Considering the clout that India exercises in the cricketing fraternity, it is interesting to ponder on India’s potential Olympic medals tally at the Olympics had cricket been included in the same. Of course the path has been paved, with the IOC recognising the ICC as a sporting body in 2010 and the ICC setting up its own body to analyse the pros and cons of including Twenty 20 cricket as an Olympic sport by (aptly) 2020. India might not support the ICC, given the jam-packed itinerary and the potential difficulties it might cause to the Indian Premier League. However, as the likes of Adam Gilchrist and Steve Waugh claim, it would do cricket a world of good (read: globalise the sport).
Yet, as Haroon Lorgat and his team ponder on how to present this beautiful game to the world, they would do well to turn the clock back by a century or so and take a leaf out of the match that was the only brush that cricket had with the Olympics. And we are not talking about the village cricket match that Danny “Slumdog” Boyle has in mind for the London Olympics opening ceremony.
One hundred and three years before Stuart Robertson came up with the concept of Twenty 20, Great Britain played France in the 1900 Olympics in Paris. Belgium and the Netherlands were supposed to be a part of what would be a quadrangular cricket tournament. However, they backed out at the last minute when their bid to co-host the Olympics failed. As a result, a single match was played between Great Britain and France at a huge cycling track known as the Velodrome de Vincennes.
In actuality, both the participating teams were actually British – while the Great Britain was a touring club side (the Devon and Somerset Wanderers aptly), the French team was made up of British expatriates who had taken a couple of days off from work. None of the teams knew they were playing an Olympics match. The match had been advertised as part of a world fair – the Exposition Universelle – held in Paris around the same time the Olympics was contested. It was not given first-class status and was not covered by any national daily.
The match commenced on the 19th of August, 1900 in front of twelve French gendarmes in the galleries. By mutual consent between the two captains, a standard eleven-a-side affair was changed to twelve-a-side before the start of the match. The scorecard printers had not foreseen this move and, as a result, the extra name had to be written by hand. Out of the twenty four players, none had any international experience while only two had some sort of first class experience – fast bowler Montagu Toller (whose claim-to-fame is getting mistaken by the press as the Jack the Ripper suspect Montague Druitt – incidentally a fast bowler but from Middlesex) and Alfred Bowerman of the Wanderers had played a few matches for Somerset.
The match was highly one-sided even though it finished just five minutes before end of play on the second and final day. Great Britain succumbed to 117 in their first innings but succeeded in taking a first innings lead by bowling out the French for 78 with opening bowler Frederick Christian taking seven wickets. They were more positive the second time round, with their captain C.B.K. Beachcroft and Bowerman scoring half centuries, and declared at a score of 145 for the loss of five wickets. The French side were no match the second time round, being bundled out for 26 with Toller taking seven wickets this time.
The winning team was awarded an Olympics silver, while the losing team were given bronze. Both sides would also receive miniature replicas of the Eiffel Tower. Coincidentally, some of the members of the French team were from the Standard Athletic Club which had been formed ten years earlier by British workers who had moved to the country to help build the Eiffel Tower.
After the match, the Wanderers went on their merry ways, playing two more matches – both one-day encounters – and winning them both. They weren’t paticularly impressed by the French calling them an excitable lot who were not suitable for playing cricket.
Cricket was scheduled at the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis but was cancelled because of the lack of proper facilities required to host the sport. In 1912, the International Olympics Committee, in retrospect, decided to recognise the 1900 event as an Olympics contest and the medals were upgraded to gold and silver for Great Britain and France respectively.
It remains to see whether the IOC and the ICC can conjure up something to ensure cricket’s entry into the 2020 Olympics and beyond. Till then, the nomads from the south-west of England will keep their spot in the sun to themselves.