Earlier this month (On July 25th), The Guardian carried a report on the probabilities of the inclusion of Cricket in the 2024 Summer Olympics. In March this year, David Richardson, the chief executive of the International Cricket Council (ICC), has stated in the public that “time is right” to apply to enter the Games in 2024.
Well, it seems finally the administrators of the game have understood the importance of taking Cricket to the biggest sporting event on the globe. From the globalisation and commercial point of view, Cricket’s Olympics inclusion, if it happens, will be the much-needed boost this sport is looking for at this point of time.
However, this won’t be the first time (Again I am stressing on the fact if it happens) the name of this traditional British sport is getting associated with the Olympic games. Both have a long-term association.
Towards the end of the 19th century, Cricket was one of the original sports listed in the provisional Olympic programme, Des Jeux Olympiques de 1896 (Published in 1895). At the 1896 games, at Athens, Cricket was intended to be played, but the lack of participation played a spoilsport.
Finally, four years later in Paris, came the landmark moment.
Initially, there were four countries – Great Britain, France, Belgium and Holland – who agreed to send their teams. A schedule was prepared, which is as follows.
August 4 to 5: France versus Belgium
August 11 to 12: France versus Netherlands
August 19 to 20: France versus Great Britain
However, things didn’t go as planned.
As things turned out, Netherlands could not form a cricket team and Belgium did not turn up, which left the organisers with no choice but to go ahead with the event with only two participating teams.
Eventually, on August 19-20, the only Cricket match at the Olympics was played between Great Britain and the hosts France at the Municipal Velodrome of Vincennes. The ground was anything but a cricket field where a banked cycling track was used as the boundary line.
Cricket historians claim, at that time, France did not have a proper cricket team either. The side was formed under the banner of the l’Union des Sociétiés Français de Sports Athletiques: as Ian Buchanan writes in his piece Cricket at the 1900 Games, “so few of the member clubs of the Society actually played cricket that the team was drawn from just two clubs: the now defunct Union Club and the Standard Athletic Club.”
Both these clubs were formed in 1890 by the English workmen who came to Paris for the construction of the Eiffel Tower.
The members of the Great Britain team were associated with the “Devon & Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club”, a well-established touring side which was formed by William Donne, who too featured in the Olympic game.
The match was originally scheduled to be an 11-a-side game, but a last-minute agreement between the two captains – Charles Beachey Kay Beachcroft of Great Britain and Philip Tomalin of France added one more player on each side.
Buchanan, in his essay, has described the match quite aptly.
“Play began before a handful of spectators at 11:00 AM on Sunday, an hour’s break for lunch was taken at noon and, when play resumed in the afternoon, the visitors were all out for 117 runs. The host team replied with a score of 78 and play finished for the day at 5 PM. With an overnight lead of 39 the “Wanderers” gave a vastly improved batting display in the second innings and declared their innings closed at 145 runs for 5 wickets. Needing 185 runs to win, the French batting completely fell apart in the second innings. No one scored in double figures and of their six players who failed to score at all, four had also been dismissed without scoring in the first innings.
“After losing 10 wickets for only eleven runs the French attempted to play out time, but the “Wanderers” finally won by 158 runs with five minutes to spare. Not surprisingly, the architect of the victory was the player with the most experience of the First-Class game, Montague Toller, who took seven wickets – all of them clean bowled – for nine runs.”
Great Britain: Beachy Beachcroft (c), Arthur Birkett, John Symes, Frederick Cuming, Montagu Toller, Alfred Bowerman, Alfred Powlesland, William Donne, Frederick Christian, George Buckley, Francis Burchell, Harry Corner.
France: Philip Tomalin (c), Timothée Jordan, Arthur Schneidau, Robert Horne, Henry Terry, F Roques, William Andersen, Douglas Robinson, William Atrill, W Browning, Arthur McEvoy, J Braid.
Great Britain 117 (William Andersen 4 wickets) and 145 for 5 decl. (Alfred Bowerman 59, Charles Beachcroft 54; F Roques 3 wickets) beat France 78 (Frederick Christian 7 wickets) and 26 (Montagu Toller 7 for 9, John Powelesland 3 for 15) by 158 runs.
However, despite winning this fixture convincingly, the Great Britain side was given silver medals whereas the French team had been awarded with Bronze medals as at the time of the match neither teams knew that they were competing in the Olympics. The match was initially advertised as being part of the world’s fair in Paris. To get an official recognition as an ‘Olympic match’ both the teams had to wait till 1912 for the approval of the International Olympic Committee.
Till date, Cricket is not recognised as a mainstream sport in France, but hosting that Olympic fixture, the country had witnessed one of the most significant matches in the history of this game of bat and ball.