Poster for 1900 Olympic match between England and France Vincennes. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Poster for 1900 Olympic match between England and France Vincennes. Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The first — and till date, only — cricket match in the Olympics concluded on August 20, 1900. Abhishek Mukherjee looks at a historic day that the cricket fraternity would definitely remember.

It was not your usual cricket match, mes chers, for it was played at les Jeux Olympiques! Cricket at the Olympics! The crème de la crème of all human sportsmanship at the highest événement de sport!

Of course, les Français involved Hollande and Belgique along with l’anglaise. The schedule was drawn up as follows:

August 4 – 5: France versus Belgium
August 11 – 12: France versus Netherlands
August 19 – 20: France versus Great Britain

Exactly what was expected out of a schedule this quixotic surpasses the scope of the average mind, but there must have been some purpose. As things turned out, Netherlands could not form a cricket team and Belgium did not turn up.

France did not really have a proper team. It was a selection from l’Union des Sociétiés Français de Sports Athletiques. Ian Buchanan writes in 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.”

The members of these clubs were mostly English workmen who were in Paris to build — hold your breath — the Eiffel Tower.

As was obvious, the British residents in France had un rôle de crucial in forming the team. In fact, three players came from the organising committee!

Things were not supposed to be this bad. Cricket was supposed to have been played at Athens in 1896; had it been so, it would have been the only team game in the tournament; however, it had to be withdrawn due to lack of participants (something tells me the Yorkshiremen would have loved to play in Sparta).

Coming back to the Great Britain side, they were basically a club that went by the name of Devon and Somerset Wanderers Cricket Club. It was formed by William Donne in 1894 for a tour of Isle of Wight, and this was actually their sixth tour. Based at Castle Gary, this team consisted of local players who could acquire leaves to play cricket.

Great Britain boasted of two First-Class cricketers: Montagu Toller had played six matches for Somerset in 1897, scoring 77 runs at 7.70, and had taken a solitary wicket with his ‘fast’ bowling. Alfred Bowerman, on the other hand, had made his debut for Somerset earlier that season, scoring a duck and three against Lancashire at Taunton.

Velodrome de Vincennes, a 20,000-seater bicycle track was decided as the venue. The British had arrived on August 18 and had been put up at Hotel des Trois Princes. It was decided that it will be a 12-a-side contest (Harry Comer was added to the British side and J Braid, comme l’arme française).

Braid? For France? Well, 11 of the 12 Frenchmen did not have French names (William Andersen could, however, have been somewhere from Scandinavia: we’ll never know for sure; however, the name wasn’t French). Arthur Schneidau was the only one with a remote chance.

Generally there were no issues regarding this addition as both sides had agreed to it, but with 11 names printed on the scorecard, the scorers had to squeeze in the last name by hand.

Despite the immense publicity that involved distribution of posters and handbills (which did not contain the word ‘Olympics’ anywhere) the response was meagre (you can hardly blame the French for not turning up to watch cricket!). The ticket prices were set at 1 Franc and 50 cents.

Day One: The Olympic rings on the scorecard

Play got under way at 11 am with fewer spectators than cricketers at the ground wishing bon jour to each other. It is not documented whether the fielders, batsmen, and bowlers played under the mantras of citius, altius, and fortius respectively, and neither do we know whether French craie was used to mark the crease.

Great Britain batted first, and sent in the wonderfully named pair of Charles Beachey Kay Beachcroft (the captain) and Arthur Ernest Barrington Birkett. France handed the new ball to a pair of Williams — Atrill and Andersen.

There was an hour’s lunch break at noon and more spectators came in as the day progressed. Great Britain were eventually bowled out for 117. Frederick Cuming top-scored with 38, and Andersen picked up four wickets. The other three bowlers — Atrill, Arthur McEvoy, and Douglas Robinson — picked up two apiece.

The French were then decimated by the 23-year old Staffordshire bowler Frederick Christian who picked up seven wickets. John Powlesland chipped in with two more, and France were bowled out for 78. The first three batsmen got 34 between them; there were 11 extras; and je ne sais pas comment, Braid, the No. 12 batsman, top-scored with 25.

Stumps were called as Braid was run out, and Great Britain left the ground with a lead of 39 runs. Philip Tomalin, the French captain, was left stranded on 3.

Possibly the greatest aspect of the French scorecard were those batting from 5 to 9: F Roques, Andersen, Douglas Robinson, Atrill, and W Browning, all of whom registered ducks. Peut être nothing could have been more appropriate than five consecutive zeroes for a cricket match scorecard at the Olympics!

Day Two: They’re not indomitable, then

Whatever chance France had of coming back into the match ruled out by Beachy Beachcroft (oh, the name!) and Bowerman, who scored 54 and 59 respectively. Beachcroft declared the British innings closed at 145 for 5, setting the French a target of 185 — a target definitely beyond them given their first innings performance. For them Roques managed to pick up three wickets.

Montagu Toller (shouldn’t he have played for the other side?) and Powlesland then toasted and fried the French (if you mind the pun) for 26 (the No.s 11 and 12 – Tomalin and Braid — scored 13 of these runs between them): Toller picked up 7 for 9 – all bowled – and Powlesland 3 for 15. The 11th wicket went to Harry Corner. Great Britain won by an emphatic 158 runs. The medals tally looked like this:

Gold

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.

Silver

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.

Ensuite

- The winners and runners-up collected le médaille, presumably while uttering “merci“. They were also awarded mementoes of the Eiffel Tower.

- Despite all this, the match was not considered a part of the official Olympics till the International Olympics Committee decided to do so in 1912.

- The Wanderers played two more matches in France before leaving. They were not attracted by the French approach towards the sport at all. The French were “too excitable to enjoy the game”, they thought.

- To mark the 90th anniversary the Standard Athletic Club invited the Old Blundellian Club to Paris. The match, played on July 11 and 12, 1990, ended in a draw. “England has retained the Olympic title!” was the claim at the dinner.

- Bowerman went on to play another match for Somerset — against Middlesex at Lord’s, no less. He was not up to the challenge of facing Jack Hearne and Frank Tarrant, and scored 3 and 2.

- France, with 69 clubs, about 4,000 cricketers and over 200 qualified coaches, are currently fighting to make their way into Division Eight of ICC World Cricket League. They were granted Associate member status by ICC in 1998. They had managed to qualify for ICC Trophy 2001 (to qualify for World Cup 2003) and had even managed to defeat Israel by 3 wickets at Toronto.

Brief scores:

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.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is a cricket historian and Senior Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He thinks he can bowl decent leg-breaks in street cricket, and can be followed @ovshake42)