Cricket fighting for fans in France

Cricket fighting for fans in France

Far from the Pacific summer where the cricket World Cup starts on Saturday, the French national team will be training in a freezing gym in the Paris suburbs.

The mainly ethnic Indian, Pakistani and Sri Lankan players will have 90 minutes to work out in front of the grim concrete stands in Lisses, just west of Paris, before the facility is claimed by the local boys handball team.

India's cricketers are millionaires hero-worshipped by their fans. Cricket is a tough sell, though, in the land of rugby union, football and petanque.

France won an Olympic silver medal in cricket at the 1900 Games held in Paris. But they have never even been close to the World Cup and are currently the 10th ranked European nation in World Cup style 50-over cricket.

Their leading player is Waseem Batthi, a former professional in Pakistan who turned up in Paris in 2000 after failing to get a visa to play in England.

The 36-year-old batsman said he had refused offers since to go to England because he was "proud" to play for France.

Batthi is now also part of a team of cricketers who go into French primary schools trying to make converts.

There are only 1,400 registered cricketers in France, 10 times fewer than for baseball or even Basque pelote.

Since 2012, the Cricket France federation has been training coaches to go into schools across the country to teach the sport and even about South Asian culture.

The lessons play up cricket's claim to be based on "fair-play" and "cooperation," according to David Bordes, a former player who is now Cricket France's technical director.

The federations spends 10,000 euros ($A15,000) a year on the programme. Some parents still confuse cricket with croquet or polo, said Bordes.

"The aim is to take cricket outside its communities, as rugby did in moving outside the southwest after 1995 (when it became professional).

Bordes discovered cricket while at school in the Lot-et-Garonne region of southwest France. He should have taken part in the French national athletics championships but went on a tour with the French national cricket team instead.

"I discovered a wonderfully friendly atmosphere. After the game, biryani replaces the saucisson."

There are now about 40 amateur clubs in France that train in freezing gyms in winter and play on makeshift grounds in summer.

There are only three registered grounds in the Paris region, where most players live.

The last pitches used by British soldiers were torn up after France withdrew from the NATO military alliance in 1966.

Now the federation needs a good national team to boost its image. They named Dutch professional Tim de Leede as national coach this year.

If they can go up a division in the ICC rankings, Cricket France could get 50,000 euros ($A73,000) in grants from the world body, which is offering at least $US4.3 million ($A5.58 million) to the winner of the World Cup final in Australia next month.