I’m about to do something that feels a little wrong. Like my putting over the past week, it’s as though someone else has control of my hands.
I’m going to write about cricket.
But – and maybe it’s only a justification to myself – this is about more than cricket. It’s about sport. Every sport fan lives the ebb and flow of victory and defeat, of adulation and apathy. The weekends of passive interest and erratic phone-checking, the weekends where it means nothing and the weekends where it means everything, the weekends of searing hope and crushing defeat.
It’s about all of that and none of that. It’s about trying to put into words the feelings and emotions that bind together an incredibly divided world in fleeting moments of time. Moments in time like yesterday, when Ben Stokes crashed his final boundary up and away to draw England level in an Ashes that was, without human doubt, lost.
It’s the the same reason why watching McIlroy spar past the best in the world last night, in what was, despite the PGA Tour gimmicks, a thrilling display of brilliance, sprinkled with mistakes that were brushed off with guts and grittiness, to take home a sum of money more than 99.7% of golfers to have ever played the LPGA have earned in their entire careers, was good, and entertaining, and worth watching… but not a ‘moment’. Not like what unfolded in the Bank Holiday sunshine in Leeds, and across thousands of living rooms and phone screens and car radios. The collectiveness of disbelief, of hope, of astonishment.
Even as I write about it, I’m not sure if I’m over-dramatising it. Sporting events in particular can get swept away by the tide of public opinion, by fans and players and media wanting to believe in a little piece of magic. It’s why every result in every sport is over-analysed, when most of them should be filed away, Brooks Koepka like, in the box of irrelevance to which they belong; stepping stones to the moments that actually mean something. To the moments that are magic. To the moments that we might luck into being present for without being quite certain of what we’re witnessing. The moments where we have to check our social media and turn to our friends and make that “noise you make to alert someone to come into the living room and watch the sport that’s happening”. Because it did happen. They do happen.
Yesterday happened. Yesterday happened, as the Miracle of Medinah happened seven years ago, as we all watched and listened for hours. Hours that transitioned both seamlessly and violently from compliant viewing of the inevitable, to a seed of hope that burst into belief; a safe grounding from the illusion of momentum that the inevitable defeat was now an inevitable victory; and yet in that same moment that the belief turned concrete, it suddenly wasn’t. For every athlete, every fan with any fractional degree of experience, knew something.
Sport loves stories. But it doesn’t wait for them.
Our superstars are human, and our teams play in an unprotected arena of reality.
Every time Stokes launched another ball upwards and the desperate Australian cry of “catch!” followed it, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe, waiting for the camera to pan to the Australian fielder poised underneath.
Every time Nathan Lyon’s arm arced around his shoulder or Josh Hazlewood crashed towards the wicket, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe.
Every time Jack Leach removed his glasses with the delicacy of caring more about their safety than the fate of the Ashes, I, and thousands of others, condemned myself for daring to believe.
Yet reality never happened. Even when it did. Stokes might have known before we did, but he still didn’t know. He didn’t know, when batter after batter left him deserted at the crease. He didn’t know, when Harris dropped him with only 17 to go. He didn’t know, when it wasn’t his pad that was nicked but Leach’s, and Australia made the fatal error of using their last lifeline. He didn’t know, when Lyon somehow left the ball behind as he turned to the stumps with Leach stranded, lifeless, with only one run to go. And he, like all of us, condemned himself and sport and the universe for believing. Just as in 2012 at Medinah, when Kaymer hit his first putt on 18 six foot past, and we all condemned ourselves for forgetting our superstars are human.
Sport loves stories, but it doesn’t wait for them.
Except when it does.
And it’s f***ing beautiful.