England first Olympic cricket champion in 1900
It is widely believed that the English Missionaries landed all over the world with the Bible in one hand and a bat in the other. The Bible was to acquaint people with the teachings of the Lord and the bat to play cricket and win friends among the natives.
With the expansion of the British Empire, cricket found its own niche in the entire Empire. But it has failed to go beyond the British Commonwealth. Yet, the Rubicon was crossed and cricket became an Olympic sport in the 1900 Paris Olympic Games.
Surprisingly, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the Olympic Games had visualised that cricket conformed to the ideals and the spirit of the Olympic charter. In reality, it appears strange that a Frenchman Coubertin would accept a British game in the Olympics.
However, when Coubertin went to watch Much Wenlock games at Shropshire where Olympic idea was conceptualized in 1890 cricket was one of the events. It opened up the doors for cricket’s inclusion at the 1896 Games at Athens. But due to poor response plan was shelved.
The 1900 Olympic cricket final was played between France and Great Britain at the Exhibition Ground, Vincennes in France on August 19 and 20. It was a 12-a-side match. The former were represented by the Devon County Wanderers Club and the latter by the French Athletic Club Union. The French team (popularly known as All Paris) included mostly Englishmen living in France and playing for Albion Cricket club (then champions of France in cricket) or for Standard Cricket club.
The Great Britain won the toss, elected to bat first and compiled a creditable 117. The major contributors were Frederick Cumming (top scorer 38) and Charles Beachcroft (23). The French team was bundled out for paltry 76. The visitors returned to crease to pile up 145 for 5 in their second outing with half centuries from Beachcroft and Alfred Bowerman. The home team faced the daunting task to score 165 for a win. It was soon all over with hosts shot out for pathetic 26. Monatagu Toller set up the home team’s route with astonishing figures of 7 for 9. The winners were awarded silver medals while the bronze went to the hosts and both teams also received a replica of Eiffel Tower. The media coverage was nonexistent but John Symes, a member of the victorious team kept a scorecard now a record for the posterity.
None of the teams realised that they had competed in the Olympic Games, with the match advertised as part of the world’s fair. But there is very a interesting sidelight because of which both cricket and Olympics share the limelight. There are many first-class (few even Test) cricketers who claimed Olympic medals.