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AUSSIE NATIONAL
DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIP
WON BY WESTERN AUSTRALIANS
Clark/Sands duo shine in kick-off of 16-day nationals in Sydney
by Tony Hall, special correspondent


The Australian National Championships are the longest, most elaborate national croquet festival in the world each year, with more than 300 players in the 1997 edition in a full range of singles, doubles, team, plate, and inter-regional competitions sprawled over a dozen separate venues in Sydney and its suburbs. The first event was the Open Doubles, with block play on Saturday, March 8, at eight separate clubs, and the finals round on Sunday at Tempe, headquarters of the New South Wales Croquet Association.
The two-day competition was played in eight groups, with four pairs in group A and six pairs in the other seven blocks. At the end of the first day, the eight quarter finalists were identified.

Group A was played at Killara Croquet Club, a club with two courts built on top of a water storage facility established in 1932, about fifteen miles North of Sydney harbor in a prestigious suburb. Greg Burnes and Steve Harden from Tamworth, the country and western town in northern inland New South Wales (NSW), won all their games. Greg finished a straight triple peel in their first game at 11.40 AM and because it was the first triple of the tourney won the "triple tipple", a prize donated by United Distillers (Johnny Walker Scotch). Second in the block were John Philpott and Robyn Pearce from Queensland (Qld), third were Gordon and Shona Porter from Victoria (Vic). The remaining pair were Bob Kilminster and Cynthia Durbridge from South Australia (SA).

The other seven groups were played as two blocks of three, with the winners of each block playing each other at the end of the day to determine the group winner. With potential traffic problems the start was delayed until 9 AM, and it becomes dark at 7.30 PM (daylight saving), so games were restricted to 2 1/2 hours instead of the normal three hours.

Group B was played at Chatswood, a three-court club on the Pacific Highway about half way between Sydney harbor and Killara. The group winners were Martin Clarke and Alan Sands from Western Australia (WA), who beat the other block winners John Davis and Peter Worsley from Tasmania (Tas) in the final game of the day, 26-24. Martin and Alan won an average game 26 - 7 against Dr. John Castle (current NSW President) and Dr. Keith Rienits (NSW President 1990-93) and then won an excellent game against Bruce Mitchell and John Eddes 26TP - 0. This game featured a sixth-turn triple by Alan, his first ever. John and Peter had earlier conceded only a total of six points against Lorraine Leblang and Pat Roach (NSW) and Olga Lindon (WA) and Merv Dunkley (NSW).

Group C was played at Tempe, headquarters of the Croquet Players` Association NSW, ten minutes South of the center of Sydney by train, near the International airport. It is an old bowling club with three lawns, still run by a soccer football association as a licensed club, with liquor sales and gambling machines (The CPA has an large room used for meetings and as an office where an administrative assistant is employed one day a week.) In the first half of the block Betty Belz and Sandy Bartlem (Qld) prevailed, beating Jeff Newcombe (Australian MacRob Rep) and Helene Thurston (WA), this year`s WA Gold medal winner, 19-17. In their other game, against Elaine Goggin and Frances Moore (NSW), Helene completed a triple, 26TP - 0. The second half of this block saw Peter Tavender (ACA Secretary) and Tony Hall (NSW President 1993-96) beat Claire Bamford and Brenda Roberts (Tas) and Richard Whalley (NSW) and Greg Whymark (Qld). The final was a tense affair with many errors, but Peter eventually got going and with ten minutes to go Tony and Peter led by 21-19, which was the final score.

The next group was at Eastwood, a two-court club in the north-western suburbs of Sydney, close to a railway station. Aggy Read (Qld), one-time editor of the AUSTRALIAN CROQUET GAZETTE, played with a new player, Denis Faggotter (NSW), winning their block easily against Michael Mills and Beverley Watman (NSW) and Doug and Norma Amey (NSW). Greg Bury (Qld) and Ashley Faulkner (Vic), both MacRobertson Shield players, won their block against Peter Ross and Trevor Hammersley (WA) and Barrie Chambers (NSW) and Ken Shilling (Vic). Greg and Ashley won the final 26-14.

