Weather fine at first, gradually clouding over during the day. Lawns in excellent condition, but inevitably slow following copious rain during the week.
Bowdon arrived at the final with the biggest scalp to their credit, having beaten the pre-tournament favourites Surbiton in the first round. This was followed by a narrow victory over Nottingham and a 7 - 0 drubbing of Hurlingham in the semi-final. Harrow by contrast had had a relatively straightforward path, beating Sussex County, Wrest Park and Cheltenham all in the end by comfortable margins. From my point of view, although I felt our team (Harrow Oak) on paper had more experience which could prove decisive, it was bound to be a close match which, as the cliche goes, would probably come down to who played well on the day. And so, I would say, it proved. Well I would, wouldn't I?
The locals scepticism about the captains' agreement to an 11 o'clock start were allayed to some extent when the doubles was finished in an hour. David Openshaw hit partner on the 3rd turn of a Corner II opening, and promptly took off the lawn attempting to dig the oppo ball out of Corner II. He took full advantage of the reprieve by going to 4-back after Peter Taylor missed on the 4th turn. Colin Irwin missed the long lift after a diagonal spread leave, and Phil Cordingley completed a textbook 7th turn delayed TP. First blood to Harrow.
An out of sorts Gary Bennett spurned several chances before losing to James Hawkins, who played solidly enough to level the match for Bowdon at 1 - 1.
The Michael Heap/Ian Lines encounter proved to be the most interesting of the morning matches. After a slow start Michael seemed to be in control having picked up the second break after Ian missed the first lift, but had to run away after getting hampered after hoop three. Michael retrieved the situation by immediately hitting an 8 yarder with his forward ball after Ian had missed, but then equally abruptly gave up the innings by missing a four yarder with the backward ball next turn. Now it was Ian who took control, reaching peg and 4-back in two solid turns. In completing the leave however (Michael's forward ball 7 yards south of 4 back, backward ball just off middle of West boundary), Ian had had to roll both his balls off the east boundary near Corner IV and in doing so left a double. Michael fearlessly lifted the backward ball, just clipped oppo and finished with a delayed TP turn which, as so often has been the case with him in the IC this year, got stronger and stronger as it progressed.
While Michael was finishing his first game, David and Colin had completed the doubles, had lunch and then finished their singles. David had the first opportunity, but clanged hoop 2 from which Colin got going. In setting up a
NSL with David's hoop 2 ball on hoop 2, Colin managed to play a wrong ball after running 1-back. From this David went to 4-back with a good leave. Colin lifted his hoop 1 ball, hit the long lift, proceeded to peg and went out from 2-back after David missed his lift.
So following the morning matches and the top single, the score was level at 2 - 2 with the final three singles to play.
Now full of confidence from his morning win Michael gave James little chance. He failed to complete his second TP of the day when he had to hit partner after only just running rover himself following a straight rover peel. He pegged one ball out leaving partner next to the peg, and finished when James missed the last lift. 3 - 2 to Harrow.
Phil was similarly giving Peter little chance in their singles. He atoned for a missed 5 yarder at partner at hoop 2 on the second break by immediately hitting an 8 yarder after oppo had missed to resume the break to the peg with a diagonal spread leave. Peter lifted the peg ball and hit partner to take croquet for the first time in the match, but immediately clanged hoop 1 on Phil's backward ball. From a non-trivial position Phil went to the peg, but with one hand already on the Shield, missed the six yard return roquet into B baulk. Peter shot at partner on the west
boundary, forgetting his lift with a ball in baulk. A couple of turns later a distinctly dispirited Peter clanged hoop 1 again and Phil hit partner from 7 yards, rushing it to 5 yards east of the peg. The dilemma was whether to have a full blooded attempt at the peg out, or to try a split peg out going to oppo's balls at hoop 1. Having recently had some trouble with this length, Phil opted for the latter, narrowly missing. He then proceeded to croquet an opponent ball off the east boundary while making his leave, thereby leaving no rush to the peg. Peter spurned his 16 yarder at oppo in favour of shooting at partner 30 yards away near Corner III. He missed. Although he couldn't finish, this time Phil made no mistake with the leave: oppo balls in Corners III and IV, himself with a rush to the peg from Corner II. Peter missed and Phil completed a 4 yard peg out to finally lift the Shield for the third time in Harrow's history.
Ultimately as much a matter of pride as anything, Gary shrugged of his disappointing morning performance to hit the lift after Ian had got the first break to 4-back and finish in three turns to make the final score 5 - 2 to Harrow.
The turning point of the match was undoubtedly Michael Heap's performance against Ian Lines. Hitting the lift and finishing to put Harrow back on level terms rather than 3 - 1 behind made a hell of a difference, for which Michael gets my vote for the Final's MVP. In many ways it typified Harrow's performance throughout the competition: whenever we looked like being in trouble, someone, or more often than not everyone, would raise their game
to turn imminent deficit into a substantial lead and ultimate victory.
Results, Harrow Oak names first:
Phil Cordingley & beat Colin Irwin & +26TP (C)
David Openshaw & Michael Heap beat Peter Taylor & Ian Lines +5TP
Gary Bennett lost to James Hawkins -16
David Openshaw lost to Colin Irwin -17
Phil Cordingley beat Peter Taylor +26
Michael Heap beat James Hawkins +26
Gary Bennett beat Ian Lines +17