IF you associate cricket with just Australia, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, the West Indies, South Africa and England; think again.
Cricket in France is becoming more and more popular and is overseen by France Cricket, the governing body for the sport which works with 56 clubs and has issued over 1,000 cricket licences.
The French cricketing calendar includes the forthcoming Indoor Cricket World Cup in Bristol, England, from September 20 to 30, where a team will compete, but I was keen to find out more about the future of the game, and how indoor cricket differs from the game we all know, so spoke to Entraîneur National, Dave Szumowski.
Where are the hot-beds of French cricket?
The majority of clubs are located in Ile d'France followed by the south (east and west). Aquitaine, Midi Pyrénées, Languedoc Roussillon and PACA are organised in regional associations to assist with the management and promotion of cricket in the south. The remainder of the clubs are scattered throughout France from Lille in the north to Cannes in the south. France Cricket currently has 1,000 licensed members in 50 affiliated clubs.
There are more clubs and cricketers in France that are not yet affiliated to France Cricket and the challenge is to involve them all and make everyone in France aware that cricket exists so that they can join a club. We then have to encourage all clubs to become affiliated to France Cricket so that their members can be eligible to play for the national teams and the sport can be recognised as a 'Sport de Haut Niveau' resulting in the Government releasing much needed resources. It is hoped that when licence numbers reach 2,000 this main objective can be achieved.
What links do they have with schools?
Relationships between clubs and schools are limited simply because cricket is not yet recognised throughout the education system and therefore it is difficult to encourage kids in schools to learn the game and to be motivated to join their local club. We are also faced with a logistical nightmare because of the lack of coaches and paid development officers in conjunction with the size of the country making it very difficult to target all schools.
Technical Director, David Bordes, conducts initiation sessions throughout public schools including the commencement of a project in the Poitiers area for joining cricket and English for the last three years of primary school to assist with both sports programs and learning English.
Last school year a 9-week program at Ecole Active Bilingue Jeannine Manuel in Marcq en Barouel (Lille) was conducted resulting in the inclusion of cricket to assist learning the English language and proved to be a great success that all international and bilingual schools throughout France should seriously consider applying for.
How difficult is it to get young people playing the sport?
The difficulties lie mainly in the lack of familiarity with the sport as there is no cricket culture or tradition in France, and we have to try to persuade youngsters to play cricket instead of year-round football. Then there is the question of the ability and desire by clubs to attract, nurture and provide opportunities for young people to get the most out of this great game. We have found that indoor cricket is the ideal means of introducing youngsters to the game, and once young people try the modified versions of the game they absolutely love it. It is a sport that is great for fitness, it is a team sport that encourages individual performance, it has a unique tradition and it can be played by boys and girls. The inclusion of English/cricket programs at school is proving a fantastic method of introducing children to the game.
What proportion of French play cricket as opposed to 'expatriates'?
The number of 'home grown' players is increasing, but it is still the case that the majority of our players are expatriates. I think this applies equally to many of the other 27 continental European nations that participate in the International Cricket Council's European Cricket Development Program. Most players in France are of Asian descent (Indian, Sri Lankan and Pakistani) and there are now second generation players progressing through the clubs who were born in France.
In the south you can find a majority of British expatriates making up the club numbers whilst in Lille (one of the most recently formed clubs) their first match was contested by members with French, English, South African, Indian, Sri Lankan, West Indian, Scottish and Australian nationality which illustrates the unique and exciting mix of cultures that clubs in France can enjoy.
How can the French association and British teams in France work closer together?
The majority of what you call 'British' clubs in France are already affiliated to France Cricket and play an active part in promoting the sport. They provide players for the senior and age-group national teams. It is a simple question of communication and working together to achieve a mutual goal which is to allow cricket in France the best opportunity to develop by promoting the sport to local communities, schools and groups.
From an elite perspective, British and players of other nationalities who are qualified to represent France and who have experience on grass at top-level club cricket should contact France Cricket to assist in it's development by helping the national team achieve maximal results at the biannual European Championships (senior, U'23, U'19, U'17 and U'15 French teams) as there are indications that future funding from the International Cricket Council could be related to performance of national teams. The development of cricket in France can therefore work in two directions coming from grass-roots as well as from the performance of national teams.
Where do you hope the sport will be in five years time?
France Cricket has a development plan in place whereby in five years time we hope to have attracted enough licensed members and new clubs to achieve Haut Niveau status with the French Government, employment links within the Ministry of Sport structures, formal coaching qualifications recognised by the Ministry of Sport, our own offices and secretarial staff and to be ICC European Division 2 Champions in 2010 which will result in France being promoted to Division 1 where we will compete against first-class opposition such as Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands.
Will we ever see a Test series between England and France?
