the Ashes. And after that Colombo became a regular stop on the way down under, playing one day cricket under the sun and shaking off creaky sea legs.

There is a great post about these early days by Nicholas Brookes on Wisden’s blog today.

Today the England fans dress in white and their faces turn red from the sun and the beer and the scene is full of joy and heat. And the cricket is always joyful and warm and entertaining, even when the teams are far apart in the rankings. What’s fun about this year is that there are only four matches, two touring matches and two tests. So not only will the weather be warm and the sky blue, but fans will be treated to the best of what Cricket has to offer. A few lazy, hazy, hot mornings, afternoons and evenings to bake the cold and winter and sadness into submission, and then back to England to see out the winter.

I don’t live in England, and I am not going to Sri Lanka, but I will watch. For even to just be reminded that somewhere, somehow, it is warm, and skin is hot, and there’s a game of cricket on, is enough to keep the fires burning until June. There are other sports, of course, taking place in warm climates right now. And of course we also all intellectually understand that it has to be warm somewhere, that’s just how the world works. But there’s something about seeing those pale Englanders revel in the sun of Sri Lanka that does my heart good.

Cricket is a feast of traditions, and England’s in Sri Lanka is one of my favorites.


One note from the above linked article is what it meant for the small nation to have England — and Australia — stopping by to play cricket for more than a century.  These “whistlestops” as they were known were more than just opportunity to challenge their colonial masters at their own game — and challenge them well, something they weren’t able to do otherwise day-today — but they also gave generations of young Sri Lankan cricketers the chance to play against the best in the world. Does this small nation achieve Test status and win World Cups if these whistlestops never happen? It’s hard to imagine so. And it’s a shame that these kinds of matches have more or less gone away from the world.

As Brookes writes in the article:

Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from them is that exposure brings improvement. Given the ICC’s somewhat exclusionary attitude, we rarely see contests between the game’s giants and those countries trying to find their way. But had Sri Lanka’s cricketing infancy not been punctuated with regular visits by England and Australia, who knows where they would be today?

All those great Sri Lankan teams, lost to history. Imagine that world? I don’t think I want to. Unfortunately, as is said, we live in that world now. With each gift given, one is taken away. England in Sri Lanka is a reminder of warmth and heat, but also a reminder that cricket as we know it is slowly disappearing. Generations of Lasith Malingas and Kumar Sangakkaras and Muttiah Muralitharans playing cricket in a country the ICC doesn’t care about, lost forever to obscurity and time, never even to play with a hard cricket ball their entire lives.

What a shame.

With each gift given, another is taken away. Which means every gift needs to be enjoyed, and that is the lesson here. And that is why I will watch England play Sri Lanka, and enjoy every ball.

Brexit, Trump and Pollyana

The United Kingdom has left the European Union.

Next week — probably on Wednesday — the US Senate will vote to acquit President Trump of High Crimes and Misdemeanors.

I will not give you my opinion on either of these events. If you know me, you know my politics, and we can just leave it at that.

But we can all agree that these two events show a shift in where the world’s big western democracies are headed, politically speaking. Whether you agree that this direction is a step forward or a step backward, I think we can all agree that about half of the people believe the former, and about half of the people believe the latter. And so America is truly a nation divided, a nation cleaved in two. So is Britain. I cannot speak for UK political history, but while this is not the most divided America has ever been, it certainly feels like it sometimes. And honestly it feels like the entire world is in the same boat — though I admit that that is a rather insular notion on my part. But really, it feels as if you are either left, or you are right; there is no middle ground. And the gap between the two is growing greater. And — and for me this is the worst part — people on each side are failing to see people on the other side as actual human beings, with thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears. Instead, we see them as monsters, or dullards, or over educated ivory tower racists.

The worst part? I don’t see this really changing at all very soon. Barring a giant squid being dropped on New York City, or a pneumonia like virus named after a shitty beer wiping out, let’s say, a third of the world’s population, I just don’t see the two sides coming back together, at least any time soon.

I remember when I first felt stress, for instance, in early elementary school. And then it went away. And then it came back. And then at some point in like sixth grade I realized that I was stressed all the time, and that’s been the way it’s been ever since. After a while, something — even a terrible something — can be become normal, just the way things are.

