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Cricket 'was invented in Belgium'

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

English cricketer WG Grace (1905)
WG Grace was cricket's first celebrity, but could he have beaten the Flemish?

New academic research claims cricket is not English, but was imported by immigrants from northern Belgium.

A poem thought to have been written in 1533 has been uncovered, which suggests the game originates from Flanders.

In the work attributed to John Skelton, Flemish weavers are labelled "kings of crekettes", according to Paul Campbell of the Australian National University.

The discovery challenges the long established theory that the sport evolved from English children's games.

The first definitive references to the game appeared in England in the 1600s, when fines were handed out for those missing church to play.

A game played by the masses in the country was taken into public schools and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge in the century that followed.

The first cricket club was formed in Hambledon in the 1760s and the world-famous Marylebone Cricket Club (MCC) was founded in 1787.

'Flemish phrase'

But German academic Heiner Gillmeister and his Australian colleague, Mr Campbell, say the discovery proves the quintessential English pastime is anything but English.

THE IMAGE OF IPOCRISIE

O lodre of Ipocrites,
Nowe shut vpp your wickettes,
And clappe to your clickettes!
A! Farewell, kings of crekettes!

Poem attributed to John Skelton

Mr Campbell has uncovered an apparent reference to cricket in the 16th Century work, The Image of Ipocrisie, attributed to the English poet John Skelton, which refers to Flemish weavers who settled in southern and eastern England.

They are described as "kings of crekettes"; "wickettes" are mentioned too.

It is thought the weavers brought the game to England and played it close to where they looked after their sheep, using shepherd's crooks as bats.

Mr Campbell's research was based on earlier investigations by Mr Gillmeister, a linguist from the University of Bonn.

He is certain cricket cannot have started in England.

"There is no way to relate the term to any existing English word," he told the BBC.

"I was brought up with Flemish children and I know the language well. I immediately thought of the Flemish phrase 'met de krik ketsen' which means to 'chase a ball with a curved stick'."

In response, cricket historian David Frith said: "It is hard to deny that this is a breakthrough. This discovery points to an addition to the great history of cricket. It's exciting we haven't yet written the final word on it."

He added: "It does make you wonder why Belgium isn't playing test cricket though, doesn't it?"

But Mr Gillmeister's research does not end with cricket.

Earlier studies of his suggest that whilst the spiritual home of golf might be Scotland - records indicate the Belgians were also playing a recognisable form of that sport before people in Britain.

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