THE South Africans are an impressive outfit and start their three-match Test series against England at The Oval today in a good frame of mind, at least psychologically as they remain the holders of Basil D’Oliviera Trophy by virtue of the 2-1 victory in the series here in 2008.
Graeme Smith’s forces are focussed to topple the top ranking England from their pedestal as the best Test team in the world. It will, however, take some doing as England are no pushovers.
In the quest of that cherished goal the visitors may succeed but the wet English weather prevalent at the time is not that favourable for their kind of cricket. England, on the other hand, are flying high after their successful outing against the West Indies earlier during the summer and more recently against Australia in the short ODI contest.
Whatever the outcome of the series, one thing which the South Africans or for that matter the rest of the teams on the Test circuit can not boast of is the fact that England, as Great Britain, remain the only team to have won an Olympic gold. They beat France by 158 runs in France 112 years ago, in 1900. Not since, the game was ever included in the Olympics.
Efforts are underway though to get the game of cricket back again in the 2020 Olympics as a Twenty20 tournament.
In the 1900 Games, four teams including Great Britain, France, Belgium and Netherlands were scheduled to play in the tournament but Belgium and Netherlands withdrew after their bid to co-host the Olympics with France failed which left Great Britain and France to play the only game during the Olympics. In 1896 too, cricket was scheduled to be played at the Athens Games but the event was cancelled because of shortage of teams.
The Great Britain team played in the 1900 Olympics as Devon and Somerset Wanderers Club against the French Athletic Union Club and players of Standard Athletic Club of France consisting of English expatriates. The English side had two first-class players and the French only one.
In the twelve-a-side match at ‘Velodrome de Vicennes’ in Paris the English team, batting first, had scored 117 with the help of Frederick Cummings (38) and their captain C.B.K Beachcroft who made (23). The French were bowled out for only 78 with Frederick Christian taking 7 wickets.
The British team led by 39 runs on the first innings and added another 145 in the second innings before declaring their innings for five wickets. Beachcroft’s 54 and Alfred Boweman’s 59 were the salient features. The French in reply were ten wickets down for 11 runs chasing 185 before being all out for 26 with Englishman Toller Montagu picking up 7 for 9 to wrap up the match.
The English team, instead of gold medal, were awarded the silver and the French a bronze. However in 1912, the International Olympic Council reassigned the awards converting the silver into gold and bronze into silver for the two teams after the match was recognised as an official one.
The popularity of cricket since then has rocketed sky-high and with the T20 format reaching mad proportions, the game no doubt has a chance of a re-entry into the Olympics. The Malaysian Royalty has recently even requested to include it in the next Commonwealth Games to be held in Malaysia.
Not far from The Oval in the east end of London, the Olympic Park is buzzing with activity. I was there on Sunday to have a feel of the site which in the Second World War was razed to rubbles by Adolf Hitler’s Luftwaffe and the transformation now is seen to be believed.