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AFTER THE MACROB -
NEW LETTERS AND COMMENTARY


BRITS HAVE A NATURAL ADVANTAGE
IN A SMALL COUNTRY

My overall impression of the Mac was that the standard of play was not very high, but then it never is. I think the pressure of playing for their country gets to all the players, and they play below their normal standard. Too many hoops failed from short range, too many breaks put down and too many poor leaves. However, there were other moments of sparkling play.

We won simply because we had the best players, and it is not always easy for a traveling team to be its strongest. Having said that, I think we have a natural advantage in being a small country. Most of our top players can play over a hundred competitive games a year and have the choice of the Opens, the Men's, four regional championships and the Coles, and probably not have to travel more than a hundred or so miles to any of them. Players learn quickly through experience and by association with better players. From time to time it was clear that some of the US team were not adopting the right line of play. We also learn to play on indifferent courts with tight and firm hoops. In these circumstances control has to be very good (or hitting very straight).

The US team performed very creditably and the match scores, particularly against Great Britain, did not reflect the closeness of some of the games. We know about Jerry [Stark], of course, but John Taves and Wayne Rodoni in particular showed great potential.

--Bill Lamb, Chairman of Council, [British] Croquet Association


THE LAST WORD ON 1996 MACROB STATISTICS

I enjoyed the essay "After the MacRob." You said that Taves and Rodoni had the best records. How about some specifics on individual and team performance? Can't we just clone Taves and Rodoni and win the next one?

--Byron Callas

Won't work, sorry. Cloning Rodoni and Taves produces a victory over New Zealand and Australia, but not against the Great Britain juggernaut.

Each MacRob player had two singles matches to play in each test and three doubles matches: 6 singles matches and 9 doubles in the entire series, or a total of 15 matches overall. The American team members' record in games and matches is given below, in descending order of performance.

                   SINGLES               DOUBLES
                games   matches      games   matches
                 won      won         won      won
John Taves        9        4           8        3
Wayne Rodoni      8        3           8        3
Jerry Stark       7        3           8        2
Erv Peterson      4        1           8        2
John Osborn       1        0           0        0
Bob Rebuschatis   1        0           0        0

The most relevant numbers, of course, are "matches won." Each MacRob player had two singles matches to play in each of the three tests against New Zealand, Great Britain, and Australia, and each doubles team played three matches in each test: a total of 6 singles matches and 9 doubles matches during the entire series. On that basis, the players' overall performance can be evaluated on a "percentage of wins" basis as follows:

                  SINGLES     DOUBLES    OVERALL
                   WIN %       WIN %      WIN %
John Taves          67          34         47
Wayne Rodoni        50          34         40
Jerry Stark         50          22         34
Erv Peterson        17          22         20
John Osborn          0           0          0
Bob Rebuschatis      0           0          0
                 ______      _______    _______
Cumulative          31%         19%        24%

The top four members of the team had winning percentages (more than fifty percent) in the first test, against New Zeland. In the final test, against Australia, only Rodoni and Taves had winning percentages, each of them winning both their singles matches, and together scoring one out of three in doubles.

Note that in the above analysis of individual performances, the doubles matches are necessarily counted twice, and the Americans did not do as well in doubles as in singles. Therefore, the actual overall team performance is a little better than shown above in the cumulative individual performance percentages. It comes out to a little over 25 percent.

--BA, editor


"EVERY DAY WAS LIKE STARTING A NEW TOURNAMENT," SAYS RODONI

To compete well in international events, what Americans have to learn, most of all, is how to handle the slow pace of match play, the way it is usually scheduled. Match play (the best two out of three) untimed, in the Macrob, means that only one match a day can be scheduled. Although there is the occasional marathon match, what usually happens is that you're waiting around for a long time to play, and at the end of the day, you're waiting around AFTER playing. (Except for the last week, at Cheltenham, where there were lots of courts, there was no opportunity to practice on idle courts or aprons.)

Americans are not accustomed to this kind of pace. We have to find or develop players who can grind away, day after day, at a snail's pace, and still keep up their hitting. It was a problem for me. I tend to start a tournament slow and gradually get my swing on and improve throughout the tournament, gain momentum.

