Lament for the English game that is now gone forever

MICHAEL HENDERSON, author of a new book entitled That Will Be England Gone: The Last Summer of Cricket, nails his colours firmly to the mast.

Fred Trueman: Inspiration.

“I am not the kind of person likely to be attracted to the Hundred,” writes the former cricket correspondent for the Daily Telegraph.

“I buy hardback books, think of Wigmore Hall as a second home, and take my holidays in European cities that have great art galleries.

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“I have no interest in social media, have never bought a lottery ticket, and wouldn’t watch a ‘reality’ show on television if I were granted the keys to the Exchequer.

Book cover: New publication.

“It is a generational thing, and age helps to determine taste. As much as I would like to visit ‘the cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces’, I don’t expect to find them where teams of unknown provenance play games of mock cricket over 100 balls.”

In other words, Henderson, 61, is a traditionalist, a man who describes himself as a cricket “lover” as opposed to a cricket “fan”, which “implies fanaticism, which is a step towards tribalism, of which the world has always had enough”.

He is also a lover – rather than a fan – of music, literature, poetry and film, as befits someone who writes on the arts for the Spectator and New Statesman, as well as on bat and ball for The Cricketer magazine.

Equally, he is a lover of the English language and one of its most accomplished exponents; this beautifully written piece of work is already my vote for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

Barmy Army: Need to take a leaf out of the book.

Henderson’s love of cricket was born on the day in September, 1965 when he watched the great Fred Trueman bowling for Yorkshire against Derbyshire at Scarborough; for the record, ‘Fiery Fred’ took 5-23 in a rain-ruined draw.

“Through half-closed eyes I can see him now, running in from the Trafalgar Road end. Those early memories – one’s first bag of chips, for example – are the most vivid.”

The book’s title is, of course, borrowed from a line in the Philip Larkin poem ‘Going, Going’, which, in turn, immediately summons the third unspoken word – ‘Gone’.

“And that will be England gone,” bemoaned the adopted son of Hull.

“The shadows, the meadows, the lanes,

“The guildhalls, the carved choirs.

“There’ll be books; it will linger on

“In galleries; but all that remains

“For us will be concrete and tyres.”

Henderson’s lament is essentially ‘that will be cricket gone’ – a sport “altered almost out of recognition since the introduction in 2003 of 20-over cricket”, never mind since the author watched Trueman more than half-a-century ago.

The game of those years is gone forever and is never coming back; only great amphitheatres such as North Marine Road, Scarborough, serve to awaken in those fortunate enough to have them memories not only of a lost game, but also of a lost England.

Indeed, to read this wonderful book – not just a sports book, which is why it is so good – is to be reminded, or even educated, of what it means to be English and of England’s history.

Henderson starts his journey in the spirit of A.E. Houseman, in the Worcestershire spa town of Malvern, in search of a representative view of England from high up on the ‘blue remembered hills’.

He gazes north to Shropshire and east to Birmingham, his eye moving towards Lichfield, Warwick, Worcester, Stratford-upon-Avon, Oxford, Tewkesbury, Hereford, and so on.

All are centres of Englishness or English history; it is impossible to think of Worcestershire, for example, without hearing the music of Sir Edward Elgar.

Henderson says that Elgar “composed music that establishes a sense of England as convincingly as any composer has conceived of a national identity in sound”, and he is right.

Nimrod, for instance, or Ralph Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, somehow encapsulates England itself.

Another quintessentially English piece of music is Jerusalem, our unofficial national anthem, and one that has been the soundtrack of the English cricket season since 2005.

William Blake’s stirring words and Hubert Parry’s even more stirring melody still send shivers down the spine, although it has been bastardized to such a degree by the doltish ‘Barmy Army’ that they rip away its transcendent quality.

As a matter of fact, this is a book that should rightly be distributed – as a public service by the publishers – to every member of the ‘Barmy Army’, with the command to read and re-read it until it permeates what few grey cells such readers may possess.

It also contains as good a condemnation of The Hundred as I have read, a competition that might have been invented to prove the verity of Larkin’s poem.

If I know readers of The Yorkshire Post (and I have been boring you now for the best part of two decades), I know that you will love this book – despite the fact that the author was born in Lancashire, for which he can be partially excused.

For it is a reminder of everything that is good about cricket, and, at the same time, what has now disappeared.

“England will not be gone completely,” writes Henderson, “and nor will cricket… But the game as many have known it, like the guildhalls, will not come back.

“A younger generation will not share this sense of loss, for they never knew what was there, for so long.”

That Will Be England Gone: The Last Summer of Cricket by Michael Henderson (Constable, priced £20).

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