Probably not in my lifetime, but as with any sport, anything is possible and the opportunity to compete in the Indoor Cricket World Cup has proven this. The International Cricket Council has launched a massive global development program that includes a World Cricket League with 5 divisions to offer all nations a pathway to qualify for the ICC Cricket World Cup. Last year France defeated Jersey at the European Championship in Glasgow but Jersey finished the tournament higher ranked than France and as a result will compete in the Division 5 World Cricket League. Ireland, Scotland and The Netherlands are now regularly playing official ICC one-day international matches and all France needs to do to compete against such nations is be promoted by winning a Division 2 championship.
How does the team feel playing such legendary teams such as Australia, New Zealand, and India etc?
Most of the players see this opportunity as the greatest sporting moment in their cricketing careers and are looking forward to enjoying and appreciating every moment that such an experience will offer. Whilst indoor cricketers aren't the same players making up national outdoor teams, most national outdoor players have played top level indoor cricket before progressing with their careers, therefore, many of our opponents will go on to represent their country's in the more formal and traditional outdoor form of the game.
How does playing indoor cricket differ from outdoor cricket for the players?
It is a completely different game requiring all-round abilities and an athletic player who can generate an intense and sustained effort as matches last for only one hour making the pace of the game extreme and exciting for every ball. The major differences apart from the increased emphasis on dynamic fielding (run outs are on offer each ball) is that the game is eight-a-side with each player bowling two overs and batsmen batting in pairs for four overs. When batsmen are dismissed five runs are deducted from the score and they continue to bat until they have completed their allocated four overs. The team with the highest score after their allocated 16 overs is the winner.
How is the team chosen and by whom?
National teams are proposed by the coach to the National Selector who confirms and finalises the selection.
For future Equipe de France teams France Cricket hopes to bring on board those clubs that are not yet affiliated so that we can ensure that all the best players in France are recognised and given the opportunity to trial for national teams and further their careers at international level. To further broaden the choice of players to be selected we encourage all current clubs and players themselves to nominate candidates who have a passion and pride to represent their country and play top level cricket in Europe.
What sort of promotion is done by L'Équipe de France de Cricket?
Given the absence of media coverage in France, the only form of promotion by de L'Équipe France de Cricket comes from the France Cricket website and media releases that are sent by the national coach to a limited number of contacts. The indoor cricket world cup will have live internet coverage via Sportuk.TV that will give France Cricket unprecedented media exposure. Any suggestions, offers or support regarding the promotion of the national team and France Cricket would be much appreciated.
Barclays offers great support to France Cricket by sponsoring the national club championships whilst Canterbury Clothing assists with the national team kit. No major sponsor has been secured for the Indoor Cricket World Cup despite this prestigious international event receiving official backing from the English and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and all matches being broadcast live globally on the internet. We welcome any offers of support to promote cricket and to show the world that the sport exists in France.
What sort of support would L'Équipe France de Cricket like to see?
The privilege to compete in the 6th Indoor Cricket World Cup offers France Cricket an unprecedented opportunity to promote and create awareness of cricket in France. If this event can generate interest locally within France, promote the national team and established French clubs, create awareness amongst the French public who don't know that cricket here exists, and even show the rest of the world that 'Frenchies' play the game then it will be a major success. France Cricket hopes this event will trigger both media coverage support as well as the internal support of clubs so that France Cricket goals and objectives can be reached sooner rather than later which will assist cricket achieve its maximum potential in this country.
The French Indoor Cricket Team to compete at the 6th Indoor Cricket World Cup is:
1. Dave Szumowski (Lille)
2. Arun Ayyavooraju (Evry)
3. Sulanga Hewawalandanage (Evry)
4. Andy German (Saumur)
5. Amila Konthasinghe Waduge (SLCC)
6. Ramesh Sithambaranathan (Eelavar)
7. Sankara Wickremasinghe (SLCC)
8. Geoffrey Sahaya (Lyon)
9. Logith Alagaratnam (Stains)
10. Rajani Sithambaranathan (Eelavar)
11. John-Pierre Hardy (Thoiry)
12. David Bordes -Manager
France Cricket is always keen to highlight its profile and is aware that new strategies are required in the form of rules to attract greater participation, especially at school and native French entry levels. More importantly it is imperative to retain participants by providing a positive first experience of the game.
France Cricket would welcome anyone who is interested in spreading the awareness of the sport, creating or joining a local cricket club or with sponsorship for cricket in France.
Intriguing Facts About Cricket in France:
• "Criquet" was first recorded being played in Liettres (Pas-de-Calais) in a French manuscript of 1478
• France is the reigning Olympic Silver medallist in cricket
• France has national teams for Senior (outdoor and indoor), U'23s, U'19s , U'17s and U'15s that compete in European Championships
• Mick Jagger (Rolling Stones front man) is the honorary president of Saumur Cricket Club
• Richie Benaud (World-renowned cricket personality, former Australian captain and commentator) is the honorary patron of France Cricket
• The laws of the game are available in French
• There is a French language blog on cricket
"As a leading global sport, cricket will captivate and inspire people of every age, gender, background and ability while building bridges between continents, countries and communities" – International Cricket Council