June 16, 2000

Internationals: Amazing fightbacks as France makes it three-in-a-row

After sharing their two-game series with Switzerland in Geneva in May, France continued their build-up to July's European Championships in Scotland with a three-win tour of Belgium and Luxembourg on June 10-12, writes Dominique Perrin

After sharing their two-game series with Switzerland in Geneva in May, France continued their build-up to July's European Championships in Scotland with a three-win tour of Belgium and Luxembourg on June 10-12, writes Dominique Perrin.

There were three changes to the French squad, with batsmen Carl Igolen and Georges James returning for the first time this year, and veteran offspinner Guy Brumant back from six months in the Caribbean, where he's been spreading the game in his native Guadeloupe as part of France's overseas development program.

The game at the scenic Walferdange ground in Luxembourg on June 12 saw one of the most remarkable turnarounds in European cricket history. France inserted the Grand Duchy and that looked a shrewd decision with the hosts rocking on 15-3 after ten overs. But Whitten and Ramesh Paul steadied the ship, adding 94 in 22 overs, before a tight spell from offspin duet Brumant (1-42) and Sujeewa (4-30) regained the initiative for France. At 139-6 Luxembourg had their sights on around 200, but a swashbuckling stand of 104 between Ramuchandran (46 off 24 balls) and Paul, 8th man out for 132 (219 balls), saw them romp right up to 257-8.

Despite the slow, lush outfield, France-after posting 300 in three of their last four innings-were confident of achieving 258. Not for long, though. Opener Sujeewa was promptly caught off a top edge for a duck, attempting to pull Adrian Wykes. Then Igolen (LBW) and James (caught at slip) fell to skipper Wykes in the same over. A full-length dive by keeper Winchester saw a startled Wakefield caught from a genuine leg-glance and, when Chapman was yorked two balls later by Evans, France were 20-5 with ten overs gone.

Skipper Simon Hewitt joined David Bordes with the sole ambition of avoiding the indignity of a two-figure total. Wykes, gaining prodigious outswing, reeled off figures of 4-9 in ten, bowling Bordes in his final over. Hewitt clouted Paul for 18 off one over but that looked a token gesture of defiance: at the half-way stage France were dead and buried on 84-6.

Sixteen year-old French-born allrounder Sulanga Hewawalandanage had now joined Hewitt, and a delightful episode in the game saw a teenage tussle between Sulanga and Luxembourg legpsinner Lucas Bush, just 15. In between the odd full toss, usually dispatched over mid-wicket by Hewitt, Bush bowled a consistent line and length to conceed just 48 from his 10 overs, unleashing one viciously bouncing googly that Sulanga did well to stop.

France continued to make academic progress: 104-6 off 30, 165-6 off 40. Still no one on the ground entertained the idea of a French victory, except perhaps Simon Hewitt, who sailed past three figures hitting fours and sixes almost at will. The score had spurted to 213-7 when Sulanga was run-out for 28 (77 balls) by a direct hit from mid-wicket; the 7th wicket stand of 151 was a French record. When Hewitt fell next over for 162 (124 balls-10 sixes/13 fours), caught at deep mid-off, France were 224-8, requiring 34 from four overs for a sensational win.

It was suddenly Game On, with Guy Brumant straight into his big-hitting stride and Peter Linton signalling his arrival with a six over square-leg. France needed 14 off the last two overs when Paul bowled Linton and the pendulum swung back the Grand Duchy's way. Last man Defez stayed calm as just six came from the 49th over, leaving France eight short. With a calypso cricketer like Guy Brumant, it's usually all or nothing. Today it was the whole shebang: he scurried an improbable three, slashed Paul's second ball away for four over third-man, then on-drove the fourth ball for two, and France were home for an amazing win.

The two Belgium v France ODIs offered fewer palpitations. On June 10 there was an air of nostalgia at the last international game at Antwerp C.C.'s rural ground in Reet, soon to be discontinued as a cricket venue. Only Belgian skipper Wasiq (40) and Nadeem Khan (36) offered much resistance as France dismissed the hosts for 184 in 49.2 overs (Hewitt 3-27); France knocked off the runs with six wickets and 5.3 overs to spare, after a 3rd wicket stand of 112 between Igolen (69*) and James (55) founded on electrifying running between the wickets.

Next day at the Hombeek home of Mechelen C.C., France reached 300-7 in 50 overs on the back of another beefy 3rd wicket stand, this time worth 117 between Wakefield (84) and Martin (55). Thierry Pascal (36), Sujeewa (28), and Sulanga, with an elegant 21 not out, were other contributors. Brumant snaffled 4-45 as the Belgians were dismissed for 190 in 44.2 overs, despite a free-flowing 78 from Khan. Umpire Sir Richard Eames was the unwitting star of proceedings, when an errant return from a Belgian boundary fielder clonked him on the back of the head. That meant whirring sirens and four hospital stitches, but the valiant Eames was back in umpiring action before the end of the match.