French youngsters in the Hérault are embracing the strange English game of Le Cricket
Thu, Apr 12, 2012 4:27 PM
British historians have argued that one reason the French Revolution failed to spread across the Channel in the late 18th century was that both aristocrats and peasantry took to the green fields in English villages and shared the pleasures of the strangely eccentric game of cricket, retiring later to the pub where nobles would play host and pay their respects to the local heroes of the game.
The French have long been mystified by the rules of this ancient English pastime but despite a Gallic reluctance to embrace the strange sport, France Cricket (L'Association française de cricket) was established more than 20 years ago and now a quiet revolution is taking place in the Hérault.
A group of expatriates is spreading the word among the region's local youngsters that cricket is one of the great team sports, demands great ball skills and can provide an enjoyable summer alternative to rugby and football.
One of those leading the initiative to introduce youngsters to the sport, teach them the rudiments of the game and hopefully bring them into the region's senior teams is Marc Dalling, a teacher in Agde, of English and French parentage, whose love of cricket goes back to his childhood in the English county Derbyshire where cricket was the all important sport in his local village.
Dalling is vice-president of the Midi Cricket Club, based in St Pons de Mauchiens, and soon after arriving in the south of France more than 10 years ago, started lunchtime cricket sessions with about 20 children in his first primary school. "We did this for a couple of years and I noticed that the French kids who tried it out, loved the game."
When he moved to the Collège Rene Cassin in Agde about four years ago he introduced cricket coaching sessions in the school and then teamed up with the then captain of Midi Cricket Club, Dominic George, to conduct weekly cricket sessions with the primary school children in his home village of Montblanc. "We did different sessions with different groups - we had about 60 kids - and then we started regular Saturday morning sessions with a mix of local children and the children of expatriate people living in the area."
Dalling now has a role on the committee of the France Cricket focusing on the co-ordination and development of junior cricket in the south of France and has already linked up with a primary school in Montpellier where he has conducted eight cricket sessions since last October.
At present there is no junior league system in the south of France and only three clubs - Midi Cricket Club, Toulouse and St. Aulaye - have junior sections. These three clubs are organising home and away fixtures this season and some of the more promising youngsters under Dalling's wing are bidding for places in the senior side.
He is optimistic that the next few seasons could see major changes in the development of junior cricket in the region. A major launching pad for the game's growth in the Hérault was held on Saturday 24 March at St Pons de Mauchiens. The cricket club in association with l'école des Garrigues of St Pons and the cricket section of the Foyer Rural of Montblanc hosted a free all-day cricketing clinic for youngsters. Mark Moodley, the General Manager of France Cricket, was there to watch over the cricketing drills and the practice games and to attend the midday barbecue. "It's open to all children. We really want to show the kids how enjoyable the game is as well as being competitive, Actions like this, focusing on local communities are where we are going to find extra growth. Our plan is to get one community up and running, then they can challenge the next village, and so on and so forth. said Mark Moodley"
The heightening of interest in the game among the Hérault youngsters is being mirrored at national level where France Cricket has signed an agreement with USEP (the Union Sportive de l'Enseignement du Premier Degré), the country's largest school sports federation, to conduct a pilot scheme involving some 200 French schools. "We need to have the PE teachers on board and at the moment they have their sports but cricket is not among them," according to Dalling.
Midi Cricket Club, which plays in the Midi-Pyrenees Division of the French National League, has one French cricketing devotee at senior level, the club Treasurer, David Amoros.
Amoros can of course pass on to the youngsters some of the more bizarre cricketing positions in the field - relais ouvert (silly mid-off), latéral rapproché (short leg) or barrière oblique côté fermé (deep backward square-leg).