It’s got to be a silly point – a French hamlet is vying with Hambledon’s claim to be the home of cricket.
Tourist officials in Liettres (population 360) insist that historical records show the traditional English game was actually being played there decades before the thud of leather on willow was first heard in the Hampshire village known across the world as ‘the cradle of cricket.’
Now the hamlet in northern France is to stage an ‘international cricket toournament’ to enhance its claim to a pivotal place in the annals of the noble sport.
Villagers point to a record in the national archives of France which says that in October 1478 a man called Estiavannet encountered a gathering of disagreeable people playing an unusual game in Liettres. It involved balls (boules) and a wooden post (criquet).
The archives contain a letter of protest to King Louis VI stating that an argument developed over Estiavannet ‘staring’ at the players, which led to a fight in which someone was killed.
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The legend will be rekindled when the tournament is held on September 26-27 - on a cow pasture.
Lille Cricket Club and teams from Ghent in Belgium and Whitstable in Kent will compete in 20-over games.
And the people of Liettres are thinking big, with plans already in the pipeline for a bigger and better tournament next year on what would be France’s first purpose-built cricket ground, complete with a proper field, batting square, pavilion and scoreboard.
Regional tourism director Anne Debosque said: ‘Cricket is not well known in France but the interest is growing.
‘We hope that this tournament will attract people from England and elsewhere, and draw attention to the beauty and history of an area only a few kilometres away from the Channel tunnel.’
Philippe Dethoor, the president of Lille Cricket Club, insisted that the French claim to be the origin of cricket was not fanciful.
‘Cricket as we play it today is an English creation, that is undisputed’ he said, before adding: ‘But the mention of cricket at Liettres in the 15th century is perfectly plausible. It is believed that the game originated in Kent or possibly Flanders. Maybe by the late 15th century some form of the game had crossed the Channel from England, or maybe it was the other way around.’
The French claim is likely land on a sticky wicket in Hambledon which, although it does not purport to be the first place in England where cricket was played, proudly guards its standing as the spiritual home of the sport,
The world-famous Hambledon Cricket Club was formed around 1750 although strangely, the earliest surviving record of cricket there dates from 1756, when The Oxford Gazette and Reading Mercury carried an advertisement seeking information about a dog lost at a cricket match on Broadhalfpenny Down.
The game flourished at Hambledon and in June 1777, the village side took on England - and beat them by an innings and 168 runs.
The rules of the game were devised at meetings at the Bat and Ball pub, with developments such as the introduction of length bowling and the addition of a third stump leading to the club earning its reputation as ‘the cradle of cricket’.
Picture: A Hambledon Cricket Club image of an early game at Broadhalfpenny Down