But in an age when so much is dumbed down, it’s a welcome change. Not that all the fancy stuff gets in the way of the narrative. On the contrary, it’s extremely readable. Henderson’s curmudgeonly persona is often amusing, as he takes aim at the ‘craft ale’ bar at Trent Bridge (his inverted commas) and excoriates John Lennon for posing as a working-class hero. And That Will be England Gone is part memoir, part sports book, part essay. In tone it’s a strange thing: a level-headed lament. Given that this may be a summer without leather and willow, and that coughing has become taboo, Henderson’s book provides a much-needed literary-cricketing alternative: a beautiful clearing of the throat.
I may have given the impression that this is the work of a curmudgeon. Change and decay in all around I see, and all that. But it really isn’t, not at all. Henderson may like a grumble, but it comes from a good place. This book is an extended love letter, a beautifully written one, to a world that he is desperate to keep alive for others to discover and share. Not just his love of cricket, either, but of poetry and classical music and fine cinema. TS Eliot and GK Chesterton are as important a part of his batting order as ER Dexter or DCS Compton; Powell and Pressburger fire him like Trueman and Statham. And he gushes as much about Barbirolli as Botham. He fears that the young will not miss all this when it is gone because they were never taught to love it in the first place.
The best raconteurs have a chip of ice in their conviviality. One has the impression that while many of the stories here were first heard by the author in a bar quite late at night, he took the trouble to write them down when he got back to his room. There is a bracing accuracy, a fact-checking diligence, that makes the book more than opinion and anecdote. For this reason, you can forgive him some autobiography and several digressions — on Vienna, for instance, or Ken Dodd, and quite a few on the jazz he listens to in the car as he drives from one county to the next.