You can get used to anything, you can miss anything. These are phrases I say all the time. And sure they sound like empty platitudes, but they are also 100% true.

And so if something is broken, we get used to it. And when it’s really broken — like our politics are — while we get used to it, it’s not going to fix itself. Barring a cataclysm like a civil war, these days are our new normal unless we — all of us — actively try to change that. I talk about old roofs a lot. When a roof is broken, it’s never going to fix itself. No matter how long we hang around, it’s never going to get repaired unless we do something about it. We. Humans. People. For while things cannot repair themselves, humans can heal and grow and change. We can fix this. We have to fix this.

Some folks will point to the 1960s, another divisive time in America. Probably even more divisive and disrupted then our current times. I mean, National Guard troops were shooting kids on college campuses. We’re not quite there yet. Some folks will say the 60s got better, that over time divisions healed. But I don’t really agree with that. I think people just got tired, and then it was the 70s and there were drugs and the 80s and even more drugs and everyone decided to move on and kick the can down the road. The wounds of the 60s never healed, and begot what we have here today.

Roofs don’t fix themselves. Neither do furnaces or cars or toilets.

Or politics.

But everything can be fixed.

This is the point in the post where I usually relate this back to sport, to cricket. And I will still do that, but I will do it with the warning that this is not enough, not nearly enough.

Yes, sport heals. It brings people of all walks of life and political persuasion together to share a common goal. I play soccer with people whose world view I abhor. I watch Arsenal with people whose world view I abhor. And while we might never agree on some things, we know each other as people, as friends. We care about each other and see each other as humans. The importance of that cannot be overstated. And I think sport is one of the very few bridges between our two worlds. I would not know these people otherwise. We would all just be in our insular little bubbles. Art, music, work, movies, television, all of these things for the most part feel like extensions of these bubbles. While sport does not.

And cricket? As usual, even more so. Even more than soccer, or other global sports. I am a 40-something while male in the United States who has a pretty good grasp on the political situation in India, who can point out Bangladesh on a map, who has friends in New Zealand, England, Guyana. Soccer is a global sport but we still just cheer our national team, and watch teams in Europe, firmly in our bubble both. But cricket breaks us out of our shells, and shows how big the world really is, and how long life really is.

I haven’t been watching a great deal of cricket lately, but the game is still teaching me.

But the irony in all of this, however, is that the path the world is currently taking might make it more difficult for cricket to bridge these gaps between us. Take Jofra Archer, for instance. Born in Barbados, he has English citizenship through his father, and is allowed to play for England after the ECB relaxed its residency requirements. No one right now sees the rules for citizenship and immigration changing to the point where Archer would not be allowed in England or to play for England, nor do people on either side want those rules to change, but that is where we are all heading: to a closed border society, where my side of the river is my side of the river, and your side of the river is your side of the river. I am not saying that that point of view is wrong, I am just saying that is the way the tide is turning, and that it might end up hampering this great international game that has so much more to teach us.

And it’s already happening, with Brexit eliminating Kolpak status for cricketers. And even without Brexit, the Cotonou Agreement is set to expire at the end of the month, which is going to severely limit players from the Caribbean and South Africa and their pursuit of the work permits needed to play county cricket in England.

Our world is getting bigger, but also getting smaller. Borders are closing, maybe forever, and as those borders close, we lose out on the chance to see the people on the other side of those borders as human beings, people, friends.

Maybe I am overstating things, playing Chicken Little or the Boy Who Cried Wolf. And maybe smaller worlds are better worlds, maybe our silos will protect us, and maybe even protect our planet. But it’s hard to see fewer interactions, fewer shared goals, as a net positive, and it’s easy to slip into doomsday scenarios where once again all we know looks the same, and all we know is what is around us, and where what we don’t know is remote and evil and wrong.

I don’t want to live in that world.

I don’t think anyone does. No matter their side of the aisle.

And so let’s work together to find common ground. Because there is always common ground. Let’s make sure future Jofra Archers can go to England and play cricket, but let’s also make sure people with similar backgrounds who aren’t world class bowlers also have opportunities to better themselves. Let’s reasonably protect our borders to provide safety and comfort, but let’s also allow the people who need to cross them to cross them.

