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The ignorant Olympians

Martin Williamson

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A handbill advertising the game - note the absence of the word Olympic © Cricinfo
Cricket and the Olympics might appear to be unlikely bedfellows, but it was one of the original sports listed in the provisional Olympic programme, Des Jeux Olympiques de 1896, published in 1895. Closely identified as being the archetypal play-hard-but-fair game, cricket fitted almost perfectly with Baron Pierre de Coubertin's Olympian ideal.

At the 1896 Games in Athens it was intended that cricket would feature, but a lack of entries meant the event was quietly shelved. Four years later in Paris, four teams entered - England, France, Belgium and Holland - but in the event only one match was played, between England and France. Holland and Belgium had originally been touted as co-hosts, but when that idea faltered, their entries went the same way. It was symptomatic of the confusion surrounding the Games - the Olympics at that time were a far cry from the slick modern bonanza. Events took place between May and October at 16 different venues, and the word Olympics was rarely used. The 1900 Games were referred to as part of the Great Exposition or the World's Fair.

The English side was not a nationally-selected XI, but a touring club team, Devon & Somerset Wanderers. The Wanderers were in Paris on a three-match jaunt, starting with the game against France and continuing with two one-day matches (both of which they won).

The two-day "international" took place at the impressive Velodrome de Vincennes, a 20,000-seater banked cycling track, and started on Sunday, August 19, 1900. The crowd consisted of a dozen or so bemused gendarmes. Potential spectators had hardly been encouraged by an explanation in La Vie Au Grand Air, the official publication of the Games, which described cricket as "this sport without colour to the uninitiated".

The English side had arrived in Paris the previous day, and after one night at the Hotel des Trois Princes, travelled to the stadium. It was agreed by the captains that game would be 12-a-side (communication between the two sides was not difficult as most of the French team were expat Englishmen). This caught the printers of the scorecards on the hop, and the extra name had to be added by hand.

Scorecard from the 1900 Olympic cricket tournament. The captains agreed to a 12-a-side game, and so the extra players had to be added by hand © Cricinfo
England batted first and scored a creditable 117, largely thanks to 23 from Beachcroft, who opened for Exeter, and the Old Blundellian Frederick Cumming, who top-scored with 38. France were then bowled out for 78. England scored 145 for 5 second time around, with fifties from Beachcroft and Alfred Bowerman, setting the hosts a target of 185. In the event, this proved way beyond them, and they were bowled out for 26, with Montagu Toller, who had played county cricket for Devon in 1897, taking 7 for 9. The English side were awarded silver medals, the French bronze ones - both XIIs also received miniature replicas of the 11-year-old Eiffel Tower.

The English team's journey back to the hotel was eventful. The driver of one of the two coaches had become rather caught up in the day's events and had to be driven back inside his own carriage. The other, apparently in a similarly excitable state, crashed his coach, causing minor injuries to some of the passengers.

And so ended the competition. Neither side seemed aware that they had taken part in the Olympics, and the match was only retrospectively formally recognised as being an Olympic contest in 1912, when the International Olympic Committee met to compile the definitive list of all events in the five modern Olympiads up to that point. By the time of the St Louis Games in 1904 cricket had been forgotten.

The newspapers at home completely ignored the match, although a few local papers in Devon did carry reports,

The Wanderers finished their tour but were left less than impressed with the French - described as "too excitable to enjoy the game," according to one contemporary journalist, who added that "no Frenchman could be persuaded to play more than once. A cricketer in France is a stranger in a strange land looked upon with mingled awe and contempt by the average Frenchman."

British Olympians who have played first-class cricket
1900 A Bowerman - Cricket - Gold medal
1900 MH Toller - Cricket - Gold medal
1908 JWHT Douglas - Boxing (middleweight) Gold medal
1908 R Pridmore - Hockey - Gold medal
1908 A Page - Real tennis
1908 H Brougham - Rackets - Bronze medal
1912 AE Knight - Football - Gold medal
1920 CTA Wilkinson - Hockey - Gold medal
1920 JCW MacBryan - Hockey - Gold medal
1948 Alastair MacCorquodale - 100m (4th)
1948 MM Walford - Hockey - Silver
1952 JA Cockett - Hockey - Bronze
1956 JA Cockett - Hockey
1968 & 1972 David Acfield - Fencing

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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