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The low-down on French cuts

Published:Thursday | September 3, 2015 | 12:00 AM

In cricket, there is an inadvertent stroke called a French cut. A cricket blogger known as 'Stuart' describes it jokingly and ironically as "one of the most productive shots in cricket, but one hard to master. It involves deliberately striking the ball off the inside edge of the bat down to fine leg, while deceiving the fielding team by pretending to actually hit it through the covers. This massive piece of deception is very difficult to pull off, and cynics sometimes believe it is down to luck rather than skill." A more accurate definition is that a French cut is a poorly executed cut shot which almost gets a batsman out.

If the French are right in claiming that cricket did not originate in England but was first played on a village green in France, what we call the 'French' cut would have been known as the 'English' cut and the English have been pretty cut up about it to the point that they would have cut off diplomatic relations with France forthwith. In fact, to claim that the French invented cricket is, as a Roman, Mark Anthony said, the most unkindest cut of all. The British are, like Queen Victoria, not amused.

The French base their claim on a letter to their King Louis XI in 1478 which their historians say may contain the first known reference to cricket - or 'criquet' - almost a century before experts believe it arrived in England on a village green in Guildford, Surrey. Tom Payne says in the Daily Mail that the note, preserved in France's national archives, mentions 'boules', or balls, and 'criquet', a wooden post, in a description of a game played in the village of Liettres, northern France. "Boules," some of my English cricket friends would have said cuttingly if the game was really French, but some of their responses were so vividly English that you really have to pardon their French. It was 'merde' most foul.

The French letter of Liettres is supposed to be the seminal source of the evidence. Although the British contend that the French stretched it a bit and it has holes, the letter was supposedly quilled by a young man called Estiavannet, who watched with fascination at the strange game before a player barked: "Why are you staring at our ball game?" A violent scuffle ensued, and one man died.

While it was a feather in Estiavannet's cap, an Englishman who views French letters and the French as a whole with suspicion deduced on the basis of the letter writer's youth that Estiavannet was a little squirt and not necessarily a cut above the other letter writers to Louis.

The Daily Mail says that English historians have long held that the genesis (which came before the new revelations) is England, where the game may have begun as a hobby for shepherds in Kent, who used their sheep crooks as wickets. The first evidence of a proper bat-and-ball game in Guildford, Surrey, was in 1550.




The first written mention appeared in court papers from 1589 when a Royal Grammar School pupil mentioned playing 'creckett'. The first written reference to the game in England was in 1589, when a pupil at the Royal Grammar School, then called The Free School, recalled how he and his classmates 'did runne and play there at creckett and other plaies'. The first definite reference to cricket was in 1611, when two men in Sussex were prosecuted for playing on a Sunday instead of going to church.

Now the British historians are stumped and are trying, by hook or by crook, to reclaim cricket as an English sport. Meanwhile, Liettres, with a population under 300, is all set for the big times. The village officials want Liettres to be the venue for France's first full-time cricket ground and they are advertising the 'Liettres 1478 Challenge' to turn the village into a place of pilgrimage for cricket fans across the world.

In September, the Lille Cricket Club will take on a team from Whistable, Kent. The Mail quotes Philippe Dethoor, 48, president of Lille Cricket Club, who describes himself as "the first wicket-keeper ever to be born in Roubaix", said it was "perfectly plausible" the game began across the Channel. As a sup to the English, he said, "Maybe by the late 15th century some form of the game had crossed the Channel from land, or maybe it was the other way round." He added, "Cricket as we play it today is an English creation. That is undisputed."

In thinking of an alternative history of the game based on its origin in France, just at the very superficial level some of the fielding positions would have different names. If the English-French dictionary I consulted is to be believed, 'slips' would be 'combinaisons' (not 'chemise', as I first thought or even 'petit-coat'), 'cover' would be 'couverture' and persons fielding at 'long leg' would be described as 'aux jambes longues'. Would 'fine leg' be 'beau jambe'?

The West Indies team would be mainly from Martinique and Guadeloupe. The highlight would be scoring a century at Liettres and, most exciting of all, would be watching a Vingt Vingt final between the Marseilles Maraudeurs and the Paris Pirates under the auspices of the ICC (International Cricket Concile). But since I don't speak French, I wouldn't be able to understand a single word.

- Tony Deyal was last seen in France having a boule until a videur threw him out of the bar.