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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE OPEN CHAMPIONSHIPS

by Andrew Gregory


Our British correspondent, having already produced news reports on what many consider the most important croquet tournament in the world, now offers as his final word some highlights - both personal and public - of the week-long event at Hurlingham which ended on July 13th with Chris Clarke the champion in singles and Mulliner/Bamford winning doubles.

PART ONE: THE IMPORTANCE OF PUNCTUALITY

The Open Championships succeed in attracting most of the top 10 or 20 players in the country every year. Below that the representation is less thorough. I myself, a player of lesser rank, had not played in the event for three years. Why this reluctance to play in the premier tournament?

It cannot be the venue. The Hurlingham Club is the very epitome of leisurely life, a country retreat in the heart of London. Elegant nannies perambulate with their placid charges. Charming toy dogs yap contentedly. A jazz band improvises on the terrace. (In the gentlemen's, another musician is warming up his didgeridoo. No, really.) An aerial display of jumbo jets from Heathrow is provided, except Wednesday to Friday owing to the return of Industrial Action (New Labour, New Unions). But not to worry, as many helicopters are on hand to gyrate aerobatically.


The Hurlingham Club is the very epitome of leisurely life, a country retreat in the heart of London.

The acres of greensward are kept in constant check by teams of lawnmowers and tractors. There is a gentle reminder of humdrum life as workmen dig up the road outside with a pneumatic drill, accompanied by alarms ([car and house) and Nelson Morrow's mobile phone. And all the while the Manager (Richard Hilditch) is gently chuckling to himself in his tent beside lawn 4.

We croquet players feel ashamed to disturb the calm.

So maybe it's the environment, the milieu, the city. Maybe it's London that deters us provincial types.

But how can it deter when there is so much to attract? The bright lights of the West End, the red lights of Soho, the traffic lights of everywhere. It feels ten degrees hotter, twice as humid, ten times more particulates. I stayed just a few miles from Hurlingham and it took me an hour and a half to get there each morning. And I made SO many friends on the Tube.

OK, enough country bumpkin critique already. But I do have one slight peeve that the Croquet Association could do something about.


If you arrive at the lawnside but one minute after 10am, you are late, and two offences carry dire penalties.

The Open Championships is the only tournament with a strict lateness policy. If you arrive at the lawnside but one minute after 10am, you are late, and two offences carry dire penalties. I received two yellow cards myself, once because I had trouble donning my ear-rings (I feel naked without them), and once when I misjudged the hour and a half journey to the extent of two minutes (at least having established my lateness I could spend half an hour chatting up some journalist about my ear-rings.)

Nowhere else in English croquet is five minutes late considered late. So why at this most leisurely of tournaments with the least predictable traveling times do we have such absurd regulation?

Let me take you back to 1994, when this regulation was introduced. I asked the young man who had promoted the idea why he had done it. "Well, I'm fed up with players turning up five minutes late." "Surely five minutes doesn't matter," I protested. He elaborated: " Players who are consistently five minutes late. They really annoy me." "Such as...?" "Well, such as D-----, for example." The poignancy of this example lies in the fact that at this time in early 1994, D----- was being romanced by the young man in question. So here we are in 1997, and 40 or more players have to get out of bed half an hour earlier every day for a week, all because some bloke and his girl couldn't arrive at the same time.

They split up three years ago. Can't I have my lie-in now?

PART TWO: A MOST INTERESTING GAME BETWEEN FULFORD AND OPENSHAW

Let me start at the beginning. Sunday, Hurlingham, Open Singles, Round One. What seemed the most enticing match on paper proved itself so on the lawn. Lawn 6, in fact, away from the front four lawns facing Hurlingham House. A side lawn, amidst gardens, where you can play entirely out of sight of the rest of the tournament, unless you can draw the crowd. And these two did draw and hold the crowd. But let me not waste words: Here are my hundred or so penned for that erstwhile newspaper of record, The Times of London. They didn't want 'em.

