Who Would Have Thought It – Revisiting a Franco-German cliffhanger

  Footballing giants France and Germany played out the latest round of their long-standing rivalry in the semifinal of the UEFA Euro Championship last week, with hosts France securing a 2-0 win to make the final.

  Be it France’s 6-3 win in the 1958 World Cup or the thrilling penalty shootout in the semifinal of the 1982 World Cup, this all-European fixture has provided football fanatics with many a memorable moment over the years.

  While the Franco-German duel enjoys legendary status in football, one would rarely associate this fixture with a cricket match, let alone expect an entry for it in a coveted Wisden list. However, the final of a seemingly nondescript tournament in Switzerland produced a contest that would have made headlines had two established nations been involved.

  The 1997 edition of the 50-overs European Nations Cup was played at the Lyceum Alpinum school ground in the town of Zuoz in the third week of August. Austria, France, Germany, Greece, Malta and Portugal were the participants, besides hosts Switzerland. The semifinals saw France beat Portugal by seven wickets and Germany notch an eight-wicket win over Malta.

  Defending champions France and Germany were thus pitted against each other in the final, which was played on August 23, 1997. The two teams had earlier met in the group stage, where the Germans had easily won by seven wickets. It had only been less than seven years since the unification of Germany, whereupon it was made a member of the ICC in 1991.

  Wides and no-balls were the order of the day as France reached 61 without loss. Opener S. Palmer was looking settled at 35 when all-rounder Tayyab Rathore cleaned him up with his off-spin. Pace bowler Younis Khan (not the well-known Pakistani batsman) bowled an economical spell in the middle overs, taking two wickets as well, while opening bowler Saeed took 3/61.

  Even though extras were aplenty, the German bowlers ensured that no partnership was too big to allow the French to run away with the game – the highest stand of the innings being 52 for the fifth wicket. Leopold-Therese Brumant was the top scorer with 42 from number five, but nowhere near Mr. Extras, who tallied a staggering 67 runs out of the final total of 267 in 49.5 overs.

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  There was drama in the final over when last man David Bordes came out to bat without a helmet. A rising ball from Saeed struck him on the forehead; however he showed great presence of mind and determination in scampering a single. Moments later, he collapsed due to a fracture in his skull and had to be hospitalised for two weeks.

  Germany got off to an excellent start in reply, with Rathore and Shams Khan putting on 90 for the first wicket. Both the batsmen were in good form coming into the final – while Rathore scored 84* against France and 106* against Malta in the semifinal, Khan had creamed 200* out of a total of 467/1 against a hapless Switzerland.

  Rathore and Khan (45) however fell within three runs of each other as France clawed back into the contest. J. Howe removed the Bhatti brothers – Abdul Salim and Abdul Hamid – cheaply and when M. Mirza was run out for a duck, Germany were in real trouble at 118/5. Five wickets had fallen for just 28 runs.

  Younis (44) and A. Dar (45) turned the tables again, courtesy a partnership of 89 for the sixth wicket before the former fell to leg-spinner George James. Saeed hit a quick 22 from number eight to bolster his team’s hopes. At 241/6, it was anybody’s game and a close finish loomed large.

  Medium pace bowler Simon Hewitt, who had played for Oxford University in 1984, dismissed both Dar and Saeed in quick succession, the score now 260/9 in the 49th over. Brumant’s off-spin was entrusted with the last over, and the target eventually whittled down to two off one ball. Number ten Burghard Patzwald missed the line and was stumped by Shabbir Hussain.

  Germany had fallen short by just one run, losing their final wicket off the last ball of the innings. France’s title triumph could not have been closer than this. Mr. Extras top-scored in this innings as well, with a neat 58. Hewitt was the pick of the bowlers with 3/44 while Brumant bowled splendidly, collecting 2/16 in his ten overs.

  The eventual margin of victory emphasised how crucial Bordes’ plucky single was. This thrilling match was honoured by Wisden in 2000 as one of the ‘hundred matches of the century’. The incident involving Bordes certainly added to the intrigue. Bordes, a leg-spinner, went on to play an important role in French cricket as a coach and selector.

  The 1998 Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack remarked the following, which also found a mention in The Essential Wisden: An Anthlogy of 150 Years of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack, published in 2014:

  “France retained the Nations Cup at Zuoz, Switzerland, in astonishing circumstances. They beat Germany by one run in a pulsating 50-over final. The unwitting hero was France’s last man, David Bordes, who was hit on the forehead, and staggered through for a single at the end of the French innings before collapsing with a fractured skull. He had to spend the next two weeks in hospital, and was ill for some time but, happily, was able to resume playing indoor cricket before Christmas. Bordes normally bats with a helmet but did not bother this time because he had only the one ball to face.”

Match Scorecard

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