Now I have reversed course, now I am Pollyanna. But when I look at the people I have met through sport, through cricket. When I look at what I understand about this big old world because of sport, because of cricket, I cannot help but feel a little hopeful. We are all people, we are all in this together, and the vast — vast — majority of us want the world to be a better place for all those who live here. When I look back on the World Cup last summer, I don’t see a country divided, embroiled in a once-in-a-generation fracture, but I see a country rising as one to cheer on Jofra Archer, bowling at Lord’s, in the world’s greatest international city, while the whole planet watched. That’s the future I want. Not just for cricket, but for all of us, everywhere. Our politics divide, but we are all human, and we all want great things, and that afternoon in London I think showed us all that we are capable of getting there.

Of getting there together.

It’s a big world. We’ll be okay. I really do think so. And I think so because of cricket.

Cricket and the Calm app

Lately I have been using the Calm app.

Six weeks ago, I would have told you it was millennial nonsense designed to keep people addicted to their phones and provide a false sense of accomplishment. But I would have been wrong. I use it every day — mostly for the guided meditations, which I find super helpful — but also for what are called Sleep Stories. Yes, they are bedroom stories for adults, that you listen to as you fall asleep. Ridiculous, I know.

But here’s the thing: they really work.

I have never been a great sleeper. I have struggled with it my entire adult life. I have both a difficult time getting to sleep, and a difficult time staying asleep. It’s been awful, especially over these last few years. Truly awful. I think I slept for a grand total of like 30 hours in June of 2018.

But with the Sleep Stories, I fall asleep literally within seconds. And while these last few days I have been waking up again in the middle of the night, that feels like a temporary setback. And when I do wake up at 3am, I just put another Sleep Story on, and do my best to drift back off again. I cannot recommend this app enough. It’s honestly the best app I have ever spent any money on.

Included in the Sleep Stories is one called ‘A Cure of Insomnia? Cricket Explained.’ Of course I rolled my eyes. “Typical American nonsense,” I sighed. “Cricket is NOT boring.” But then I thought that maybe it was just voiceover actor reading from the Laws of Cricket. I mean, I think we can all agree that with the right actor even the most diehard of cricket supporters would fall asleep to someone reading this out loud:

The pitch is a rectangular area of the ground 22 yards/20.12 m in length and 10 ft/3.05 m in width.  It is bounded at either end by the bowling creases and on either side by imaginary lines, one each side of the imaginary line joining the centres of the two middle stumps, each parallel to it and 5 ft/1.52 m from it.  If the pitch is next to an artificial pitch which is closer than 5 ft/1.52 m from the middle stumps, the pitch on that side will extend only to the junction of the two surfaces.  See Laws 8.1 (Description, width and pitching), 8.4 (Junior cricket) and 7.2 (The bowling crease).


Then I saw that the voiceover actor was no slouch. In fact, it was BBC Test Match Special mainstay Henry Blofield. He had been covering cricket since early 60s, retiring at the age off 77 in 2017. Blofield lived and breathed cricket his entire life, eight decades worth. This wasn’t some American reading the Laws of Cricket, but a cricket head of state.

And so I listened to it. Not while trying to fall asleep, but on the elliptical machine at the gym, lest I fall asleep in the middle of it.

It was delightful.

It was great to hear old Blower’s voice again. He had obviously written the piece with an American audience in mind — he quoted some Americans (Bill Bryson, Groucho Marx) and their hackneyed opinions that the game was boring — and the lingo was all very much for beginners, but other than that it was great. He doesn’t just read the laws of cricket, but rather takes the listener to a match (along with Groucho) and talks about the experience and simulates wickets and runs in order to explain the rules. Near the end he just gives definitions of cricket’s most obscure terms, which is where even I started to drift off a little bit, despite the fact that I was on an exercise machine. He really transported the listener to another time and place, which all the Sleep Stories tend to do, and in that sense it was a very good one. And so it wasn’t the game itself that was putting listeners to sleep, but rather the style in which it was written. This made me feel better.

