In 2028 – 128 years, two world wars and one Stuart Broad after its previous iteration, Cricket will once again be an Olympic sport.
The Los Angeles Games will play host to six men’s and women’s sides in two T20 competitions, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach announced in October.
“It’s giving the game a global audience”, World Cup winner Kate Cross told Sky Sports. “People in other countries seeing cricket on their televisions. That’s where cricket needs to be – accessible and visible”.
Cricket’s only previous Olympic forte came in the Parisian games of 1900 – Great Britain besting the hosts in a downright bizarre contest.
Originally slated as a four-team tournament, the Brits met France in what was essentially a final, after the Netherlands and Belgium had their bids to host the games rejected, and subsequently dropped out.
It’s not uncommon to hear the late 1800s to early 1900s described as a ‘golden era’ for English cricket. With Stanley Jackson, Lord Hawke and WG Grace amongst their ranks, the three lions enjoyed sustained success prior to the first World War. Yet, unwilling to interrupt the domestic season, the British bigwigs asked touring club side Devon and Somerset Wanderers to make the trip to Paris as Team GB.
In an intriguing twist, their supposedly French opposition were represented by ten British expats and only two actual Frenchmen. Said expats were members of the French Athletic Club Union, a sports society formed for Brits working on the assembly of the Eiffel Tower.
Due to an agreement between the captains, the two-day, four innings affair featured 24 players with each side fielding an extra batter.
To make matters stranger, the fixture took place at the Vélodrome de Vincennes, a cycling venue that also played host to the games’ football, rugby and gymnastics competitions. You can imagine the outfield.
The match itself was a thrilling, if admittedly substandard affair.
After his side were dismissed for 117, paceman Montegu Toller snagged seven wickets to skittle the French for just 78. One of only two first class cricketers in the British side, Toller played six times for Somerset in 1897 before returning to his career as a solicitor and later a town and county councillor. In a strange twist, his only first-class wicket came against Philadelphia, who toured England that year.
Alfred Bowerman, the only other professional cricketer present, showed his grit in the Brits second innings. By taking advantage of the velodrome’s 30 metre square boundaries, he managed to notch 59 runs before the visitors declared on 145.
A timber merchant by trade, Bowerman too had a rather limp first-class career. In his two Somerset appearances, the top order bat scored only eight runs. His best of three came against Middlesex in 1905.
Emigrating to Australia some eight years later, Bowerman served in the first World War, fighting with the Australian imperial Force in the Middle East.
Needing 185 runs to win, the ‘French’ settled in to bat out the draw. Yet, losing their first 10 wickets for only 11 runs, it didn’t exactly go to plan. With the clock ticking towards a draw – Toller bowled twelfth man John Braid to snatch victory with only five minutes to play.
The ‘French’ were all out for only 26 and Great Britain took home the gold. Well… not exactly gold. Due to an administrative error, the fine gentlemen of Devon and Somerset Wanderers were awarded silver medals, their opponents given bronze.
The 2028 games will be an altogether different affair. Cricket after all, has progressed rather a lot since the reign of Queen Victoria.
Yet, whilst the thought of Harry Brook thumping some poor American part-timer out of a converted baseball stadium warms my heart – the LA games has some way to go if it wants to live up to the pomp, memorability, and downright ridiculousness of 1900.
24 amateurs in a velodrome. Who cares about the world cup? Great Britain remains, for another five years at least, Olympic Cricket champions.