While France has fallen for the charms of soccer and rugby despite their Anglo-Saxon origins, the je ne sais quoi of cricket has never taken hold on the other side of the Channel in quite the same way.
However, that will not deter Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) from sending its latest side to France today as part of its ongoing mission to spread cricket round the world, and not just in the countries and lands of the former British Empire which provide its leading Test match nations.
Such “missionary work” matters to MCC, which owns London’s Lord’s ground — the self-styled “home of cricket.” This year also sees the club touring Cyprus, Uganda and Rwanda.
However, suggestions a planned MCC tour of France in 1789 was scuppered by the French Revolution — a rather more memorable reason for an abandonment than the customary “rain stopped play” — may be more of a legend than historical fact according to MCC researcher Neil Robinson, with the club’s records from that period destroyed in an 1825 fire.
“MCC was only formed in 1787 so you’d think they would have had more pressing issues than organizing a tour of France two years later,” said Robinson, in charge of the library at Lord’s.
“However, legend has it that the Duke of Dorset suggested to the Earl of Tankerville [a title deriving from Tancarville in Normandy] he bring a cricket team over to help assuage anti-British feeling,” he said.
“Tankerville was one of the grandees who would have played a role in the formation of MCC. The legend also has it that when the team got to Dover [the south-east coastal port town then, as now, an embarkation point for France], they saw the Duke of Dorset coming the other way as a result of the Revolution,” Robinson said.
Former British prime minister and lifelong cricket fan John Major appears to have finally put paid to all talk of an MCC, or indeed any kind, of 1789 tour while researching his book More Than a Game, a History of Early Cricket.
Dorset, according to Major, “didn’t leave France until four weeks after the French Revolution, when reports had already reached England. Given what was known at the time in England about the French Revolution, why would anyone want to send a cricket team there at that time?”
However, while talk of cricket in France in 1789 may be far-fetched, there is evidence it has been played in the country, if not extensively, for hundreds of years.
And the only time the sport appeared in the Olympics was at the 1900 Games in Paris where France, admittedly with a team largely made up of expatriates, won the cricket silver medal after losing to Britain.
There is also a French link to one of cricket’s most famous names in former Australia captain turned commentator and journalist Richie Benaud, whose great-grandfather, Jean Benaud, was born in Bordeaux and settled in Australia in 1840.
In the mid-1990s Richie Benaud became a patron of France Cricket. This year’s MCC team will be managed by former Surrey and Nottinghamshire batsman Darren Bicknell.
John Stephenson, now the MCC’s head of cricket, looked forward to the five limited overs matches in France by saying on Friday: “MCC is committed to increasing cricket’s international appeal ... I hope that this tour will contribute to the growing identity of France within the international cricketing community.”
Although it is more than 40 years since MCC ceased to run English cricket, it still has worldwide responsibility for the sport’s rules or laws, with the global game now administered by the Dubai-based International Cricket Council.