"The Croquet Association Open Championships have started at Hurlingham. The most exciting match in the first round featured the defending Champion, Robert Fulford from Colchester. He was up against former Champion David Openshaw, regarded by some modern players as a 'dinosaur'. Fulford won the first game with a triple peel, but a disastrous error in the second let Openshaw take the match to a decisive third game. The older man held the early initiative, but an ambitious manoeuvre came to grief allowing a relieved Fulford to claim the match."

Since I presume that the average reader of Croquet World Online Magazine can understand a more esoteric version of the match, let me go through more deeply.


Quite frankly I was disgusted by what I saw, and take less schadenfreude than some in seeing the mighty falter.

The first game: Fulford TP. In fact, +12TP in about two hours. My notes on the first game are less than contemporaneous, since quite frankly I was disgusted by what I saw, and take less schadenfreude than some in seeing the mighty falter. But I'm told that Fulford had the first break, which comprised one hoop. Openshaw had the next two breaks, which netted 6 points (one for the opponent). Fulford then manages to progress to 3-back before collapsing. Finally we have the first decent turn of the game as Openshaw makes nine hoops and a tight cross-peg leave. Fulford misses the lift: Openshaw fails to make a point.

That's enough of that. The second game: Openshaw plays the avant-garde "Supershot" opening. On the third turn he hits a 17-yarder and goes to 4-back. Fulford misses the lift, Openshaw makes one hoop before breaking down ... [more awfulness] ... Fulford is in with a break. What follows beggars belief. I can only assume that Fulford was (a) confident he could never lose the match and (b) desperate to practice peeling.

Fulford decided on a delayed Triple Peel of the Opponent. That is, he peeled Openshaw through 4-back before rushing a ball to hoop 6. The peel went well. The rush was poor. The approach to hoop 6 did not yield a runnable hoop. The attempted scatter shot had the net effect of giving Openshaw a 4-ball break if he could hit a six-yarder. Openshaw did hit the six-yarder, made the two peels remaining on partner, and leveled the match.

After ritual negotiations with lunch and gentlemen of the press, the third game. In the 4th turn, Openshaw hits his 11-yard duffer tice, plays well to establish a break which he takes to 4-back. In the 5th turn, Fulford misses the lift badly. His ball goes off the East boundary level with hoop 4.


I must confess that your correspondent was running a book on the Championship, and was thus now very happy, as I had a financial interest in Fulford's demise.

In the 6th turn, Openshaw picks up a break. I must confess that your correspondent was running a book on the Championship, and was thus now very happy, as I had a financial interest in Fulford's demise. Openshaw, famous for his steadfast refusal to do fancy things like Triple Peels, would be 4-back and peg. Fulford would miss whatever barn-door he aimed at, and Openshaw would finish.

Openshaw is making hoop 3. Why is there no hoop 4 pioneer? The nearest ball is that on the boundary 6 yards away. What is he doing? No, surely not!

The success of Openshaw's attempt at the Triple Peel can be judged from what ensued. Openshaw finished the sixth turn with clips on 4 and 4-back. He took croquet on the eighth turn after Fulford had TPO'ed him. On the sixteenth turn he ran hoop 4 from within the jaws. Apart from these two turns, Openshaw failed to earn a continuation stroke before the 21st turn, in which Fulford made an all round three-ball break to win the match.

R.I.Fulford beat D.K.Openshaw +12tp -19 +9tpo.

PART THREE: THE OPEN DOUBLES CHAMPIONSHIPS

The three top seeds were self-selecting: 1994 Champions Bamford & Mulliner; 1995 Champions Comish & Maugham; 1996 Champions Clarke & Fulford. They duly reached their appointed semi-finals without dropping a game, so let us examine the progress of the fourth seeds: Mark Avery & Don Gaunt.

