For cricket fans of a certain age, it can feel that the game has been walking briskly away from us in the past decade. Test cricket suffers from players more familiar with the shortened game, additional formats are created, based on a presumed lack of attention span on the part of players and spectators, and the thoughtful, classic mode of the game – the county championship four day event – has become an embarrassing uncle at a wedding, shunted off into a corner, and only grudgingly acknowledged for his long and lasting contribution to the family.
Of course, while fifty and twenty over games are quite capable of producing excitement and skill – though of a different order to previous incarnations of the game, much of the cerebral and reflective nature of cricket – to which it owes many of its unique qualities – is being hustled away in the commercial need for short and sharp action – for the “Amazon generation” who want it now rather than the drawn out joys of delayed gratification.
However, for those of us in Scotland and beyond who enjoy the finer points of the game, who like to identify familiar players from year to year, and chart the career progress of upcoming stars, following the Scottish national side has become something of a lifesaver.
It is true that the vast majority of their fixtures are played in the short form of the game – One Day Internationals or T20 competitions – but in many other respects, following Cricket Scotland provides much of the comfort of former times for the enthusiast.
These guys are playing for the love of the game – even those on full time professional contracts cannot make a living from the sport, and most make huge sacrifices to keep on appearing for the team. Inevitably, that breeds a familiarity and an affection between support and playing squad, and the game’s followers here fully appreciate the commitment necessary to perform to international standards in the world of associate cricket as currently constituted. So success is welcomed and celebrated with great vigour and emotion – and never more so than on June 10th 2018, when Scotland beat England in a One Day International at the Grange in Edinburgh.
Therefore, a book covering that historic event is very welcome to Scotland fans. However, “Playing with Teeth”, from Jake Perry and Gary Heatly, gains a more universal appeal by eschewing a tabloid approach to “The Big Moment” and, instead, thoughtfully and incisively, reflecting on the journey up to that point and, as its subtitle suggests, divining how Scotland “broke the cycle of glorious failure.” The authors’ approach is far more “County Championship” than “Vitality Blast” – and a far better read for that!
Cricket enthusiasts never knowingly turn down the opportunity to revel in statistics, but they will find them used intelligently to provide colour in this account of the five years that led up to the victory over the auld enemy – a predictably Scottish tale of optimism, despair, “almost but not quite”, and “coulda, woulda, shoulda”.
Both Jake and Gary are well kent figures on the Scottish cricket scene, and that knowledge and empathy, tempered with a good slice of analytical distancing, allows them to tell the tale with clarity, insight and revelation.
Thoughtful interviews with many of the major players – on and off the field – answer the questions upon which supporters have long pondered – what changed in the team’s approach, how was that change achieved, and which elements of that evolution became the drivers for ongoing success, and for the shedding of the “almost men” soubriquet?
To followers, the names of the players and coaches who are quoted are beyond familiar, but, given the sparse media coverage accorded to the associate game, it is fascinating to hear now their personal accounts of the changing approaches and how that impacted on them individually and on the team ultimately.
The developing roles and contrasting styles of the coaches – Peter Steindl, Grant Bradburn, Shane Burger, Andy Tennant, Toby Bailey and other backroom staff, is deservedly highlighted – and the incremental journey well detailed, even to the short term involvement of the influential Paul Collingwood and other specialists. It is particularly good to see the acknowledgement of the role played as player, captain, coach and leader by Craig Wright, whose inspiration in many areas is well covered, as are the captaincy roles of Preston Mommsen and Kyle Coetzer, and the wider contributions of senior players.
Representing Scotland against Test playing nations has always meant a uphill battle against lack of resources and limited media exposure. It is a journey which has been made by all who play for Cricket Scotland – away from the glare of publicity and with minimal attention. Jake and Gary use the words of staff and players to shine a light on that sometimes dark voyage.
In the end, however, we learn that the team decided to cease focussing on what they did not have, and to start maximising what they did have – a group of talented, strong willed and committed players, who, on their day, as a team, believed they were the equals of anybody. It was time, they decided, to start “Playing with Teeth”.
I remember coach Grant Bradburn saying in the press conference before that England game: “We’re going to beat England some time – why not on Sunday?”
It was a sentiment that thrilled me as a supporter and, thanks to this book, we now know, was redolent of the team’s mindset.
“Playing with teeth” is a fine account of “How we beat the English” in June 2018, but, beyond that, and more importantly, it is a grand tribute to all of those, on and off the field, who made that victory possible.
Cricket is perhaps at its best when it takes a measured approach and maximises style and ability, as did Cricket Scotland in the time leading up to that famous victory. In this “oral history” of “who, how, why, and when”, Jake and Gary have not let them down!