How cricket puzzled the Paris Olympics
In other circumstances, a one-sided match between the touring Devon and Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club and a combination of players from Parisian sides, Union Club and the Standard Athletic Club, would have been lost to the mists of time.
One and only: The sole Olympic cricket match was staged at a velodrome at the Paris Games of 1900
There was no report of the game in either the French or English national press. A couple of local Devon papers carried a few scant details. In cricket history, however, this match which was played 120 years ago today, occupies a seminal place as the sport’s first and last foray into the Olympic Games.
In keeping with the rest of the 1900 Olympics, which are excellently documented by sports historian Ian Buchanan, the match was gloriously shambolic. Those Games took place over a six-month period and were not promoted as the Olympics, but as a support to the Paris Exposition.
Dozens of weird and wonderful sports were played. There is still much debate as to what constituted official events and test events. A document published in 1912 suggested that cricket, along with swimming obstacle racing, ballooning and croquet should be considered legitimate events.
Sadly, fire fighting, (live) pigeon shooting and kite flying did not make the cut.
Baron Pierre de Coubertin had wanted cricket to be included in the first modern Olympics in Athens four years earlier, but it had to be cancelled for a lack of teams. The portents, then, were not promising; two of the four teams – Holland and Belgium – withdrew in Paris after being denied cohosting rights. That left Great Britain and France.
The Wanderers team representing Britain came almost exclusively from Castle Cary Cricket Club and alumni of Blundell’s School in Somerset. The selection criteria was based on who could get a fortnight off work.
At least, the Wanderers could claim to be flying the flag. A quick scan of the surnames on the French team-sheet – Horne, Terry, Anderson, Robinson, Browning – reveals them to be as Gallic as a 50-hour working week. Instead, the French team were largely drawn from expat English workers, who had been employed on the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
The match was staged at the Velodrome de Vincennes, a 20,000-seat bicycle track, although it became apparent that the players were going to outnumber spectators.
For unknown reasons, the captains decided it would be a 12-a-side match over two days. Britain batted first and posted a reasonable 117, with Frederick Cuming top-scoring with 38. Even with a team full of Englishmen, the French still lived up to national stereotypes, with a middle-order surrender as five successive batsmen went for a duck. They were eventually bowled out for 78.
The British team piled on the runs in the second innings, eventually declaring at 145 for five, with Alfred Bowerman making 59 and a further half-century from opener Beachy Beachcroft. Set 184 to win, France could only reach 26. No player reached double figures, but at least they bettered their first innings’ tally of five ducks, with six batsmen departing without a score. Montagu Toller finished with seven wickets for nine runs.
Both teams were awarded medals and miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower.
The French hospitality was not at an end, however. On their coach trip back to the team hotel, it emerged that one driver was too inebriated to drive and had to be bundled into the back. The second driver was similarly intoxicated and duly crashed the coach, causing minor injuries to the party.
The Wanderers continued their tour, but left France nonplussed by the standard of opposition. One journalist wrote that the French, they decided, were “too excitable to enjoy the game” and in what must be the greatest use of cricket to sum up Anglo-French relations, it was declared: “No Frenchman could be persuaded to play more than once. A cricketer in France is a stranger in a strange land looked upon with awe and contempt by the average Frenchman.”
Both teams were awarded medals and miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower