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HOW THE BRITS BEAT THE AMERICANS
IN THEIR TENTH STRAIGHT
INTERNATIONAL TEST MATCH
story and pictures by Bob Alman
photo processing and layout by Bob Henry


Counting the MacRobertson Shield confrontations in 1993 and 1996, the 1997 Solomon Trophy of 1997 in Thousand Oaks, California, marked the tenth meeting of six-person teams from the U.S. and Great Britain to test the mettle of their best players in a rigorously exacting 5-day team competition. Our photo story marks the historic "firsts" in a ten-year old British/American croquet tradition.


The British and American teams arrived at Sherwood Country Club to find ideal conditions for the five-day event: ideal weather - mild, dry, sunny - easy, evenly-textured lawns, and plenty of light until 8:30 PM. Team captains Chris Clarke (U.K) and Jerry Stark (U.S.) recognized an opportunity to play more games; they jointly agreed to play best-of-match matches instead of the traditional best-of-three format.

No one can say how this affected the chances of the underdog Americans. On the one hand, given the assumption that the British were better players, the best-of-five format would statistically reduce the odds for American match wins; on the other hand, getting more matches in would give them more practice and more opportunity to "warm up" to the level of the British. (The statistics below show that the Americans actualy did improve by Day Three, when they started winning more games and scored the first match win.)

Though the games went fairly quickly, there still wasn't quite enough time to complete the schedule in doubles. On the last day, a best-of-three match format was used, and a doubles match held over from Day One tied at 2-all was never completed.

As America's #1 ranked player John Taves commented, the 1997 Solomon was distinguished not only by excellent selections on both sides, but by a respectable level of performance at all levels. All the players - even the ones said to be off form - were able at least in some games to show their best.

On the British side, the ranking of the team proved fairly accurate in the tournament, with Fulford, Clarke, and Comish playing in top form. Clarke, Comish, and Avery won all their matches in both singles and doubles.

On the American side, Taves and Mehas continued to prove themselves the most consistent top-performing players in America. Don Fournier of Arizona looked good in his Solomon debut, with his two wins and lone American triple in singles. Much was expected of the three Northern Californians based on their records in other international events, but their statistics were a disappointment: Stark, Rodoni, and Arnold won no matches in either singles or doubles.

In the one-day President's Cup postlude to the Solomon Trophy matches, played in American rules doubles, the British showed no fear of deadness: they simply peeled the dead partner ball out of trouble! Midway the Cup event, word spread through the 4-lawn complex that Robert Fulford was playing "the first American rules sextuple." Something went awry after only three peels, so that bit of croquet history will have to wait for another day. Fulford and his partner Openshaw won the game and all their American rules games anyway, as did all their teammates, for a shut-out score of 9-zip.

In fairness, it must be noted that a "fresh" American team was brought in to face the British Solomon team in the one-day Presidents Cup games, a Solomon "tradition" for the hosting country which, in retrospect, looks a little TOO gracious. The British played as if they were well warmed up after five days of continuous top-level competition. The American played as if they had just arrived the day before and weren't ready to take on the world champions of the sport.

American Mik Mehas made the observation that the British were especially praiseworthy for their serious and disciplined approach to teamsmanship. When they weren't playing, they were there at courtside showing support for their on-court mates. Whatever they did as individuals was for the team. (For the American rules event, for example, Fulford was paired with Openshaw, who was said to be off his game, and the strategy worked for the team.) By contrast, the Americans showed little team cohesion.

FOR THE RECORD BOOK - GAMES/MATCHES/TRIPLES

Great Britain won 56 games in singles and doubles combined; the Americans won 23.

Great Britain performed 23 triples - 15 in singles and 8 in doubles; The U.S. performed 6 triples - 1 in singles and 5 in doubles.

The charts below show individual game performances in singles and doubles and record the number of triples made in singles. (It should be noted that the Fulford/Clarke team excelled in triples in doubles, racking up six; the Comish/Avery team were next with two triples. On the American side, the Rodoni/Mehas team scored three triples, while Taves/Fournier completed two.)

