Playing With Teeth

Published: 2022
Pages: 270
Author: Perry, Jake and Heatly, Gary
Publisher: Pitch
Rating: 3.5 stars

I knew the day would come when I would have to and, I suppose, it was almost inevitable after the crack I made when reviewing Jake Perry’s last book, The Secret Game, that he would be the man to force my hand.

The truth is I always did know, deep down, that Scotland had beaten England in a remarkable ODI in 2018. Fortunately for me I was able to read The Secret Game and ignore the truth, but I knew as soon as I saw the sub-title of this one, How Scotland’s Cricketers Broke the Cycle of Glorious Failure, that this time round Perry and co-author Gary Heatly were going to force me to confront my demon.

In the circumstances I decided I had to take the bull by the horns, so I went straight to chapter 8 in order that I could get the ordeal out of the way. In fact the experience was cathartic. The distress and disbelief at England’s defeat had always blinded me to what a remarkable game of cricket that one was, and four years on there was no pain, and indeed I rather enjoyed being able to relive the horror, at last being able to see the uplifting effect their win had on the Scots.

So now I could go back to the beginning and find out what Playing with Teeth is all about. In recent years a succession of writers have produced a series of quality books on the game of cricket as it is played outside its major centres, not least of them Peter Miller, who provides a perceptive foreword. There then follows an introduction that sets the scene, and which reminded me of the only Scottish footballing moment I can instantly and vividly recall, Archie Gemmill’s strike against the Dutch at the 1978 World Cup. So near and yet so far.

The main body of the book then goes on to deal with the last act of the Cycle of Glorious Failure, a failure to emerge from the qualifying tournament in the UAE with a berth in the 2013/14 T20 World Cup. From there the new Scotland emerged and, after losing their first game in their attempt to qualify for the 2014/15 World Cup, they won all the rest in order to take their place in the tournament. The Scots were beaten comfortably by Australia, England and Sri Lanka, but could easily have beaten Afghanistan and performed well also against Bangladesh and co-hosts New Zealand.

Subsequent to that 2013/14 tournament there have been more highs than lows for Scottish cricket, and whilst the highlight for most may well remain that defeat of England the overall direction of progress has been onwards and upwards, even if the promise of the manner in which the Scots qualified for the final stages of the 2021 version of the T20 World Cup did not quite follow through into their performance in the group stage.

The story of the Scots’ journey is an interesting one, the more so because it has largely played itself out on the edge of the mainstream of the game. Of course, just because authors have chosen a decent subject doesn’t of itself guarantee their book is worth reading, but I am pleased to report that Perry and Heatly have done justice to the men and events they cover, primarily because they largely act as editors, allowing the players and others involved in Scottish cricket to tell the story themselves as they regularly draw on a series of interviews conducted specifically for the book, as well as the occasional quote from other sources.

In terms of the presentation of the book itself that is well up to the standards that Pitch have set for themselves in recent years. There are no statistics as such, and just potted scores rather than scorecards, omissions I have been known to bemoan in the past. Unusually however I mention it as a positive on this occasion, as Playing With Teeth, had it become unnecessarily clogged up with numbers and tables, would not have been as interesting a read as it is.

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