The Secret GameMartin Chandler |
Author: Perry, Jake
Publisher: Chequered Flag Publishing
Rating: 4 stars
Here at Cricketweb we like to think we are the broadest of broad churches where cricket literature is concerned. In support of that contention I would cite the fact that The Secret Game is the fifth publication we have reviewed on the subject of Scottish cricket, albeit what I believe is Jake Perry’s first book is only the second of any great substance after Richard Miller’s Strathmore Cricket Union – The First Ninety Years, a rather different sort of book.
There is an early scare for the reader in The Secret Game, Perry’s introduction briefly raising the possibility that the book is some sort of fantasy fiction. One lesson that Perry needs to learn is that if he is going to have any chance of convincing anyone that Scotland are capable of beating England at cricket that it is best not to refer to a specific date and place. Thankfully I am pleased to be able to advise that, beyond referencing 10th June 2018 and Raeburn Park in Edinburgh Perry does not persist with such a nonsensical suggestion, and the good news is that after such a poor start the introduction rapidly improves as Perry takes a look at the place of cricket in Scottish sporting affections, and thereafter the quality of the narrative remains consistently high throughout.
So, looking at the subtitle, what tales of Scottish cricket does Perry’s reader get? The best known Scottish connection in the game is probably that of Lord Jardine of Mumbai and, naturally, there is a chapter on the Iron Duke. Everyone has a view on Jardine, and he is not a difficult man to write about. What is more of a challenge is to find a new perspective and, through the rarely reported observations of Jardine’s immediate family, Perry certainly manages that and his book is worth buying for chapter eight alone.
Another well known name, at least amongst the game’s cognoscenti, is that of Archie Jackson. The superlatives heaped on Jackson by those who saw him bat and his tragic early death make his another story that is easy to tell. Again Perry had the opportunity to do his job well without really making very much effort, but he eschewed that chance in order to dwell on Jackson the Scot as much as Jackson the new Trumper.
From Archie Jackson it is a relatively small step to look at his mighty contemporary, Don Bradman, who has some interesting connections with the Scottish game. I have already reviewed this monograph, and this old programme, and I have to say that particularly in relation to the former I wish I had had the opportunity, before opening it, of reading Perry’s take on the events that are covered.
One of the chapters in the book is entitled Memories of Manjrekar. It begins and ends with a look at Vijay Manjrekar, the Indian Test batsman of the 1950s and 1960s who played as a professional in Paisley and made a huge impact there. Having read son Sanjay’s recent autobiography it was interesting to read about the way Manjrekar lived his life in Scotland as well as learning more about his cricket. There is also a fascinating digression on the subject of Jimmy Orr, a man who childhood polio left so disabled that he could never bat without a runner, but who was a demon with ball in his hand. Orr’s story in turn leads to a curious tale about one of the finest Scottish cricketers, the Reverend Jimmy Aitchison.
But ultimately the book is about Scotland, and it is surprising how many of the stories will ring a bell with seasoned cricket lovers. For example there is the story of the much publicised (at the time) trip that Freuchie, from Fife, made to Lord’s in 1985 for the final of the National Village Championship. I also immediately knew what the chapter entitled The Captain and the Goalie would be about. Its subject matter is of course the former Scotland goalkeeper Andy Goram, who also played cricket for his country, albeit not with any great success. Aussie ‘keeper Graham Manou and former Pakistan captain Misbah-ul-Haq also find their way into the Goram story.
I have however, by starting with the chapters on Jardine and Jackson, got ahead of myself and may have created the false impression that Perry’s book is about the modern game. In fact it ranges over the entire history of cricket, going back as far as the visits to Scotland of the famous wandering elevens who toured all over the UK in Victorian times and, a few years later, the Graces ventured north of the border as well.
Something I certainly didn’t know before opening The Secret Game was that at one stage, albeit only briefly, a Scotsman held the record for the game’s highest individual score. In 1885 the Chichester Park Club in Sussex, who included the first England captain James Lillywhite in their ranks, entertained a touring West of Scotland side in a two day match. The visitors batted first and they, and more particularly opening batsman Stewart Carrick were at the crease throughout. The laws of the game did not then permit a declaration and, with an unbeaten 419, the Sussex men simply could not get them out.
And I could go on, but I won’t reveal all of Perry’s secrets and will leave just a few stories for readers to discover for themselves. All in all this is an excellent book and one which I hope will see well. If I have one disappointment it is the absence of any photographs, but at £9.99 the book is very reasonably priced and it does have an excellent index and comprehensive list of sources. Best of all however is that the door is left open for a second selection, a project which I hope Perry and his excellent publisher, Chequered Flag, have in hand already. Chapters that, I would suggest, are essentials will deal with another England captain, Mike Denness, the giant Northants and England pace bowler Dave Larter and noted writer, raconteur and England and Middlesex leg spinner Ian Peebles.