Furthermore, Blofield made a couple more arguments against the idea that cricket is boring. He said that like all sports — and all things everywhere for that matter — cricket is better enjoyed when you understand the rules, and very few people outside of the 12 Test playing nations (and even lots of people in those nations) understand the basic ins and outs. Honestly, it can take a lifetime to even scratch the surface of the game, which also adds to its intrigue for those of us lucky enough to know the basics.

But he also said that what Americans don’t understand is that cricket is not meant to be watched like other sports. You go to the game, you talk to the person next to you, and you drift off into your own head as the rhythm of the game happens in front of you.  And in that sense, it is also like the other hallmark of the Calm app: meditation.

I have been listening a lot to Alan Watts’ lectures, especially on the field of meditation, and throughout them I cannot help but think of the experience of watching a game of cricket, even on the television. Your mind wanders, you are free and open, focusing and not focusing at the same time. Watts talks about how in meditation you focus on the breathing because it’s something you can focus on that is not a concept, and that it is one of the few actions that is both voluntary and involuntary, therefore telling our brain how arbitrary the division between the two is.

None of this may resemble the cricket you know and love, the cricket of sixes and yorkers and boundary line catches, but when you step back and think about, it is. When you are watching this great old game, the pace of it — like your breathing — allows your mind to wander to other things, despite the fact that you are still somehow focused on the game. You are both there and not there. Aware and not aware.

We are all floating in a tremendous river and the river carries you along. Some of the people in the river are swimming against the current, but they are still being carried along. Others have learned that the art of the thing is to swim with it. You have to flow with the river. There is no other way. You can swim against it, and pretend not to be flowing with it. But you still flow with the river.

When we are watching cricket, we are flowing with the river, and I think that is something we can all agree on.

It’s been a long, a long time coming

Today in Minnesota we all awoke to fresh snow. Not the pretty, fun kind, but the sloppy, icy, foggy, horrible kind. The weather has been unseasonably warm, which is fine — I will take 33 degrees F over negative 33 degrees F any day — but with the warmth comes the gray, at least on the really cold days we get blue sky and sun. This winter has been simply gray on gray. And it is only January. There is so much more winter to come. Blizzards, sub-zero cold and more blizzards are still on the horizon. I remember winters when it snowed in May.

But today I woke up to this email from the Sussex County Cricket Club:


80 days. Just 80 days until the County Championship is back.

I get that that is actually a long time — almost three months — but seeing that number in print gave me a bit of hope. For while I also get that April in England probably means bone chilling damp cold and wind, I can’t help but think of green and blue and short sleeves and summer, summer, summer. Oh, glorious summer.

There’s something to be said for living in a part of the world where there are seasons. Sure, days like today are rough. And everything is just more difficult. But it always feels like you have something to look forward to, especially in the winter. No matter what, there is change on the horizon. Even if your life feels like it is stuck in neutral and you are in a bottomless rut with no end in sight, you know in your heart that a change is going to come. No matter what. A change is going to come.

Little reminders like the email this morning on this dark January day are reminders not just of cricket, or the Championship, or the summer to come, but that time is moving on, the world is moving on, and we are moving right with it, God willing, we are moving with it. And with that moving comes time, distance, growth, healing. It also might bring new heartbreak, new loss, but on mornings like today, those feel far away. Right now all I can think of is summer, and hope for the good things that it might bring a long with all the change it is going to bring. Right now, today, the cricket fields are brown, white, cold, damp and empty. In 80 days they will be full of this great old game and the people who love it, basking in what is hopefully a warm spring sun, and a field of green, and a sky of blue.

There is always change. That is apparent every time a new season begins to loom on even the most distant of horizons. And that knowledge brings hope that our lives might change right along with it. And even if they don’t. Even if we remain in the rut we’ve been in for what seems like years because it has been years, then at least we know that soon there will be short sleeves and sun on shoulders, and the gray will break into blue, and the sounds of cricket will once again fill those empty fields.

Change is always coming.




Robbie and Stuart

It’s day three of the third Test between South Africa and England at Port Elizabeth. The match started in the middle of the night on my watch. That nothing time when it’s still the night before but also when it’s already the next morning. 3 a.m. or so. When the world still isn’t sure what it wants to be. Night still has it in its ceaseless grip, but there is already a disruption in the stillness of the hour previous that cannot help but speak of morning, Sometimes in this strange hour, I lie awake and take comfort in the fact that cricket is happening somewhere. Somewhere there is something as soft and light and perfect as people dressed in white playing a game on an expanse of green under a warm sun.

