That Will Be England Gone

Published: 2020
Pages: 296
Author: Henderson, Michael
Publisher: Constable
Rating: 4 stars


The name of Michael Henderson has been familiar to me for years. His cricket writing in newspapers and magazines has always been worth reading, and I am aware that he has written on other subjects as well. What I did not realise was that he seems not to have written a book before, certainly not one on cricket.

Back in 1979 an accomplished writer, Geoffrey Moorhouse, wrote his only* cricket book, The Best Loved Game. At the time, as an undergraduate, there were things that I wanted to do with my life other than read cricket books, but as it won the Cricket Society Book of the Year award for that year I bought my father a copy for his birthday. It was a book that in time I inherited and, not so very long ago, finally got round to reading.

Moorhouse wrote his book against the backdrop of the dramatic upheaval in the game that flowed from the actions of Kerry Packer and World Series Cricket in the summer of 1977. Moorhouse, a lifelong cricket lover, visited fourteen cricket grounds in the course of the 1978 season, varying from the humblest village green through to the Lord’s Test. His purpose was simply to take in the game as he knew it, in case it was about to change for ever.

A similar project for 2019 was an entirely appropriate idea. The inexorable rise of the T20 game throughout the world, and the ECB’s insistence on marginalising the County Championship in pursuit of its own (even shorter) new format, coupled with a continuing decline in interest in Test cricket throughout the southern hemisphere once more threatens the future.

Forty years on and Moorhouse has been the inspiration** for two new books. One is an unashamed reprise of the entire project, Neil Coles’ Still The Best Loved Game, a book I have yet to see, and  That Will Be England Gone, a book which is very similar in the way it goes about its task, but is rather more autobiographical.

For Henderson there are trips to four Test grounds; Trent Bridge, Old Trafford, The Oval and, of course, Lord’s. Also on his itinerary were the county grounds at Leicester, Canterbury, Taunton, Cheltenham, Scarborough and Chesterfield. He began his journey in Malvern in Worcestershire and also took in Repton School, alma mater of CB Fry and as many as 153 other First Class cricketers. Lastly, as a man of the Red Rose, he took in the Lancashire town of Ramsbottom, known affectionately as ‘Tup’s Arse’ when I was at school, and home to a Lancashire League team who over the years have recruited luminaries such as Seymour Nurse, Ian Chappell and Clive Rice amongst their professionals.

Having taken his title from a the work of the renowned poet Philip Larkin the second paragraph of the book gives the reader the clearest possible indication of where he or she is to be taken with that famous quote from Neville Cardus; there can be no summer in England without cricket. Throughout the book Henderson’s narrative is reminiscent of Cardus, albeit with a bit more ‘edge’, but then it is that sort of book, and a style that clearly wouldn’t be suited to a straight match report is entirely appropriate for Henderson’s purpose.

There are many pictures painted by Henderson’s prose, often of the beauty of an English summer and of the role that cricket plays in that, but they are are almost all looking backwards. There are bleak canvases as well and Henderson is clearly not at all confident that our great game will continue. Had he written his book a few months later then no doubt he would have been even more troubled.

There are harsh if well articulated criticisms of many and it is difficult to disagree with Henderson’s opinions. The great tragedy of the lifetime that Henderson and I have shared is the cutting away of the roots of the game, particularly amongst the young. The south asian diaspora must be exempted from any criticism here, but we all share some of the blame for the generations that have succeeded us not having taken to the game in the way in which we did.

Whilst That Will be England Gone is not optimistic Henderson is not quite ready to give up on the game and he ends the book on a note I rather like; The boat heading for the new world awaits, rigged and masted. All we can do is hand the game on, and hope those eager to remake it in a manner of their choosing acknowledge we did our best. If we promise to be good they may even wave at us.

It does now look like we will have some cricket this summer, albeit in a wholly unfamiliar setting, but the future is inherently uncertain. Michael Henderson’s book was always going to be a thought provoking one, but if anything it is now perhaps the more so. It is worth investing in.

*Actually there were two. Moorehouse also authored a book about Lord’s, published in 1983

**Moorehouse’s book does feature in Henderson’s, as he relates picking up a copy on his visit to Canterbury.

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