John Keiger John Keiger

Did France invent cricket?

(Credit: Getty images)

As the First Ashes Test begins at Edgbaston it is fitting to recall England’s oldest cricket adversary: France. The Marylebone Cricket Club’s (MCC) first ever international tour was scheduled for France in the summer of 1789. Owing to local difficulties the tour did not go ahead. The match was eventually rescheduled for the bicentennial of the French Revolution with France beating the MCC by seven wickets.

In the space of a fortnight, we have witnessed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak meeting with president Biden in Washington to announce ambitiously that Britain would lead on setting up international norms on Artificial Intelligence (AI). This was followed a few days later by president Emmanuel Macron announcing at the Paris Tech Exhibition that France and the EU would be setting AI norms. One could almost imagine for the opening of the First Test the French president announcing that France invented cricket. But in that, at least, he would have a credible claim.

The clue is in the name. There is mention in a French fifteenth century manuscript of a bat and ball game called ‘criquet’. The term is an old French word meaning ‘post’ or ‘wicket’. Although, from personal experience playing for a French cricket team in Perpignan some years ago, the wicket was always referred to as the ‘guichet’. And today no French dictionary has any other definition than that of the acridian insect. And this is where any putative claim to France inventing the game is on a…sticky wicket. For in reality early accounts most likely refer to the game of crocquet, involving bat, ball and hoop.

The clue is in the name. There is mention in a French fifteenth century manuscript of a bat and ball game called ‘criquet’

‘Pas du tout!’, might retort Emmanuel. Is it not the case that none other than the son of the first ever and one of the longest serving British prime ministers, Sir Robert Walpole, claims to have witnessed cricket being played in Paris in 1766? However, Macron, the great grandson of the Bristol-born Tommie, would have to admit that the first documented evidence of the French at play is the 1864 London Evening Standard’s account of the match in the Bois de Boulogne, in which the Paris Cricket Club was pitted against the Nottingham Amateurs.

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