The first, by the former Telegraph cricket correspondent Michael Henderson, is an explicit lament about the decline of our summer game – offered under the apocalyptic title That Will Be England Gone: The Last Summer of Cricket.
Henderson is an endlessly erudite writer, who peppers his prose with so many learned references – from Edward Elgar to Simon Rattle, Alan Ayckbourn to Harold Pinter – that the index, had there been one, would probably have extended to 40 pages or more.
He is also a confirmed doom-monger. On his first page, Henderson suggests that “An English landscape without cricketers on the green between April and September is inconceivable”. On his last, he concludes that the end is nigh. “The boat heading for the new world awaits, rigged and masted.”
In between, there are countless lovely phrases. Henderson shrewdly observes that the result of a Twenty20 match is beside the point: “the game is what Hitchcock called a McGuffin, a device to set the tale in motion”. In a more historic passage, David Gower didn’t just find form during his 1985 Ashes run-spree; he “plucked his lyre like Orpheus”.
The result is a rich melange of influences, like combining caviar, oysters and truffles on the same plate. Too rich, at times, for my palette. But then I also had Robert Key’s Oi, Key! on my bookshelf – a more steak-and-chips take on the same topic, and none the worse for that.
A bosom pal of Andrew Flintoff, Steve Harmison and Shane Warne, Key is no fan of fitness regimes, didactic coaches or – worst of all – team-building boot camps. He debunks them all with the same deadpan wit he brings to Sky Sports’ TV coverage.