In the first round they played Chris Farthing & Chris Patmore. Chris & Chris first hit the circuit 4 or 5 summers ago. Then they were both undergraduates at Oxford, both sported ponytails, and both called Chris. None of us could distinguish them, and I still cannot. This is confusing, since Chris P. still looks like Chris, but Chris F. no longer does. So I've no trouble recognizing Chris, but his strange friend who does sextuples is a mystery to me. Farthing did a TP in the first game against Avery & Gaunt, but the seeds came good in the end. (-4tp(F)+23+11)


Young Keith is careless as to which ball he triples, an on this occasion it was not his partner's, but that of Don Gaunt which he dismissed from the game.

In the second round Avery and Gaunt took on Keith Aiton & Mark Saurin. First game saw an Aiton TP. As did the second game, but wait: the match is not over! For young Keith is careless as to which ball he triples, and on this occasion it was not his partner's, but that of Don Gaunt which he dismissed from the game. This left a game between Mark, who was a very good player in the late '80s, and Mark, who was a very good player in the late '80s. Having been very good, Mark knew that the endgame would be won by a three-ball break. Mark S. got a three-ball break, the match was his, but wait: he is hampered after 3-back! No matter, for Mark A. is still for hoop 4. Run away, Mark S.!

Mark S. decides he can hit his partner ball, despite being hampered. He proves himself wrong, and his ball drifts away to within two yards of the third ball. Mark A. knows a three-ball break when he sees one, and finishes.

The third game was not a contest. Avery & Gaunt beat Aiton & Saurin -17tp(A)+5otp(A)+25tp(A).


At this point, his partner became animated as he realized exactly what was on Johnson's mind. But he was too late to dissuade Johnson.

In the third round our heroes faced two New Zealanders, Andrew Johnson & Nelson Morrow. Our heroes lose the first game again. In game 2, the clips are as follows: Avery 1-back, Gaunt peg; Morrow 4-back, Johnson in his pocket, going round with one thing on his mind. He runs rover, he pegs out Gaunt, ... At this point, his partner became animated as he realised exactly what was on Johnson's mind. But he was too late to dissuade Johnson, who pegged out himself.

Pegging out two balls is sometimes a good idea. However, popular opinion as to what positions of backward clips justify such a manoeuvre has altered over the years. Suffice to say that in this country, 1-back v 4-back is considered insufficient, whereas in New Zealand it is obviously still thought a good idea.


Morrow has a number of options, and as a true Kiwi enumerates these options with partner.

Avery and Morrow ignored each other in the early part of their two-baller. Let us join it with Avery in front of 4-back, Morrow trying to take position at rover from the side boundary. A reasonable effort: he is five feet from the hoop, but at a difficult angle. Avery runs 4-back, and takes two foot position at penult, with a slight angle. Morrow has a number of options, and as a true Kiwi enumerates these options with partner. Johnson eventually directs that Morrow should dribble at his hoop, with the hope of staying in the jaws. A not unreasonable option, and one very well executed as Morrow does land in the jaws.

Avery runs penult, hits Morrow and finishes. Avery and Gaunt beat Morrow and Johnson -4+1+12

(If you thought that was unlucky, just ask Nelson about his plate game with Pauline Healy. To save you the trouble: Healy pegs out one of her balls with Morrow struggling on 4-back and 5. Nelson never gives up, and seems to have his reward as he plays his rush for the peg-out from somewhere near 3rd corner. The cut rush was so accurately directed. His dead ball ricocheted to within 3 yards of the opponent. The live ball went on to the peg, and thus became dead, along with his game. Healy +1.)

We may now briefly conclude the saga of Avery & Gaunt. They have reached the semi-final, where they face Clarke & Fulford. Again they lose the first game. And the second. C&F beat A&G +20tp(C)+24tp(C).

At least they did better than the other losing semi-finalists. Neither Comish nor Maugham made so much as a roquet, which disappointed Comish, since roqueting is exactly what his partner's meant to be good at. Better luck next year.

Bamford and Mulliner beat Comish and Maugham +26tp(B) +26tp(M).


 
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