Group E was at Mosman, two courts overlooking Sydney harbor on the north shore, but sheltered from the weather by trees. New Zealand champion Bob Jackson partnered by Creina Dawson (SA) beat Daphne Alcorn and Fay Pearson (Vic) and Stephen Meatheringham and Terry Regan (representing NSW but living in Canberra). Brett Hewitt (MacRob player) and Max Merlin - both representing Queensland although they live in Northern NSW at Byron Bay (affiliated to Qld) - beat Mark (who tripled in the other game) and Chris Prater (NSW) and Pam Hamilton and Kim Saunders (Tas). In the final Hewitt and Merlin won 24-23 after Creina played an amazing break. She had to go from 3-back to the peg and peel Bob`s ball through penultimate after time. She did all that, including running 4-back from 25 feet, but she failed the peel, losing the game by one point.

Group F was at Manly, "Seven miles from Sydney and a thousand miles from care" as the slogan goes. Manly is at the North head of Sydney harbor and has both a harbor and a surf beach. It is usually reached by large ocean-going ferries from central Sydney that take a leisurely half hour or hydrofoils that take 15 minutes. The three-court club is another mile or so north at the edge of a large park. John Riches (Chairman ACA Laws Committee) and Wendy King beat Liz Allen and Frank Solomon (Vic) and Iris and Noel Trevethick (NSW) in one block. In the other, Russell Triggs and Simon Watkins (Vic) beat Garry O`Dell and Mal Gorton (NSW) and Madeline Hadwin (NZ) and Shirley Carr (SA). The score in this last game was 12-11. (Shirley had probably celebrated her $800 win the previous day in the Cammeray Classic!) In the final John and Wendy won 26-11.

Group G was at Hurstville, a southern suburb. The club has two courts which were slower than expected. Colin Pickering (SA MacRob player) and George Latham (Vic MacRob coach) beat Abbey Caines and Martha Leer (NSW) and Diana McCready and Merryl Garrod (WA). Nick Macoun and Mac MacDonald (NSW) beat Ray Reuter (SA) and Pat Hunt (WA) and Jan Murdoch and Graham Doig (Qld). Colin and George won the final 26-3.

The last group was at Sutherland, near the southern outskirts of Sydney suburbs. The club is an old bowling club with three good lawns. Jerry Guest, a visitor from England via New Zealand, played with Ian Bassett from Northern Victoria and won their block from Leon Adams and Rosemary Stillman (NSW) and Judith and Terry Speers (WA). The other block was won by Bruce and Liz Fleming from Nerida Taylor and Vi Coulthard (NSW) and Marjorie Hill (Tas) and Nancy Whittingham (President SA). The final was won 26-22 after dark by the Flemings. Reportedly, Jerry Guest started to play very well when the sun set but refused to play under car headlights because of his contact lenses.

Sunday the finals were played at Tempe, starting with the quarters. Greg Burnes and Steve Harden lost to Martin Clarke and Alan Sands 5-26. Hall and Tavender lost to Bury and Faulkner 15-26. Riches and King lost to Hewitt and Merlin 13-26. And the Flemings lost to Pickering and Latham 10-26. A light rain stopped after only a few minutes and the weather was overcast and mild. In the semis Clarke and Sands beat Bury and Faulkner 26-14 and Hewitt and Merlin beat Pickering and Latham 26-16, thus becoming the first winners to defend their title for some years.

The final was a game of lost opportunities, but the finish was gripping. Brett Hewitt`s ball was pegged out by Martin Clarke, with Max Merlin`s clip on rover and Alan Sands` ball for 4-back. Eventually Max set up six feet in front of rover with Martin`s ball only ten yards away. Martin missed. Max ran rover to the border but missed the peg shot to the North boundary. Martin took over, and Martin and Alan eventually won 26-25 to claim the Australian Open Doubles Championship for 1997.


Coming next week in CROQUET WORLD: a full report from the Australian Nationals on Men's Singles, Women's Singles, and Open Singles, by special correspondent Tony Hall.


 
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