French Cricket?

Written by Adam Jacot de Boinod

 

We are on a mini-break.

A cricket tour against La Riviera Cricket Club. A day of flying and getting accommodated at our rented farmhouse, followed by two days of matches back to back and then the trip home again.

As one teammate put it, “It’s as good an excuse as any for a get away”.

 

Indeed, cricketing holidays are on the rise. The notorious Barmy Army that follows the national team has swelled with recruits to the extent that the Barbados Test Match has more English fans than locals.

 

 

Another teammate said … “It’s a chance to delay the end of the season, to steal another month of Cricket before we confront the restrictions of winter”.

 

 

But the cost of a weekend break can all add up. There’s the flight or Eurostar, the hotel, the car hire and the food, not to mention the local vino. After all, cricket’s equivalent of the après-ski for those on tour is the bar and restaurant then choosing a volunteer as designated driver.

 

So all is set for battle. The stumps are installed in the wicket. As elsewhere, the pitches consist of an ‘all-weather’ astro turf track set in what amounts to a field. Not that dissimilar to what you might expect in London on a council ground. The key is to avoid the boar diggings.

The big difference here is the backdrop: the mountains and the hang gliders.

 

The battle begins...

 

The standard of play varies from the keen to the hopeless, from club to village level. People typically play 30 overs a side, long enough in the heat. The season has a break in August due to the heat and that local players are away. Also, in the South the traffic becomes a nightmare.

 

"COMMENT EST CELA?"

 

The Riviera C.C. started in 1990 in the nearby village of Cabris. It had to move to the rented ground because of the danger to the locals playing on what was their village green. Since then other clubs have emerged and vanished, such as Antibes, staffed mainly by Brits on the boats.

 

However, when you take France as a whole, cricket is developing healthily.

The major website (www.francecricket.com) now lists the impressive number of 68 clubs across the country. Inevitably it’s where the expat communities are strongest that the game is played. It is chiefly within three regions – the north east with 34 clubs, the north west with 9 and the south west with a further 9.

 

Scholars argue over the origin of the word cricket.

A mention of a bat and ball game called "criquet" in a village of the Pas-de-Calais occurs in a French manuscript of 1478 and the word "criquet" itself is an old French word meaning "post" or "wicket".

 

 

It’s rather fun to create the local vocabulary for the intricacies of the game. ‘Silly mid-wicket’ becomes 'milieu de la foule' and ‘square leg’ is ‘angle droite’. “Large!” might be umpire’s shout to accompany his outstretched arms. 'Canard' (duck) would be how the scorer would indicate the batsman’s cheap dismissal and "comment est cela?" would surely be for the bowler shouting "Howzat?" Although the words remain generally English, un guichet is a wicket, un batteur est éliminé (batsman out), capté is caught and sa zone sûre is his crease. Not to mention the umpire suggesting 'jambe devant guichet' for 'leg before wicket'.

 

As for the French players and local spectators, the attitude to the game is mixed. It consists of a reaction varying from indifference to intrigue. Former England captain Ted Dexter has a place in Nice as did the famous late Australian commentator Richie Benaud near Villefranche. Alas, expat cricket wasn’t for them, not even as bemused spectators!

 

 

Adam Jacot de Boinod worked on the first series of QI, a BBC programme with Stephen Fry. He is the author of The Meaning of Tingo and Other Extraordinary Words from around the World, published by Penguin Books.

 

Illustrations by Jonny Brown

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