Expat Brits share love of cricket with locals

Published: Wednesday, September 22, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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Saint-Astier:The large British expatriate community in the Dordogne region brought its love for cricket to southwest France many years ago, but is now finally converting locals to the sport. Mady Bissey, president of the Aquitaine Softball and Cricket League (LABSC), readily admits that the sport -- with its lengthy matches, arcane rules and strict codes of conduct -- "is not part of French culture."

"But the English are willing to share their passion for the game with us. And it's catching," she explains. Eddie Cannon, a British national who lived in Hong Kong for 28 years, helped kickstart the French cricket craze in 1989 when he decided to retire in the Dordogne, an inviting rural region known for its foie gras and Bergerac wines.

"One night in a pub in Perigueux, we decided to get a team together to play against neighboring Eymet" -- which had formed a club a few years before -- "for just one match,"Cannon recalls.

"We won and so we said to ourselves, 'We have to start a club'." Cannon bought a three-hectare (seven-and-a-half-acre) plot of land, and thus the Cricket Club of Saint-Astier was born. Wedged between a corn field and housing estate, the lush green pitch is now a sporting battleground.

This past weekend, teams from across the country gathered in Saint-Astier for the final rounds of the French cricket championships. At a semi-final pitting the France-Gymkhana team from the Paris area against the Entrecasteaux club from southern France, a small cluster of fans cheered in English, Urdu (the Paris players are mainly Pakistanis) -- and French.

Peter Hackett, the secretary for the Saint-Astier club, sums up the experience in perfect French. "It's an elegant, aesthetically pleasing sport. The pitch, the atmosphere, the players dressed in white, the tea -- it's all part of the experience," he explains.

But Hackett rejects the idea that playing cricket in the Dordogne is a nostalgic way for expatriates to get in touch with their homeland, describing the phenomenon as a passion shared by the British and the French.

The number of card-carrying cricket players is on the rise in the Dordogne, according to Bissey. Most of them are still British, but the French are quickly making themselves known on the club rosters.

In the town of Arudy in France's Basque country near the Spanish border, for example, a new club just formed -- made up mainly of French players. "Cricket is also being played in schools," Bissey says. And last year, the European under-15 cricket tournament was held in Saint-Astier, shining the local spotlight on a sport that is gradually gaining a foothold in France.

Read more about: thatscricketcom, sept 22, mady bissey
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