It was around three in the morning a few days when my dog got me out of bed. He hadn’t been feeling quite right: drinking too much water, not eating his food. And he had to get outside to take care of what was obviously an urgent need. I live in an apartment and I couldn’t fathom him having an accident on the landlord’s nice hardwood floors, so I got up and put long underwear on and a hat and a sweater and jeans and socks and boots and a winter jacket and I put his harness on him and hooked up his leash and told him he was a good boy and we went out the backdoor onto the porch where he would hang out with me in the summer as I read and down the backstairs into the alley and the snow was dirty and cold and the whole world was dark but there was a hint of traffic and we walked around the quiet block and he went to the bathroom the required amount of times and we hustled back inside and I gave him treats and told him he was a good boy again and stripped off my clothes and crawled back into the still warm bed. And then it was night again. And we slept.


My ex-wife and I had adopted Robbie in the fall of 2012. England were touring India. On Nov. 15 India battered their visitors and won by nine wickets. Eight days later England returned the favor, one-upping their hosts and winning by 10 wickets. Every England fan remembers that second game. After India put up a par score of 327 in their first innings, England came to bat just before lunch. And then Alistair Cook batted out the rest of the day. All while I slept. He was calm and patience. A captain. It took 134 deliveries for him to reach his half century. He gave England what they needed: time.

I remember waking up with the dog after Cook’s innings. A Sunday morning, 2012. It wasn’t 3 a.m. like last week, but a more reasonable hour, when night was all but gone, and the day was fully in charge. Robbie was young and full of life and everything seemed okay. I checked the Test score on my phone as he wandered his new yard in search of the smell that would give him impetus to go. I saw that Cook had batted all night. And I smiled.

That was more than seven years ago. So much has happened since. The England XI that day looked like this: Cook, Compton, Trott, Pietersen, Bairstow, Patel, Prior, Broad, Swann, Anderson and Panesar. On the other side India sported the likes of Gambhir and Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh and Dhoni and of course the great Tendulkar, still a full year away from retirement. Those teams are almost unrecognizable today, just seven short trips around the sun later. That’s how much change there has been in cricket. Which only hints at the amount of change in my life, in your life, in all our lives. In 2012 we had just reelected President Obama. Today we are two days away from President Trump completing three of his four years in the Oval Office.

Time. Change. Life.

Through it all, through everything, through divorce and hardship and new jobs and new presidents and retirements and World Cups and moves and sadness and joy — through it all, everything — Robbie has been there. Quiet, sweet Robbie. A stable rock in a sea of change. His calm eyes guiding me home to a place that was safe and okay.


On Sunday night around 10 p.m. Robbie came stumbling out of the back bedroom. We had been watching a movie. He was shaking and panting. He threw up. And he kept shaking and panting. It was snowing outside. There was a 24 hour emergency vet just down the street. My partner went down and cleaned the cold, white snow off of her car. I put on Robbie’s harness and connected his leash and told him that he was a good boy. There was still light in his eyes. He seemed to be excited to be going somewhere. We went out to the porch and down the stairs just like we had countless times in the last 18 months. I led him to my partner’s running car and opened the back door. But he was shaking too hard to get up onto the seat. So I picked him up and put him in the back and he turned around and lay down and felt almost immediately asleep.

I will spare you the detail. There was a gall stone, and a tear in his pancreas, and nodes in his stomach and bile in places where there shouldn’t be. He stayed the night at the vet’s, we went back to our apartment. In the morning my ex-wife went to see him. He was going in for his ultrasound soon. Shortly before noon my ex-wife called me and told me that we were going to have to put him down. I kicked a chair. And cried out in anger. It was not the reaction I expected. Anger. But that’s what it was.

I met her there. The vet led him into a little room with us and a blanket and a couch and we sat with him and told him that we loved him and he seemed confused and drugged up and he looked a thousand years old. We cried and wailed and questioned. When we were ready the vet came in. He had an IV in his little ankle. The vet game him a muscle relaxant and a tranquilizer and then a third shot that would be his last. She put a stethsocope to his heart, and a few seconds later he was gone. We said goodbye. And left him laying there. On the cold ground. Silenced. Just a shell growing quickly cold, his spirit releasing into the ether.

