The 1900 Games were seldom even referred to as the Olympics; they were considered merely a component of the Paris Exposition or World Fair. © Getty Images

The 1900 Games were seldom even referred to as the Olympics; they were considered merely a component of the Paris Exposition or World Fair. © Getty Images

Wisden’s report for Oxford University’s trial match in 1900, played between Mr Foster’s and Mr Knox’s teams, is excoriating in its concision:

This was a very unimportant game, the strict rules of cricket being so little adhered to that Bonham-Carter was allowed to play for both sides. Mr Foster’s team won by 67 runs.

Trivial thought it was, Wisden’s editor at the time, Sydney Pardon, still considered this match* to be of greater import than the 1900 Olympics cricket final – the first and only time the sport has featured in the Games – which received no mention whatsoever.

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It’s safe to say that if cricket ever returns from its Olympic exile (and the president of the Italian cricket federation, Simone Gambino, claims it will be included in 2024 if Rome wins the bid) it would be covered in the following year’s Almanack. So why did Pardon overlook cricket’s day (or, to be precise, two days) in the sun?

Perhaps sensing the insignificance of the occasion, few people turned up to the Velodrome de Vincennes to watch. © Getty Images

Perhaps sensing the insignificance of the occasion, few people turned up to the Velodrome de Vincennes to watch. © Getty Images

First, the 1900 Olympics were not of great interest. They were nothing like today’s fabulous jamboree of pyrotechnic pageantry, column-inch-commanding displays of muscular celerity, and endless joy-giving clips of flag-wreathed athletes hugging loved ones. The 1900 Games were only the second instalment of the modern Olympics since their revival in Athens in 1896; and the Paris Games were given an amount of media coverage commensurate with their inchoate nature.

Events took place in an informal manner between May and October, and were seldom even referred to as the Olympics. Rather, the Games were considered merely a component of the Paris Exposition or World Fair, and were advertised accordingly, under a number of different banners. The quaintly prosaic title of the 1900 Olympics’ official report bears this out: Concours internationaux d’exercises physiques et de sports, or International Contest of Physical Exercise and Sports. Cricket was included in this farrago (hot-air ballooning, Basque pelota and the 200m swimming with obstacles all featured, for the first and last time) partly because the avowed anglophile Pierre de Coubertin had enjoyed the descriptions of it in Tom Brown’s Schooldays. He believed cricket embodied the Olympic ideals of hard, but fair, competition.

As Philip Barker pointed out in Wisden 2012, de Coubertin had actually wanted cricket at the 1896 Olympics, only to be disappointed by a paucity of entrants. That same reason could have reasonably prevented the Concours de Cricket taking place in 1900, as only four countries showed interest. But de Coubertin pressed on: Belgium, Holland, France and England were originally scheduled for the competition, only for the lowlanders to pull out and leave a default final between Great Britain and France.

All of which leads to the second reason the game did not merit inclusion in Wisden 1901: it wasn’t very good. These days, one of the criteria for any sport’s inclusion in the Olympics is “Best athletes’ participation”. But the rules were evidently more relaxed back then. There was no Ranjitsinjhi or Tunnicliffe or Grace – the best athletes stayed away. Perhaps they did not even know of the match’s existence. In any case, some clandestine committee decreed that, in the absence of the best athletes, the match would be played between two club teams who were to represent Great Britain and France, teams that were less Olympic emissaries than substandard simulacra of their nations.

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Playing as Great Britain were a touring team, the Devon County Wanderers (pictured above), drawn chiefly from Castle Cary Cricket Club (which is actually in Somerset) and ex-pupils of Blundell’s School, near Tiverton. Only two of their number – Montagu Toller and Alfred Bowerman – had first-class experience, and even that was meagre. They were pitted against a team cobbled together by the French captain Philip Tomalin, who was a member of the Standard Athletic Club in Paris. If Tomalin sounds a little French, then it wasn’t – Tomalin was an Englishman, as were almost all of his team-mates. That meant the Olympic final was played between a bibulous gang of Westcountrymen on a jolly and a group of expat Englishmen representing France. The Ashes it was not.

In keeping with the general air of amateurism, the scorecard was kept by John Symes, England’s keeper, which perhaps explains some of its quirks. Most notably, the card lacks bowling analyses, save for wickets, and the team totals do not agree with the aggregate of batsmen’s scores and the extras. This is another obvious reason for the match’s exclusion from the Almanack: Wisden’s reputation for punctilious accuracy was not about to be squandered on a scorecard as shoddy as this.

Perhaps sensing the insignificance of the occasion, few people turned up to the Velodrome de Vincennes to watch. And despite what must have been a small ground (the cycling track provided a tight elliptical boundary), scoring was lean: France were skittled in the last innings for 26 to lose by 158 runs. After the teams shook hands, Great Britain were given silver medals, and France bronze – Olympic conventions of metallurgical reward were only established some years later.

In keeping with the general air of amateurism, the scorecard was kept by John Symes, England’s keeper, which perhaps explains some of its quirks. Most notably, the card lacks bowling analyses, save for wickets, and the team totals do not agree with the aggregate of batsmen’s scores and the extras. This is another obvious reason for the match’s exclusion from the Almanack: Wisden’s reputation for punctilious accuracy was not about to be squandered on a scorecard as shoddy as this.

The last nail in the match’s editorial coffin was that it little adhered to the strict rules of cricket: the game was 12-a-side. It’s easy to see why the brittle France team were keen to bend the rules: 12th man in, J. Braid, was their top-scorer in the match with 32 runs.

*Perhaps through some act of divination, Mr Pardon knew that while this game was not all that important itself, its participants were, and their efforts deserved mention. To wit R. E. Foster – one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year in 1901 – would go on to play for England, and G. W. F. B. Kelly for Ireland, while B. J. T. Bosanquet would give up bowling seam and invent the googly. Beyond cricket, the team-swapping Maurice Bonham-Carter would go on to marry Violet Asquith and have four children, including Raymond Bonham-Carter, father of the actor Helena.

This piece first appeared in Wisden Blog