GREAT BRITAIN TEAM
Steve Comish
Chris Clarke
Mark Avery
Robert Fulford
David Openshaw
Ian Burridge
Singles
6
6
6
5
5
4
Doubles
8
9
8
9
3
3
Total
14
15
15
14
8
7
Triples in Singles
2
4
2
5
-
2
AMERICAN TEAM
John Taves
Mik Mehas
Don Fournier, Jr.
Phil Arnold
Wayne Rodoni
Jerry Stark
Singles
4
3
3
2
1
1
Doubles
3
5
3
1
5
1
Total
7
8
6
3
6
2
Triples in Singles
-
-
1
-
-
-

SHERWOOD PRO RHYS THOMAS HAS THE LAST WORD
Rhys Thomas, U.S. team manager in the 1996 MacRobertson, organized and managed the entire week of croquet at Sherwood Country Club - much to the satisfaction of the players and spectators alike. He's also the Sherwood croquet pro. He accepted our invitation to mark the place of the 1997 Solomon Trophy in croquet history:

"An hour beyond the twilight of the last day of the Solomon Trophy test match between the U.S. and Great Britain," Rhys said, "Wayne Rodoni and Mik Mehas failed to complete the fifth and deciding game against David Openshaw and Ian Burridge. This left the final score of the contest at 16-4-1 and infuriated Mehas, who angrily proclaimed he would play until dawn if that's what it took to finish the match. Never mind that nobody could see the balls.

"As this small and somewhat sour drama played out on the court, GB captain Chris Clarke stood on the sidelines, talking with U.S. captain Jerry Stark. 'Twenty years from now,' he said, 'people will remember that the Solomon was first played as a best-of-five competition in 1997.'

"Clarke was looking at the big picture, understanding the test of time and the importance of history. From my point of view. the Mehas/Rodoni game was best left unfinished, even though it angered the American player. It tells the unfinished business between Great Britain and the United States in croquet. We're not done yet, and that's a good thing. Next year, when the Solomon resumes, we shall continue on our way."


FINAL MATCH RESULTS: GREAT GRITAIN 16, UNITED STATES 4

Monday Doubles - GB 2, US 0, Tie 1
Clarke & Fulford def. Taves & Fournier (+21TP, +26TP, +17TP)
Avery & Comish def. Stark & Arnold (+18, +10, +15)
Burridge & Openshaw (+16, +22) tied Rodoni & Mehas (+22, +25TP)(5th game stopped at 25-18 US and never completed)

Tuesday Singles - GB 6, US 0
Robert Fulford def. Jerry Stark (+3TPO, +22TP, +26TP)
Chris Clarke def. John Taves (-17, +26TP, +10, +3)
Steve Comish def. Michael Mehas (+17, +26TP, +25TP)
Ian Burridge def. Wayne Rodoni (+26TP, +26STP, -20, +3)
David Openshaw def. Phil Arnold (+26, -15, +15, +13)
Mark Avery def. Don Fournier, Jr. (+24, +15, +23)

Wednesday Doubles - GB 2, US 1
Clarke & Fulford def. Stark & Arnold (+7, +24TP, +21TP)
Avery & Comish def. Rodoni & Mehas (+26, -8OTP, -17TP, +26, +19)
Burridge & Openshaw lost to Taves & Fournier (-14, +15TP, +26TP, +9)

Thursday Singles - GB 3, US 3
Robert Fulford lost to John Taves (-26TP, +17, +26, -15TP, +10)
Chris Clarke def. Jerry Stark (-17, +20TP, +26TP, +7TP)
Steve Comish def. Wayne Rodoni (+21, +26, +8)
Ian Burridge lost to Michael Mehas (+20, +20, -26, +17)
David Openshaw lost to Don Fournier, Jr. (-4, +16, +4TP, -3, +17)
Mark Avery def. Phil Arnold (+25TP, +22TP, -1, +11)

Friday Doubles - GB 3, US 0
Clarke & Fulford def. Rodoni & Mehas (+13, -14, +26TP)
Avery & Comish def. Taves & Fournier (+25TP, +24TP)
Burridge & Openshaw def. Stark & Arnold (+25, -3, +9)



 
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