As anyone who watched the Opening Ceremony will concur, there are just too many countries involved in the modern Olympics, often with flags in pastel colours that might be suitable as shades of ice cream, but not national standards.
The only cricket event ever held in the Games made no much mistake. Played in 1900 in Paris, it consisted of just one match between Great Britain and France. In fact, England and France would have met in the first ever international cricket match back in the summer of 1789, had the MCC team not been met at Dover by the Ambassador, who explained that he was fleeing a revolution, necessitating the postponement of the game (until 1989).
The Netherlands and Belgium had originally intended to enter the 1900 contest but they withdrew when they were not asked to co-host with France, which wasn’t ideal since the proposed cricket event in Athens four years before had been cancelled due to lack of interest.
Neverthless, while synchronised diving and that event where they wave a ribbon around failed to make the cut for the second Games, cricket was in. The Union des Sociétés Françaises de Sports Athlétiques (USFSA), the original governing body of most French sport, supplied the home team (who in fact were mostly Paris-based British expats) while Team GB was actually the Devon County Wanderers, though they were more cosmopolitan than they sounded – they included players from as far away as Somerset.
The match at Vélodrome de Vincennes was a two-day, 12-a-side affair – the captains mutually agreed the extra player each, forcing the scorecard to be added to by hand, the printers having not unnaturally expected each team to have eleven. Neither side was of a first class (or First Class) standard, and it was a low-scoring affair, which GB won by 158 runs with Montagu Toller the star, taking 7–9 in the second innings* to bowl out France for just 26. (This would probably still stand as an Olympic low, even if the sport had remained at every Games since.) Even then, had France held out for five more minutes, the match would have been drawn.
There were not many laurels for the winning team, their feat only reported by a few local West Country newspapers, one writing: ‘A cricketer in France is a stranger in a strange land looked upon with mingled awe and contempt by the average Frenchman.’ (The reporter had a point; even now, France is below Guernsey in the ICC rankings).
In fact, the British team only received silver awards and models of the Eiffel Tower, though these were upgraded to official Olympic golds 12 years later. The match, like all the sport, was officially held as part of the six-month-long 1900 Paris World’s Fair and only in 1912 did the governing IOC decide which events had been Olympic-worthy; cricket made the cut, kite flying and fire fighting did not (in the latter event, Porto beat Leyton into second place in the volunteer section, though Kansas City won the most un-Olympic professional discipline).
That, however, was that for Olympic cricket, cancelled in 1904 due to a lack of facilities in St Louis and excluded ever since. Which leaves the British captain CBK Beachcroft as something of a hero, with his opening 54 in the second innings. This was the highpoint of his sporting career, though in later years – under the name Charles Kay – he had other successes, becoming well known as an entertainer on the variety stage and the early cinema, first in Britain and then in Australia. He was also an adulterous father-of-thirteen. He died in Melbourne in 1928.
* For non-cricket people, trust me, that’s exceptional.
Also in this series:
1896 – Launceston Elliot, moustachioed strongman
1908 – City of London Police, coppers made of stone
1912 – Arnold Jackson, runner and Versailles negotiator
1920 – John Wodehouse, polo winner and proto-Bertie Wooster