One Saturday, I left my small apartment in Paris, went past three boulangeries, hopped on metro line 9 and took it as far as it goes, all the way out to Pont de Sèvres, a station in Billancourt-Rives de Seine, on the south-western boundary of central Paris.
My destination was just outside Paris’s ring road in a place called Meudon, but my activity that day was something very un-Parisian – very un-French. I was playing a game for the British Embassy Cricket Club, which, despite its name, has nothing to do with the British Embassy.
A plaque on the white weatherboarded side of the pavilion explains that, during the war, the club was taken over by occupying forces and was used from 1940 to 1944 as an anti-aircraft station and officers’ club. When they retreated from Paris, the Germans dynamited the entire top floor. “This pavilion was therefore hastily built by the Royal Engineers and placed on top of the shell of the old clubhouse,” the plaque reads.
Cricket, a game as quintessentially British as they come, leaves the French bewildered, and it is so alien to Parisians that it cannot even be expressed to them – the terms “slip”, “silly mid-on” and “leg before wicket” have no French equivalents. Cricket cannot even be translated and therefore cannot be described. The embassy team, which is made up almost entirely of expats, has never fielded a French player who didn’t have at least some roots in a cricketing nation.
Even so, the presence of the game in Paris has been brought to the French attention before. On May 16, 1972, Queen Elizabeth II visited the Standard Athletic Club – the Embassy club’s main Parisian cricket rivals – to inaugurate the extension of the clubhouse. There is a photo of her and Prince Philip standing in a car, waving to the crowds.
No such crowd was present for our match. We fielded first, and three early wickets got our hopes up, but by the 30th over, the dropped catches began to outnumber caught ones. Standard Athletic ended up with 201 for 6 off 40 – about par. Our spectators consisted of a few French girlfriends and wives of the players who curiously asked questions about what on earth we were up to from the boundary, and laughed at us every time we appealed. If you were to ask my French girlfriend how I spent the weekend, she would say I was playing baseball.
Though it pains me to say it of our opponents, the Standard Athletic Club of Paris is an organisation with a rich sporting history. The club won the first-ever Football Championship of France in 1894 – a title currently held by Paris Saint Germain, and Lionel Messi.
The British Embassy Cricket Club also has a star-studded past. The original team once went to Saumur in the Loire to play against a team raised by Mick Jagger.
But in recent times, things have become a bit trickier. Brexit threatened to put an end to cricket in Paris, due to a loss of players. But this season the embassy club is set to go on tour to Nantes, a city where interest in the game is apparently growing.
As for our innings, we started out well and the run-rate began to slow, the wickets fell and we ended up 158 all out. David could not beat Goliath, but he did play respectably and with a good straight bat.
I personally offered no assistance and fell for a golden duck – or as we say around here, a canard d’or.