Dear, sweet Robbie. The only constant in a world of change. Gone forever. It was — and still is — an incomprehensible loss.

Today at Port Elizabeth, South Africa, at the bottom of the world, England trotted out a completely different XI players than they did against India in 2012. Except for one: Stuart Broad.

Through all of that change mentioned above, Robbie had been there, but now he is gone. But Broad is still here, a memory of a memory of a time gone by. When Robbie was young. When I was young. When the whole world was young.

My dog is gone, and I can’t believe it, and I miss him so much. But just like many other times in my life since 2007, I find a slight, almost imperceptible comfort in the sport of cricket. For while the whole world has changed — even Robbie, the one constant for the last seven years of upheaval, is gone — Stuart Broad is still there. Still steaming in, all blond and quick. Many sports have players playing today that also were playing in 2012, but how many are playing for the same team, in the same uniform? Stuart Broad is. Still running in for England, in the stark whites, taking wickets for his country. And that is one more reason why cricket rises to the top: the dominance of the international game means men and women wear the same kits, with the same teammates, in the same home grounds, for years. Sometimes decades. A part of sport that no longer exists.

I know it is silly — maybe even a little odd — to take comfort today in the fact that Stuart Broad is bowling for England in South Africa this weekend. But when loss hits home, you take comfort where you can find it. Life has been all change, but through it all, Broad has been there. And I will hang onto that for as long as I can. And I will remember Robbie circling his new backyard seven years ago last fall, and how the night before Cook had batted all night long, while Stuart Broad — 26 year old Stuart Broad already somehow a seasoned veteran — sat in the clubhouse in Mumbai, 2020 a million miles from his mind. The same Stuart Broad that is still there today, in his England whites, a static presence in a blanket of difference.

Cricket is the giving tree, always providing some new comfort, all we have to do is look. History and time march on, but cricket is always there, and sometimes the same players are there, too, despite all the change, all the loss, we can still tune into a Test match and remember that some things are the same, that some things haven’t changed. We take peace where we can find it, and today I am finding it in the 11 overs bowled by a young man who doesn’t even know my name, who has always been there, and might be there for just a little while longer.

Life is change. But not always. And Stuart Broad has reminded me of that.

God speed, Robbie. You were a king among dogs. You were the best of all of us. You taught me patience, and resilience, and that to forgive is to love. I miss you more than I will ever be able to say.

And God bless you, Stuart Broad, thanks for still being there under blue skies.


Give flowers to the living

I have been playing the game Go a lot lately. My partner, Liz, picked up a board that a friend was giving away, we pulled it out, played for literally like 30 seconds, and I was hooked.

It’s an old game, and I like all things old. And it’s nearly limitless in its possibilities and its room for magic. 361 pieces, 361 spaces on the board to the play them. And you can play them anywhere, at any time. There are no rules like chess that dictate what pieces can play where and how and when, all the pieces are the same and they can all do anything. The games are long, building slowly over time, until territories quietly start to emerge from what looks like chaos. And the best players of the game are artists. They don’t just want to win, they want to create something beautiful.

All of this probably sounds familiar.

And so I have been eating and breathing the game for the last two weeks. It’s all quite similar to how I fell in love with cricket all those years ago — 13 this April, in fact — especially considering I am trying to kick an addiction again, just like I was in 2007.

To feed my cravings for all things Go, I have downloaded practice apps, and ebooks, and played countless games with Liz at home and in taprooms. I have subscribed to newsletters and followed Instagram accounts. And at some point I will summon the courage to attend the Minnesota Go Chapter’s open gaming afternoon at a bar in South Minneapolis.

And earlier this week, I watched a movie about the game called AlphaGo (available for free on YouTube here in the states, just be sure to turn the captions on, because there are no subtitles when people are speaking Korean). The movie is about a company called DeepMind who believe they have finally found the computer gaming holy grail: a system that could challenge the best players in the world at Go.

