A recent article in The Independent has once again stirred the debate on the origins of cricket. It states, “In 1478, at the village of Liettres in northern France, a young man called Estiavannet came across a group of disagreeable people playing an unusual game. It involved 'boules' or balls and a wooden post or 'criquet'. According to a letter of grievance to the king, which survives in the French national archives, an argument broke out. One of the players said: 'Why are you staring at our ball game?' There was violence. Someone was killed. This may be the first mention anywhere of the game of cricket, almost a century before the first written record of the game in England.”
This isn’t the first time that the origin of the game has been linked to France. In Roland Bowen’s Cricket, published in 1970 there is a reference to a game played in the Flemish town of St Omer. Whether this is the earliest mention of the game, however, is questionable. HS Altham, one of the best scholars of the game has this to say about the "heretical" French claim, “And even if this 'criquet' was in historic fact our own national game, is it not possible that in the close intercourse of more than three centuries the Frenchmen borrowed the athletic infant, name and all, from the men who fought and lived amongst them? For an army does not always fight, and in days of rest and relaxation how better and how more naturally could your yeomen have shown their cousins the 'mettle of their pasture?'”
Altham doesn’t stop here. He goes on to suggest, “In 1787, the London Society of Antiquaries unearthed from their library and printed some wardrobe accounts of the royal household in the reign of Edward I, and "in doing so set the cricket world a riddle which still awaits its Edipus". In the entries for the 28th year of the King’s reign, there occurs the following item:
"To Master John de Leek, chaplain of Prince Edward, the King’s son, for monies which he has paid out, personally and by the hands of others, for the said Prince’s playing at Cr(eag)- and other sports - at Westminster March 10-100s..."
Finally, he contends that “with the hard terminal ‘c’ of cric a ‘g’ was virtually interchangeable; now suppose Piers, or some other French playfellow of Edward’s, attempted to pronounce the word, he would sound the ‘I’ as ‘ee,’ or ‘ea’, and straightaway we have ‘creaget’, which the clerk of accounts, following his consistent practice, shortened down to ‘creag’".
While there is no definitive answer to this puzzle, it can be surmised that there was some sort of a ball game that existed in England at the time of King Edward, which bore a resemblance to cricket. It is also true that the game may have travelled to France on the other side of the English Channel and hence the reference to the game being played at Liettres in 1478.
It is no surprise then that the only time cricket was included in the Olympics in 1900, it was France that played England in Paris.