Cricket was granted a weird appearance in the Olympic Games way back in 1900 and has never since made a comeback. However, there have been quite a few cricketers who have reached Olympian summits. Arunabha Sengupta lists the magnificent men across the years who managed to emerge faster, higher and stronger beyond the limits of the 22 yards.
Victory in a Velodrome
In August, 1900, a motley group of Englishmen, touring France under the name Devon and Somerset Wanderers, played a two-day cricket match against a French side at Velodrome de Vincennes. In the 20,000-seater banked cycling track, they were watched by a few bored and confused gendarmes who exchanged a few comments about the wackiness of their neighbours across the channel.
It was a 12-a-side match, which the tourists won by 158 runs and were awarded silver medals for their efforts. After the event, they continued to travel around, playing a couple of matches on the side. Neither was the match publicised beyond a few fliers, nor remembered beyond scant mentions in local papers.
In 1912 the International Olympic Committee (IOC) met to compile the definitive list of all the events in the five modern Olympiads, and a bunch of sporting encounters played as an extension of the 1900 World Fair of Paris were officially included in the record books.
Thus, this game of cricket, which was hardly reported in any English paper, entered the Olympics, much to the bewilderment of the Devon and Somerset XII, who were in no way a nationally selected team. Only two of the 12, Alfred Bowerman and Montagu Toller, ever played First-class cricket.
From the St Louis version of the Games in 1904, cricket was largely forgotten and has paved a distant and parallel path to the Summer Games. Yet, there have been several cricketers who have followed the steps of Bowerman and Toller to represent their countries in the Olympic Games, although, by force, in other disciplines.
Listed below are details of First-class cricketers who have participated in the Olympic Games.
Alfred Bowerman - Cricket (Gold) – An enthusiastic club cricketer, Bowerman scored 59 in the second innings of the match that can now perhaps be called the Olympic finals. He appeared for Somerset twice in county cricket, averaging 2.00 with the bat and later migrated to Australia as a timber merchant.
Montagu Toller – Cricket (Gold) – When France batted in the second innings of the Olympic encounter, requiring 185 to win, they managed just 26. The man responsible for the damage was Tolller, capturing seven wickets for nine runs. However, his First-class tally of wickets is just the one, in six matches for Somerset – to go with his 77 runs.
Claude Buckenham – Football (Gold) – The football tournament of the 1900 Olympics followed a similar haphazard pattern, with three assembled teams participating. Upton Club FC won the round robin league, upstaging Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques XI and Université libre de Bruxelles – and hence, later Great Britain was awarded the first position. Buckenham played as the right back for the winning team. He went on to play four Tests for England in South Africa in 1910, bowling fast and picking up 21 wickets. His First Class career with Essex spanned 15 years.
Johnny Douglas - Boxing (Gold) – JWHT Douglas, later an English cricket captain, won the middleweight boxing event at the London Olympics of 1908. The man he defeated was Reginald Baker, an equally versatile Australian who also participated in swimming and diving. Douglas – who played for Essex as an all-rounder - captained England in 18 of his 23 Tests. His severely defensive technique earned him the expansion of his initials “Johnny Won’t Hit Today”, but he is still considered one of the supreme all-round sportsmen of all time. He drowned at sea in 1930 trying to save his father's life, after two vessels had collided in the fog.
Reginald Pridmore - Hockey (Gold) - A middle-order batsman, Pridmore played 14 matches for Warwickshire without major success. His hockey career was more flourishing, with a gold medal in the 1908 Olympics. Pridmore was killed in action while serving with the Royal Field Artillery in Italy in 1918.
Arthur Page – Real Tennis – An all-round sportsman who played nine First-class matches for Oxford University with limited success, Page represented England in the obsolete and discontinued game of Real Tennis in 1908. He came fourth, losing to the eventual winner in the semi-final. He later became a pusine judge in Calcutta.
Henry Brougham – Rackets (Bronze) – Brougham was a superb athlete who won his Blue at Oxford for cricket in 1911, and the following year represented England four times in rugby. However the sport in which he excelled was rackets, another discontinued Olympic event, winning the bronze medal in 1908.
Arthur Knight – Football (Gold) – Knight played four times for Hampshire as a batsman, leading them twice. He was better known as a footballer, representing England 30 times, and playing all three matches as a part of the gold medal winning side of 1912.
Knight also played in the 1920 Olympics.
Cyril Wilkinson - Hockey (Gold) – Wilkinson played 54 First-class matches for Surrey, captaining the county to a championship win in 1914. A polished batsman, he also led the English hockey side and represented Great Britain as a part of the Olympic-winning team of 1920.
