Thursday, 28 June 2012


'Cricketers are born free but are everywhere in pads.'

Jean-Jacques Rousseau 1712-1778
This is the opening line of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s most celebrated coaching manual The Social Contract, one of the most influential texts in political philosophy. J-JR was born on 28 June 1712 – so today is his 300th birthday and cricketers everywhere will join Fantasy Bob in wishing him many happy returns. The Social Contract, which was published in 1762, explores the nature of man and his relation to society and government and was a fundamental stimulus to the French Revolution.  It remains an essential text.  J-JR's writings on education also remain radical to this day, focussing on developing the pupil’s character and moral sense. But on cricket his work seems to have little to say.

This is disappointing and a great oversight on his part. He might have emphasised the need to play straight in his educational theorising, since only by doing so can character and moral sense develop. But he did not.  The excuse that he was French does not stand up for Rousseau may well have been exposed to cricket, when he spent some time as a refugee in England as the guest of David Hume in 1765. He is reported to have hated England.  Perhaps he discounted cricket’s relevance because of this. But did he miss something?

For there is a historical view which suggests that had the French in the 18th Century embraced cricket, the Revolution might not have happened. The suggestion is that in England cricket provided some social stability by bringing the toffs and the not-so-toffs together under common activities and purpose.  They all ate cake at tea.  With this happy familiarity between classes the impetus to revolution was averted. Why would you send a toff to the guillotine, when you could bowl him a couple of bouncers?

Supporters of this view point to the fact that at Hambledon cricket ground on the afternoon of Tuesday 14 July 1789, the Earl of Winchelsea was clean bowled by William Bullen for a duck in Hampshire's second innings against Kent. At the same time, some 300 miles away, thousands of Parisians, having been starved of cricket for too long, surrounded a prison in the Rue Saint-Antoine. At roughly the same time as Hampshire's last wicket fell to give Kent victory, they stormed the gates of that prison, the Bastille. The French Revolution had begun.

The French Revolution - just not cricket
Fantasy Bob is not hugely convinced by this view. He notes that cricket was present in France in the 18th Century. For example, Horace Walpole, mentioned seeing cricket in Paris in 1766. In addition in 1789 the MCC were due to make the first ever international cricket tour of France. The tour was cancelled due to the French Revolution - a case of Reign of Terror Stopped Play.

This match was finally played in 1989, as part of the bicentennial celebrations of the revolution. France beat the MCC by 7 wickets. To FB’s polyglot sense, the scorecard does not show the French team was awash with overly French names. They owed their victory largely to the innings of their skipper, Irishman John Short. The English team was led by former Surrey skipper Roger Knight. No guillotines were allowed in the ground.

Had Rousseau embraced cricket and exhorted its virtues to his countrymen, might history have taken a different course? Who knows? Certainly not Fantasy Bob, but it is an interesting subject to contemplate while enjoying and empire biscuit. Speaking of which, FB is confident that Rousseau would have approved of empire biscuits.


  1. End-of-Empire biscuits were probably more in fashion at that time. Apocryphal stories suggest that they may also have been allowed to eat cake. FB would surely approve.

    1. If FB remembers his history correctly a contributing factor behind the French Revolution, besides the lack of cricket opportunities available to the French lower classes was the fact that the price of empire biscuits trebled in a short period. 'Let them eat vanilla slices' said Marie Antoinette. Fb is firmly on the side of the revolutionaries - such a situation would make any one revolt.