Every day was like starting a new tournament again. I never got comfortable with my game, I had many opportunities I didn't capitalize on, and there were too many games I didn't finish off and wound up losing for that reason. John Taves didn't have that problem, he got stronger as the tournament went on, but he was the exception on the team.

I'm not criticizing the format of the MacRobertson. It's great. I'm only saying that the American team has to be composed of players who either by natural temperament or by training can handle this kind of pace. The best way to find those players, I think, is to consult the top 25 most successful players in the country, based on their tournament performance. Those players know how to take the measure of other players. They know which players can stand up well to the pressure and handle the pace.

Going into the tournament, I don't think that factor was taken into account. It's an important lesson we can take away from MacRob '96.

--Wayne Rodoni, U.S. MacRobertson Team


TEAM SELECTION AND TRAINING KEY FACTORS FOR TAVES

The U.S. team didn't get properly prepared mentally for the tournament. Before each day's play we would say some phrases like "gut it out", "get psyched", and "they will come after us today". Only later in the tournament did we get more honest and discuss parts of our play that needed to be worked on. We didn't work with Rebo to get over his nerves and fix the problems he had with his game until it was too late. I worked with him during the third week on both his hoops and rushes, and the help made a difference, but I should have tried to help on the first day. We should have been spending more time practicing after the day's play and also on our days off. Rebo's nervousness could only be conquered by practice.

Our team made too many mistakes. I dropped several breaks and failed to build some that I should have. I haven't played enough tournaments lately, and that certainly contributed. Your comments on the amount of play we get is exactly right. I would like to start a "president's cup" here in the US, a tournament that would guarantee that at least eight of the top 12 or 16 players in the US would show up. The selection committee could pick the top 12 or 16 players, then the tournament director would call and find out which eight could make it. If eight couldn't come, then the tournament would be called off. This would guarantee that the tournament was strong.

Since there are too few tournaments that attract top players, I think it is important to make sure that the ones we do go to have the top players. This tournament could be held anywhere, and I would like to make it one large block over a long weekend. Actually, I should get it going in Seattle right now. Unfortunately, I am too busy with my son to take the leadership on this. Seattle will host it if someone will organize it.

I only have a few weeks off each year, so I pick my tournaments very carefully. My criteria is: how many top players will be there and how many games will I get per day. The top choices are the Arizona Open (not as many games as it could be), San Francisco Open (good number of games and decent competition), Sonoma (not enough games but great competition), and Chattooga (lots of games and great competition).

Notice that the USCA nationals are not on the list. Last year's nationals broke the trend. though, with lots of games and great competition. This "president's cup" tournament would guarantee top competition and lots of play, so it would be on my list of tournaments to go to.

I would like to propose an improvement to the selection process. The selection committee should pick a captain for New Zealand in 2000 now. The captain would be involved with the selection process. Each year the captain and the selection committee could create some long weekend tournaments where the team candidates could meet and compete. Because the weekends would be set up by the selection committee, the tournament would be guaranteed strong, as I described above. One of these tournaments could be longer and called "The President's Cup".

In addition to using these tournaments to concentrate the best in the US, the captain would be responsible for working with the candidates to improve their games and their chance of being selected. The captain doesn't have to be a playing captain.

I also think the selection committee did a poor job by not selecting Michael Mehas. Mehas has won a lot of tournaments. He is obviously one of the top six players in the US. The only reason I can see that he didn't get picked is because some people don't like his behavior. I don't think the selection committe should be worring about behavior. Several years ago I was advised not to play with Mehas in doubles because he was "not the type of person you want to be associated with." I made a mistake by taking that advice. I should have decided for myself whether I liked him or not. I shouldn't have worried what other people thought of me partnering with him. If the other countries' players don't like him, that is their problem, not the selection committee's. The USA team members would rather win, so if any member didn't like him they would get over it. The sponsors would rather back the best team possible, and without Mehas you don't have the best team possible.

--John Taves, US MacRobertson Team


WHAT ABOUT THE "CALZONA"?

