BOOK REVIEW: The Secret Game by Jake Perry

The Secret Game by Jake Perry (occasionally of this parish) is not the first book to be published on the history of Scottish Cricket. But when David Drummond Bone published his Fifty Years’ Reminiscences of Scottish Cricket back in 1898, little can he have imagined that it would take not just another fifty, nor even one hundred, but more than 120 years for a second volume to join it on what must be one of the shorter bookshelves in cricket’s library.

This is partly because, as the title – The Secret Game – hints, cricket has largely remained outside of the mainstream media discourse in a country where football has long been the alpha and the omega. (It is no coincidence that for all of England’s supposed obsession with football, it was Scotland’s Hampden Park which was for a while the largest football stadium in the world, and for many more years by far the largest ground in Britain, with a capacity between the wars of 150,000 – considerably more than any modern stadium anywhere.)

Although it is a book about history, The Secret Game is not a “history book” as such. Though it is presented in chronological order it is more like a medieval bestiary, with each of its 14 chapters focusing on an individual (or in some cases, a family) who had a particular impact on the development of the sport in their time and place.

It begins with the Lillywhites (yes, those Lillywhites, whose name still remains synonymous with sporting goods) playing a game which was (as Arthur Dent might have put it) almost, but not entirely, unlike cricket at Kelso on the Scottish borders in the 1850s; and ends with brother-and-sister internationals Gordon and Annette Drummond in the 21st Century.

Along the way it takes in Bodyline “Bad Guy” Douglas Jardine (English Captain, Scottish Heart) and his great rival, “The Don” Bradman (From The Ashes), and Scotland’s greatest ever woman player, Kari Carswell (Pushing The Boundaries).

Some may say that Carswell is “Scotland’s Rachael Heyhoe Flint”. But to those who really know, it is more that RHF was merely as close as anyone south of the border has ever come to being “England’s Kari Carswell”. Player, captain, coach, manager and administrator – Carswell was at some stage each of those… and occasionally almost all of them at once!

It is to Carswell’s chapter that those of us who love the women’s game may well turn first, and The Secret Game is definitely a book you can dip in and out of. But if you should do so, you should not omit to return later and cover the rest of the ground Perry rolls out – a voyage in vignettes, from the lochs to the lowlands, taking in the landscape of a game which is not quite so “secret” any more.