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Sports

Galloping horses, a majestic castle: Let’s play cricket!

media A player in action for Chantilly Cricket Club. Dhananjay Khadilkar

The weather in Chantilly could hardly have been more deceptive for the first match of the 2019 French cricket season. Despite the bright mid-April sun, a piercing breeze meant not all players were keen on the customary practice catch session with the hard leather ball before play got underway.

But though the mercury had dipped more than normal, players’ spirits remained high. For some, it was because it was the first match of the season. For others, the venue lifted the mood.

The Chantilly ground is probably the most picturesque cricket venue in France. It is located 60 km north of Paris at the Ferme d’Apremont, which also hosts one of Europe’s largest polo clubs.

The Chantilly Cricket Club rents the ground from the polo club.

Bordering one of the nine polo pitches, the cricket matches are played on an artificial pitch which laid in April 2012.

“It is a unique setting,” says Aditya Donde, the home side’s medium pace bowler, who takes a 40-minute train ride from Paris to reach Chantilly. “The sight and sound of horses galloping in the background during a cricket match is very special. It somehow lifts my spirits.”

For Eddy Hoyle, who captains the team, these aspects add an extra allure to the venue.  

“First of all, the ground provides a feeling of space. It has a relaxing effect on you. Here you can feel the fresh countryside air, unlike in a big city like Paris.

“I have played on hundreds of cricket grounds around the UK, but I never saw such a spectacular setting, especially when polo and cricket matches are being played side by side,” he said.

Cricket and castle

Chantilly’s biggest attraction is located just six kilometres from the cricket venue: the Chateau de Chantilly, a majestic castle which was destroyed during the French Revolution and rebuilt in the late 19th century.

It boasts the second largest collection of antique paintings after the Louvre, with the gardens in its estate bedecked with fountains and statues.

The magnificent French formal gardens around the castle were designed by Andre Le Nôtre who also designed the gardens at the Chateau de Versailles.

Every match day, Hoyle takes a slight detour to drive past the castle to enjoy the breathtaking view.

Over the past few years, he has been the driving force behind the club along with four other players – Jimmy Regan, Nick Sansbury, Adrian Powell and Robin Richardson.

One of their most important jobs, among many, is to ensure the organisation of the fixtures.

“For every match, we have to prepare lunch and tea for the players. We have to bring kit bags to the venue and organise pickups and drops offs to the train station for Paris-based players,” says Regan, a New Zealander who joined the club in 2011.

Wavering membership

Over the past 11 years, the club has lost many of its original members who were based in and around Chantilly.

“The big disadvantage of not having a decent number of local players is that we can’t practice before matches,” laments Regan. “Earlier, we used to have practice sessions every Friday, but that’s no longer the case.”

This also means the line-up depends entirely on the availability of players from outside Chantilly, so the club fields a different team every match – which can be quite a challenge.

“Many times, I am unaware about who is good at what. I look at the team that’s assembled on that day and decide the batting and bowling order based on what I am told and not on what I have seen,” says Hoyle.

Despite the shortcoming, the club did remarkably well last year, he adds, “putting up a respectable performance in almost all the matches with some notable wins”.

The club organises around 15 friendly matches each year against clubs based around Paris. There are 68 cricket clubs in France, half of them based in the region around the capital.

“We have also hosted some clubs from the UK and Australia. One of my most cherished memories was to play against the Melbourne Cricket Club side which visited us in 2015. It was a privilege for us to host the most famous cricket club in Australia, a once in a lifetime experience that could only happen to us playing here in France.

“Their following tour match was against the most prestigious English club, the MCC, on the Lord’s Ashes Test Match pitch,” Hoyle says.

Nick Sansbury, president of Chantilly Cricket Club, says the side was founded “to cater to the people from the British Commonwealth, or anybody else who wanted to play cricket in the Chantilly area.

“A lot of players have come and gone in the 10 years or so. But we are still going. The club is always delighted to welcome new players and organisers.”

If you’re local and looking to dust off the pads or roll over the arm, visit: http://www.chantillyexpat.com/Pro_News/sid=4.html

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