The editors acknowedge that they forgot to add the "Calzona" - the annual invitational team event between the best of the states of California and Arizona - to the short list of International Rules tournaments drawing a significant number of top players. In addition to the Calzona - which may, indeed, be the strongest of all the tournaments when judged by the average handicap of the American players participating - the list includes the USCA International Rules National Championship, the U.S. Open (now sanctioned by the USCA as well as the ACA), the Sonoma-Cutrer World Singles Championships, and the Chattooga Challenge.

--BA, editor


A BRITISH SELECTOR ON THE SELECTION PROCESS

Stephen Mulliner put the following on the Nottingham Board several months ago, it was reprinted in THE AMATEUR, and we think it deserves repeating yet again as the most compelling explication we've seen of the team selectors' responsibilities.

In real life, the actual selection decision is not the function of a Selection Committee that really matters to the interested public. The primary function is to make decisions which can be criticised by others, and we (only a little wearily) fully understand and accept this.

It is very difficult to make a selection that will earn anything like universal support. There will always be another point of view. Critical volume and critical quality are not quite the same thing.

One of the reasonable concerns of a Selection Committee is team development. Up to 12 years ago, selectors were very conscious of the special stress associated with international debuts. Players of undoubted talent nonetheless found the experience of playing for their country for the first time rather difficult and often played below their best. This in turn meant that team development had to be approached slowly so that a core of at least four experienced players was felt to be essential. This thought played a part in the selection of the 1979 Great Britain Mac team that lost in New Zealand which, admittedly with the benefit of hindsight, might have done better if team development had been given greater emphasis. It is certainly believed in New Zealand that the great stability of the New Zealand team during the 1980s carried with it the seeds of future problems when those players had passed their peaks.

Second, the situation is somewhat easier today because the Mac is only one way in which our better players obtain international experience. The WCC, Sonoma, the Solomon Trophy and, at a less exalted level, the Home Internationals, the European CC and other continental events, are all available. This means that, in October 1995, the Selection Committee could have regard to over a dozen players with genuine international experience. To this extent, team development can be afforded a somewhat higher profile than hitherto, and one can now make a more reasonable argument for bringing in three new Mac players at the same time.

Third, the overall standard of play is rather higher than before, and courts, in general, seem to be a little easier. This leads me to accept that single-ball skills, particularly shooting, have become more rather than less important. Distinctly poor shooting is not merely a problem for the player concerned but can also demoralise his or her doubles partner and, worse still, encourage the opposition.

Another aspect of this facet of the decision is the balance between match winners and match non-losers that should be in a side. If the team is already well supplied with match non-losers, it is more reasonable to include a more volatile performer.

Lastly, it is unreasonable either to ignore actual historical achievement or to take too much notice of early season form.

--Stephen Mulliner, British Selector


BRIAN STOREY'S PERSONAL "CANNING" AWARDS

After Great Britain had actually won the MacRobertson Shield, I had the dubious pleasure of being invited to the celebratory Chinese Meal at a local Cheltenham restaurant. At this meal a traditional "canning" took place in which players, officials, spectators and others were either heaped with praise or given the bird for actions said or done, real or perceived, true or untrue.

It was, for the most part, all done in the best possible taste. But it got me thinking about producing, for those unfortunate enough to miss the Mac, something on similar lines. With few exceptions the events listed below were not considered by the restaurant "canning" committee. I am not about to fall into the trap of producing something which could be considered libel, so here is my own list with appropriate headings.

BEST SHOT OF THE TOURNAMENT
This one was voted the best shot at the "canning" despite most voters never having seen it as this was done at Parkstone, the voters being mostly at Bowdon. However, it has already reached the dizzy heights of folklore. Colin Pickering (Australia) had contrived to have played all the balls and still not got in front of his next hoop. Quite deliberately, and probably in desperation - not that this would be discernable from the seemingly unflappable Colin - he cannoned his own ball off one of the adjacent balls to make it go through the hoop and continue his break.

WORST COMMERCIAL DECISION OF THE TOURNAMENT
The decision by the CA to overprice books and not provide a full range of equipment for sale at the different venues.

