Our man In Paris: They're catching them young over here

British sport can expect, about 10 years from now, a further influx of French talent. The successors to Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit are already in training in the northern suburbs of Paris.

They are playing, rather impressively, not football but cricket.

A couple of days ago I called in at the Ecole Voltaire, a primary school in Drancy, just north of Paris. I watched Christian Chassignolle, Yacouba Ballo, Tommy Doublett, Geoffrey Thenot, Suganya Muru and Deborah Milard and many others - all aged 10 or 11 - playing cricket with blue bats and blue stumps and a bright orange ball.

They were playing on concrete, rather than grass. They were playing in jeans and T-shirts, rather than cricket whites. Instead of the "breathless hush" of the school playing-field, there was the sound of other children playing football nearby. In the background there was, not a cricket pavillion, but a group of tower blocks - the cité or public housing estate where most of the children live.

But there was no mistaking the talent - or the enthusiasm - of the players. "I love cricket. It is an exciting game, a very fast game," said Yacouba Ballo, aged 11 (who looked like an excellent batsman to me).

"Fast?" I protested. "Do you know that it sometimes takes five days to play a game of cricket?" His eyes widened and he looked at me as if I had told him that the English sometimes take five days to brush their teeth.

France and cricket go together like Britain and frogs' legs. Don't they? Not quite. It is a little-known fact that the silver medal for cricket at the 1900 Olympic Games in Paris was won by France. Most members of the France team were expatriate Britons - but not all.

It is also a little-known fact that cricket is, gently, on the rise in France. David Bordes, 28, is head of cricket development at the Fédération Française de Baseball, Softball et Cricket. He is also opening batsman for the Evry Cricket Club and coach to the kids at Drancy. He told me that there were now about 1,000 regular cricketers and 50 clubs in France. Just over half the players are expatriate Britons, Australians, Asians or West Indians. "But the lower you go down in the age pyramid, the more French players there are," he said. "There is definitely a niche for cricket in France. The game flourishes in the Netherlands and Denmark. Why not here?"

There are official French translations for most cricketing terms, although not all of them are used. The wicket is a guichet, which usually means grill or ticket counter. Leg before wicket (lbw) is therefore jbw - jambe devant guichet. An over is a manche, like a set in tennis. Fine leg is petit jambe. Silly mid-off is sauvage côteouvert or, literally, "open-side savage". In most club games, though, the English terms are used.No one has come up with a translation for "Owzat".

Perhaps the most significant development of all has been the adoption of cricket by French schools - only two dozen of them so far, but there were none until three years ago. The first up to bat was the Ecole Voltaire in Drancy, which decided to teach a "typically English game" to its final primary year, CM2, to help them with their lessons in English.

"We quickly realised that cricket was a good game in other ways," said Sylvie Lemonnier, who introduced the game with her fellow CM2 teacher, Brigitte Charon. "It develops quickness of thought and reflexes. It offered something new to children who were not already good at football. And, most important of all, the kids loved it."

Now, Mme Lemonnier and Mme Charon plan to start a Drancy Cricket Club from September so that the children can keep on playing when they move into secondary school. They are also bringing their two CM2 classes on an educational visit to the Windsor area in the first week of June next year and would love to organise a game against a primary school somewhere just west of London. Offers to Mme Lemonnier care of me at indyparis@compuserve.com.

A boost for trade after getting it in the neck

Remember all those stories about the United States "punishing" France for refusing to back the Iraq war? The US commerce secretary, Donald Evans, led a delegation of American businessmen to Paris to promote Franco-American trade last week. He turned up for his meeting with the French economy minister, Francis Mer, wearing a brand new French-made tie (a €150 Hermès tie, to be precise).

So that is the end of that then. Business is business after all. All the French restaurants in the US whose trade has been ruined, possibly forever, by the anti-French rhetoric of the Bush administration, will be much comforted.

Heard the one about...

One of the staples of French jokes is the - unfounded - allegation that Corsicans are workshy. The French Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, urged all his ministers recently to travel to the mediterranean island to encourage a "Yes" vote in next month's referendum on limited autonomy. One of the ministers, François Fillon quipped that he had "no competence" in Corsica. M. Fillon is minister for labour. Uproar around the cabinet table.

Hence, also, the following joke, which is circulating on the internet. A Corsican emigrates to the "continent" (ie France), where he has been told that money can be found lying in the streets. He steps off the ferry in Marseilles and, sure enough, sees a bundle of €50 notes lying in the gutter. He shrugs and walks straight past, saying to himself: "Why should I work on my first day?"

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