All those that came before failed. The game was too complex, and required a sense of style that computers just couldn’t replicate. The famous computers that played Kasparov and other chess masters merely had millions of different chess moves uploaded to their mainframe. This didn’t work in Go. The scenarios were just too numerous. But DeepMind had figured it out. Not by teaching the computer — AlphaGo — how to be great at the game, but by giving it the tools to teach itself. AI. Machine learning. Real science fiction stuff.

The company scheduled five matches between AlphaGo and the person widely seen as the best Go player in the world, Korean Lee Se-dol. Go aficionados were confident that a computer could never beat their beloved champion. But that’s just what it did. Besting him in game one, then playing one of the greatest Go moves of all time (“move 37”) to win game two, then winning again running away in game three. Lee Se-dol, however, made the greatest move of all time (move 78, aka the Hand of God) to win game four, before losing again in game five.

At first the reaction to AlphaGo’s dominance was the anticipated but unfounded fear about the rise of the robots, destroying humanity as we know it. But cooler heads prevailed. The doomsday folks were reminded that AlphaGo was a human endeavor, designed by humans, coded by humans. The algorithms that allowed it to learn how to play Go were written by people, not by robots. AlphaGo was humanity’s achievement, one that could save lives when the technology is applied to science or medicine, not the harbinger of a Matrix style apocalypse.

Instead, the general reaction was that Go had entered a new phase. Lee Se-dol was a 9 dan Go player, the highest achievable ranking. But AlphaGo played like a 10 dan, or an 11 dan. A player that other human players could emulate and therefore become better players. Lee Se-dol himself called his defeat a “win for humanity.” The biggest change in style invented by AlphaGo are what were called “slack moves.” Seemingly unnecessary and silly and bad moves that no human player of any caliber would ever make. But that’s because all AlphaGo cared about what was winning. It didn’t matter if it was by a half point or 40 points. It just wanted to win. And that drastically changed its style. The movie ends on a high note of human accomplishment, and the dawning of a new age for the 4,000 year old game. A narrator says that AlphaGo would define Go’s next thousand years, and he meant that in hopeful way.

Unfortunately, all that hopefulness appeared to be for naught, at least as far as Lee Se-dol is concerned. He retired from competitive Go matches last fall at only 36 years of age. He said that he was retiring because no matter how good at Go he got, the computer would only get better. It had been three years since his 4-1 defeat to AlphaGo, but in those three years the computer had only gotten better. In fact, DeepMind recently released AlphaGo Zero, a completely self taught machine that is even better at Go than its predecessor.

And so what is next for Go now that its greatest player has concluded that there is no hope for any human to ever beat the machines created by humans? The game is still wildly popular, and for many years to come it will be just fine. But slowly, and surely, as the machines suck the humanity — and therefore the art, and the poetry — from the game, the game will die. 4,000 years of Go could be erased within our grandchildren’s lifetimes. Is that the worst case scenario? Maybe. But it is hard to see it any other way. For one brief moment — move 78, the Hand of God move — humanity had a shot, and then it was snuffed out.

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Move 78 is the white tile with the triangle.


Cricket, too, is dying. We all know that. It’s slowly being driven into pulp by big money and corrupt leaders and a world that is simply moving on. But the good news is that it’s not where Go is. At least not yet. Sure, we have DRS and statsguru and computers crunching every number possible in order to give players and teams the slightest of advantages, but when the coin gets flipped, there is no computer on the other side of the bowler. It’s 22 humans — flawed, beautiful humans — battling it out on the pitch. You can deconstruct the game mathematically as long as you want, reproducing simulation after simulation, but no matter what it’s people who have to play the games. For now, that is heartening. For while cricket might slowly be drifting off to ashes and dust, it’s not there yet, thanks to one the thing trying to kill it: its humanity.

I know there are a lot of Go fans and players who wished they weren’t living in the age of AlphaGo. But as cricket fans we are currently doing that. So let’s enjoy it. Let’s mourn cricket when the machines take over, and when the game finally loses every last drop of its poetry, but until then, let us give praise and thanks for the 22 flawed humans that provide us daily with so much frustration, joy, heartache and awe at what we are all capable of. We humans, we impossible few, we broken, impossible few. Stardust somehow writing poems with bats of willow and balls of leather.

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Image via Creative Commons