BEST EDITED INTERNET REPORTS OF THE TOURNAMENT
No problem here. Effectively there were only two types of reports. Mine and Bob Alman's [in CROQUET WORLD Online Magazine]. I defer to Bob's magnificent effort, which together with the visual presentation gave a good feeling all round.

BEST DRESSED TEAM
A tie here. It is impossible to choose between Australia and New Zealand. Their track suits were in their own national colours and really set the scene. No disrespect to GB and the USA, but the others took my eye.

MOST PROFESSIONAL TEAM ATTITUDE
No problem here. Australia win hands down. With a "no protein eating" order at lunch time, home cooked food wherever possible, and the unusual sight of croquet players warming up with calisthenics each morning, there was much evidence here of serious intent.

BEST WET GEAR
Most of the time the weather was kind, but on a couple of days we got the bad stuff too. This did not affect Colin Pickering, who wins his second award. His almost all-black attire including "THE" hat, he cut a fine figure of sartorial elegance, even though it was a dripping one.

WORST CROQUET ASSOCIATION DECISION OF THE TOURNAMENT
The Macrobertson Shield is the biggest croquet tournament in the world, bringing all the best players together once every four years. It was a surprise therefore that in this year, the CA Council members did not want to sit on a publicity committee to project not only the tournament but also the game itself. No council members, no publicity committee - no publicity committee, no publicity - no publicity, no public - no public, no future players - no future players, no game - no game, no CA - no CA - no council members.

HOW TO SHOOT YOURSELF IN THE FOOT 20,000 TIMES
At the Mac the opportunity was taken for the members to determine how the tournament should be organised in the future. Much has been written about possible future events, perhaps allowing other countries to enter or some form of promotion and relegation. This was all discussed. I wasn't at the meeting, but my informant tells me that the Mac teams agreed to have the next one in the year 2000, January in New Zealand. No contention there. But wait for it! They also accepted the principle of promotion and relegation, to take effect from that tournament. No contention there. Still wait for it! To determine the relegated team it was also accepted in principle that the bottom team in New Zealand would be challenged by another team by: a team of six players, playing in the country of the challenged team with the understanding that on the rota system they may have to host the next event. No contention there!

Now we get to the good bit. How is the challenger to be determined? It is suggested that the WCF should be asked to hold a team tournament, the winner becoming challengers. Seems reasonable. (Though I think the relative strengths of teams of four as opposed to six may prove the underlying weakness of some teams. Anyway, enough of that, back to the tale).

To sort of legitimise its stature within the WCF croquet playing world, the Mac teams suggested that the WCF recognise the Mac as the World Team Championship, which of course it is already. The response? A mind blowing comment that this would cost the teams something in the order of L20,000 for a licence fee. Yes, that's 20 thousand pounds. Wow! I am reminded now of one comment to me by the late Robert Pritchard. "The trouble with croquet is, that it's played by people who cannot afford it". At this price, can anyone? Talk about re-cycling money!

Needless to say, this was one lead balloon and only widened the gap between the croquet playing world and the WCF administration. For me, the Mac teams should call it the World Team Championship anyway. (There's me getting all political again).

BEST PUBLIC RELATIONS OF THE TOURNAMENT
This goes easily to Jerry Stark and the USA team. Nothing was too much trouble for them despite the difficulties they had on the lawn. Memorably Jerry Stark ensured that all the team signed the programme for a number of young girls who had come to watch the GB test with their teacher. Excellent.!

WORST PUBLIC RELATIONS OF THE TOURNAMENT AND ONE SHOT IN THE FOOT
A player who could have tried didn't by being horrible to a 14-year-old girl who asked for his autograph in her programme, which was refused.

MOST CLUMSY REPORTER OF THE TOURNAMENT
Me. For almost three weeks, I and the USA team had shared telephone lines for the downloading of files to the Internet and also photos by them to the USCA Web page. On the penultimate day I caught my foot in the electrical lead, pulling the laptop of John Taves onto the floor and breaking the hinge.