Jack MacBryan – Hockey (Gold) – Wilkinson’s 1920 Olympic hockey teammate was MacBryan, a high scoring amateur batsman of Somerset. His claim to fame as a cricketer, however, remains tragic. His only Test was at Old Trafford against South Africa in 1924, and with rain washing out the match, he happens to be the only Test cricketer who never batted, bowled or made a dismissal in the field.
Alastair MacCorquodale – Athletics (Silver) McCorquodale turned out three times for Middlesex in 1951 and later went on a high profile MCC tour to Canada. But, his acclaim is as an athlete who came fourth in a photo-finish in the 100m at the 1948 Games, ending with the same time as the two runners in second and third positions. He was also a member of the 4x100 relay team that ended second behind the USA, and ran the 200m. He might have achieved somewhat more success if he had not made a habit of stubbing out his cigarette just before a race.
Michael Walford - Hockey (Silver) – Walford was an amateur batsman for Somerset who could turn up in an occasional game and set the ground on fire with his exploits. He played 97 First-class matches, scoring over 5,000 runs. A superb fielder in the covers, he was also a hockey wing-half and won 17 England caps, many of them as captain, and played all five games for Great Britain in the silver-medal winning side that lost the Olympic final to India in 1948.
John Cockett – Hockey (Bronze) – Cockett was a middle-order batsman who forced his way into the Cambridge University side in his final year in 1951. He played one more First-class match, for Minor Counties against the Australians in 1953, without scoring a run in his two innings. Cockett had more success as a half-back in hockey, representing Britain in the 1952 Olympics when they beat Pakistan to win bronze and also in the 1956 Melbourne games where they came fourth.
Brian Booth – Hockey – Graceful middle order batsman, Booth scored five hundreds in 29 Tests. When regular skipper Bobby Simpson was injured and ill, he led Australia twice in the 1960s. He also played hockey for Australia and New South Wales and was in the squad for the 1956 Olympics, at home in Melbourne. Before the Olympics, he spent a few anxious days wondering whether the pocket expenses he received for cricket would make him a professional and therefore ineligible to participate in the Games.
Ian Dick – Hockey Booth’s captain in the Australian hockey side of 1956 was Ian Dick, who also scored Australia’s first goal in the competition. He did not miss one single hockey game for Australia between 1948 to 1958, while also managing to play one First-class match for Western Australia in 1950.
Maurice Foley – Hockey The third member of the 1956 Australian hockey team who was also a First-class cricketer was Foley who played three matches for Western Australia in 1953-54.
Chuni Goswami – Football - A rare Indian centre-forward who created magic on the field with his creative manoeuvres, Goswami represented India 50 times in football, captaining the national team to a gold in the Asian Games and a silver in the Merdeka Cup. He was also a member of the 1956 Olympic football team that finished fourth, losing to Hungary in the semi-finals after leading by a goal till the 70thminute. He was also a useful all-rounder who captained Bengal in the Ranji Trophy. His best bowling figures was five for 47 achieved for a combined team of Central and East Zones while defeating a strong West Indies side of 1966-67.
Mexico City, 1968 and Munich 1972
David Acfield – Fencing - An off-spinner with 950 First-class wickets spanning across almost 20 years, Acfield might have been considered a Test prospect had his batting not been abysmal enough to average 8.18. He was also a champion fencer, taking part in the 1968 and 1972 Games, and winning a gold medal at the 1970 Commonwealth Games.
Munich 1972, Montreal 1976, Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988
Ric Charlesworth – Hockey (Silver) - Had it not been for the boycott of the Moscow Games, Charlesworth would have participated in five Olympics. Nevertheless, he was a member of Australian sides that won the silver in 1976 at the Montreal Olympics, and the World Cup in 1986 at London. He also led the country in the 1984 Olympic Games. Charlesworth was also a decent left handed opening batsman for Western Australia, who was a part of three Sheffield Shield winning sides. He came close to a Test cap during the World Series Championships era, and played 47 First-class matches, scoring over 2000 runs.
Appendix: Honourable mentions
MJ Gopalan – Asked to choose, Gopalan opted to tour England in 1936 under Maharajakumar of Vizianagaram, and thus missed being part of the gold medal winning Olympic hockey team. He ended up without playing a Test on the tour.
Jonty Rhodes – Rhodes too opted for cricket when the call for hockey duties coincided with South Africa’s return to international cricket. The national team, however, did not qualify for the 1992 Olympics. When asked again four years later, Rhodes pulled out with a hamstring injury.
Ellyse Perry – The young Australian female all-rounder who bowls genuinely quick, Perry made her soccer debut against Hong Kong in an Olympic qualifying match and scored a goal in the second minute. She has played 18 matches for Australia, representing the country in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Germany.
(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but purifies the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two into a cleansing cocktail. The author of three novels, he currently resides in the incredibly beautiful, but sadly cricket-ignorant, country of Switzerland. You can know more about him from his author site, his cricket blogs and by following him on Twitter)