MCC to send team to play in France

Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) is set to send its latest side to France on Sunday as part of its ongoing mission to spread cricket round the world © Getty Images

London: May 4, 2013

While France has fallen for the charms of football and rugby despite their Anglo-Saxon origins, the “je ne sais quoi” of cricket has never taken hold on the other side of the Channel in quite the same way.

But that won’t deter Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) from sending its latest side to France on Sunday as part of its ongoing mission to spread cricket round the world, and not just in the countries and lands of the former British Empire which provide its leading Test match nations.

Such “missionary work” matters to MCC, which owns London’s Lord’s ground — the self-styled “home of cricket”. This year also sees the club touring Cyprus, Uganda and Rwanda.

But suggestions a planned MCC tour of France in 1789 was scuppered by the French Revolution — a rather more memorable reason for an abandonment than the customary “rain stopped play” — may be more of a legend than historical fact according to MCC researcher Neil Robinson, with the club’s records from that period destroyed in an 1825 fire.

“MCC was only formed in 1787 so you’d think they would have had more pressing issues than organising a tour of France two years later,” Robinson, in charge of the library at Lord’s, told AFP.

“However, legend has it that the Duke of Dorset suggested to the Earl of Tankerville (a title deriving from Tancarville in Normandy) he bring a cricket team over to help assuage anti-British feeling.

“Tankerville was one of the grandees who would have played a role in the formation of MCC. The legend also has it that when the team got to Dover (the south-east coastal port town then, as now, an embarkation point for France), they saw the Duke of Dorset coming the other way as a result of the Revolution,” said Robinson.

Former British Prime Minister and lifelong cricket fan John Major appears to have finally put paid to all talk of an MCC, or indeed any kind, of 1789 tour while researching his book “More Than a Game”, a history of early cricket.

Dorset, according to Sir John Major, “didn’t leave France until four weeks after the French Revolution, when reports had already reached England. Given what was known at the time in England about the French Revolution, why would anyone want to send a cricket team there at that time?”

But while talk of cricket in France in 1789 may be far-fetched, there is evidence it has been played in the country, if not extensively, for hundreds of years.

And the only time the sport appeared in the Olympics was at the 1900 Games in Paris where France, admittedly with a team largely made up of expatriates, won the cricket silver medal after losing to Britain.
There is also a French link to one of cricket’s most famous names in former Australia captain turned commentator and journalist Richie Benaud, whose great-grandfather, Jean Benaud, was born in Bordeaux and settled in Australia in 1840.

In the mid 1990s Richie Benaud became a patron of France Cricket.

This year’s MCC team will be managed by former Surrey and Nottinghamshire batsman Darren Bicknell.
John Stephenson, now the MCC’s head of cricket, looked forward to the five limited overs matches in France by saying Friday: “MCC is committed to increasing cricket’s international appeal… I hope that this tour will contribute to the growing identity of France within the international cricketing community.”

Although it is more than 40 years since MCC ceased to run English cricket, it still has worldwide responsibility for the sport’s rules or laws, with the global game now administered by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council.