MOST FORGIVING PLAYER OF THE TOURNAMENT
John Taves, for allowing me the chance to die a natural death by forgiving me.

MOST GLARING RESULT ERROR
Me, posting a loss on the master scoreboard for Clarke and Fulford, despite their having won and secured the Mac for GB. Well, it was busy, you know!

BIGGEST TIME LAG OF THE TOURNAMENT
At the WCF world championship in France in June 1995, the decision was made by the management committee to appoint a working party on the laws of the game. Apparently they would then report back on any suggested changes and they would then be discussed. Interestingly, the actual appointment was never done. Partly no doubt due to the fact that the WCF has no actual control of the laws as they are still within the remit of the laws committees of GB, Australia and New Zealand (and I would doubt they would be willing to give up that right without something in return). So a year later the WCF actually got to progress their decision. It will be interesting to watch developments on this and how a power struggle will be resolved.

MOST INTERESTING REFEREEING DECISION OF THE TOURNAMENT
The Mac presents the opportunity to get together all those concerned with such matters as laws of the game. So having been appointed to look at the laws, the group had a go. For some time in the Southern Hemisphere there has been concern about balls disturbed by the multi-swinging variety of player. You know the problem.

Multi-swinging is somewhat more difficult to determine when they start to swing the mallet "with intent to hit the Ball". I am reliably informed that the concensus of this meeting is that disturbance of any ball other than the player's ball will constitute a fault. Am I alone in thinking that this seems strange. Why make an exception for the player's ball? Should it be the other way round, if there is to be a discrimination at all? Or, should it be all balls or none at all. No doubt we will be told eventually.

BEST EXAMPLE OF BRINGING PRESSURE TO BEAR IN THE TOURNAMENT BUT NO SHOT IN THE FOOT
The USA team, almost to a man, were or are in the habit of roqueting a ball, walking up to it and placing a foot onto it - presumably to steady it for the croquet shot. The practice was repeated after each roquet with some players. Perhaps this is as a result of the cultural divide over the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Although this was noticed early on, it was not until half-way through the last test that an official complaint was made by the Australians. The officials, reasonably in my opinion, having regard to the fact that the USA players had done this all the way through, decided a team concensus view would iron out this potential for World War III. The decision was to allow it to continue until the end of the test. Very pragmatic.

BEST COMMUNAL SINGING OF THE TOURNAMENT
The USA team singing their National Anthem after a little bit of persuasion from others on their Independence Day.

There, that's my attempt. I await others to agree, disagree, award their own awards etc. But it was damn good fun being at the event. Thanks to one and all who helped in everything and wrote nice E-Mail. Thanks to me for the Results Page.

--Brian Storey, abridged slightly from the Nottingham Board

CROQUET WORLD thanks Brian for the "award" and wishes to return the compliment. Brian's daily, detailed reports made the event come alive for thousands of croquet fans around the world. We're looking forward to a reprise of our partnership to cover MacRob 2000.


"POP" (PEEL ON OPPONENT) TACTICS EXPLAINED BY HILDITCH

I just wanted to make a few comments on your reference to POP tactics in your "Vision for 2000" article.

Wylie's original book talks about POP tactics to prevent ordinary triples. Against weak players or on a poor lawn this may make sense, but I think that Robert Fulford is now using POP tactics more for the leave than for delaying triples.

With the 'standard' diagonal spread leave the opponent can shoot down the east boundary into corner 4. This makes an ordinary triple already very difficult (it requires a couple of precision rushes either before or after 1 or after 2). This is one attraction of the NSL (the "New Standard Leave") used heavily by the New Zealand and Australian players during the Mac.

In the British Opens final against Aaron Westerby, Fulford instead popped his opponent to 1 and 3 and got a defensive leave to try and prevent a break and at least prevent the TPO. The point is that in easy conditions against a strong opponent the delayed triple is inevitable and so there is no point preventing the standard triple.

I would not encourage POPing for the sake of it; it is critical that the player understands the game very closely. Robert Fulford (who is going to be in Chattooga over the summer) could provide more details.

--Richard Hilditch, MacRob '96 manager


 
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