CAMBRIDGE BESTS OXFORD THREE TIMES IN THREE DAYS, WINNING THE VARSITY CHAMPIONSHIP, THE STUDENT CHAMPIONSHIPS, AND THE INDIVIDUAL TROPHY
by Chris Dent
The English Croquet Association sponsors The Student Championships, which are open to all full-time students and in the past have seen entries from overseas players. Students compete in team and individual events, all played to level-advanced International rules, for elegant silver trophies donated to the events.
This year the Championships were hosted by Oxford University Croquet Club in the attractive setting of their lawns in the University Parks. The Oxford Club is one of the oldest in England, founded in 1865.
The team event was played on the first day with Oxford and Cambridge the only participants. This indicates the low profile of croquet in the majority of British universities. Even if there is a croquet star at a university, there is a great problem in persuading the sports associations to take the sport seriously. Currently Cambridge lacks lawns of their own, but Oxford, Durham and Nottingham have their own facilities.
THE VARSITY MATCH IS THE PINNACLE OF THE SPORTING SEASON
The format played was teams of four with one round of doubles and two of singles. Cambridge won 8-2 to repeat their victory in the previous day's Varsity Match. The Varsity Match is the annual Oxford -Cambridge Croquet match played on the excellent lawns of the seat of English croquet - the Hurlingham Club. At Oxford or Cambridge the Varsity Match in any sport is THE pinnacle of the sporting season. Forget playing against a county or national team, winning the Varsity Match is much more important. Participants in the match may gain University Colours - Blues or Half-Blues. It has been said that for students coming up to University, they should either plan to leave with a First class degree, or a Second and a Blue!
The individual event had eight entries from Oxford, Cambridge and Exeter, and was very cosmopolitan, with players from as far away as Dublin and Australia. The entry was about as strong as it could have been, despite rumours that Robert Fulford, arguably the best player of them all, is a student at Essex University and running scared from the competition.
Two blocks of four were played on Saturday, the most exciting game being a 26-25 victory after time by James Death against the Australian John Wentworth. The block matches all went according to handicap - the block winners were James Death and Chris Dent, the other block semi-finalists being John Wentworth and Matt Davey.
LATE-NIGHT REVELRY IMPACTS SEMI-FINALS THE FOLLOWING DAY
James won a very rapid semi-final against Matt Davey of Ireland. Matt's problems with running angled hoops, which had plagued him throughout the tournament, cost him dear. Chris beat John Wentworth in a scrappy game. John's late-night revelry, evinced by him arriving on Sunday morning with purple nail varnish on one hand and green on the other, seemed to have affected his game. His female admirers were easy to spot the next day sporting similar tokens.
The final had a most exciting finish. James Death got the first break round, but then conceded the innings to Chris Dent, who set up a break. Unfortunately for him, he accidentally peeled James' ball through 4-back and embarked on a very speculative attempt at a triple peel on opponent. This inevitably broke down during an over ambitious attempt at the penultimate peel, leaving James for hoops 1 and penultimate with a progress lift under advanced International rules and two balls near A-baulk!
THE FINAL GAME REDUCES TO A TWO-BALL CONTEST
It was then James' turn to fail a peeling break, as while trying to peel penultimate before hoop 3 he left himself unable to roquet his pioneer - the peelee blocking the shot with no option of a jump roquet. Chris hit in, played an all-round break and elected to peg both James' ball and his own out to leave himself for 2-back against opponent for hoop 3.
James produced some excellent positional play to claw back the deficit, helped by some nerves on the part of Chris, who at one stage shot at 2-back from 4 feet and almost missed the hoop entirely. Eventually James ran rover and played a spectacular shot at the peg by jumping back over rover only missing it by around one-half inch, giving Chris another chance. A nervous positional shot left him a long angled rover, which he spun through. He then scored a sweaty nine-yard shot at the peg to become the 1997 Student Champion.
The tournament was run expertly by Oxford's President, Doug Burns. Oxford provided generous hospitality for all the visiting players. The most notable features of the weekend was the friendly spirit with which everyone approached their games and the excellent performances by the less experienced players. Gabrielle Higgins of Oxford, notionally a 16 handicap, ran the three other players in her block, all of whom had low single figure handicaps, much closer than they would have liked. I only hope that next year's event can produce so much enjoyment and excellent croquet again.
RESULTS AND TROPHY HOLDERS
[We are indebted to Ian Plummer, Master of the Oxford Web site, for editing the article and providing this biography of the writer and champion: Chris Dent is the captain of the Cambridge University Croquet Club. He is currently reading for a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Mathematics. His rapid style of play, including frequent review of ball positions, has earned him the nickname "Skippy." He has played croquet for five years and advanced to a handicap 2.5. He is a member of the Bowden and Bury croquet clubs.]
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