How cricket puz­zled the Paris Olympics

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Daniel Schofield

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

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