I carelessly managed to miss the deadline for the latest gazette and it's gone to print with bits and pieces from the web rather than full report. Totally my fault, should have told Gail it was coming. So here is the report.
As regularly happens every 3 or 4 years this year's President's Cup was the last good chance for players to impress the MacRobertson Shield selectors, though nowadays there are plenty of other events with which to compare the best players.
The venue this year was Heaton Park in north Manchester that was built as the bowls venue for the 2000 Commonwealth games. The courts are near perfect though there was some variation in pace between the 4 lawns from medium paced to slow.
The field included James Death and Dave Kibble making their debuts, Jonathan Kirby who had only got in after John Gibbons withdrew and Keith Aiton appearing for the first time since '96. Stephen Mulliner had finally missed the cut to bring to an end his record run of 27 consecutive appearances.
Thursday started with an impressive display of shooting, all 8 players having taken croquet by turn 5. In the easy conditions most games started with super shot openings and frequently the supershot ball was shot at and hit, with the balls then placed near corners 2 and 4 or an attempt made to go round 2nd turn. The two favourites met in round 1 and started in this fashion Dave Maugham putting the balls near corners 2 and 4 at the end of the second turn. Robert Fulford hit turn 3 but failed to roll up to 1 from corner 4 and Maugham hit again turn 4. Fulford missed the lift and Maugham finished +26TP. Carrying on in this vane Maugham had a near perfect day hitting everything winning the next 26TP against Mark Avery then beating both Chris Clarke and James Death 15TP with a couple of POPs. The only time Maugham didn't go round was in a repeat of the opening he'd played against Fulford except he was playing first against Clarke and failed his attempt to roll up to 1 from corner 4. Fulford in contrast had a miserable day from which he never recovered losing to Death after hilling off a short, very gentle attempt to nudge the peelee in a sextuple and then losing to Clarke after playing a wrong ball.
Elsewhere Keith Aiton was also off to a flying start including beating Clarke despite making 3 errors by hitting everything and also Avery with a good finish off a squeeze having been TPOed. The two players making their debuts were off to fairly predictable starts, James was taking it reasonably in his stride where as Dave Kibble was struggling.
Scores at the end of day 1. Aiton, Maugham 4, Avery, Clarke, Death 2, Fulford, Kirby 1, Kibble 0.
Friday began with Maugham against Aiton, Dave failed to find his shooting groove from the day before and Keith won 7th turn +26TP to take the outright lead. Death was to have a good day and started with a snatched victory against Kirby hitting a 30 yard last shot against 4back and peg.
Aiton was pegged back in round 6 losing 5th turn no croquet to Fulford. Maugham won 26TP against Kibble. Avery for the second day in a row had an opponent finish off a squeeze against him, this time it was Death. Kirby finished from an even more difficult position against Clarke. Jonathan had broken down on a triple and was DPOed with Chris leaving his hoop 1 ball in corner 3 and peg ball in corner 1. Jonathan successfully rolled up to 4 from corner 1, then approached 5 from near 4 sending a pioneer to 6. He ran the hoop hard hitting the peg and bouncing a few yards towards corner 3 (should have hit it harder!). The ball in corner 3 was hit anyway and that was that.
Round seven started with three 26TPs. Death beat Aiton despite failing a reckless shot at hoop 2 second turn when even if he made it he wouldn't have had a rush to 3, Avery winning against Fulford to stay in touch on 4 wins and Kibble breaking his duck against the luckless Clarke. Maugham looked like winning by the same margin but missed a 5 yard return roquet form the south boundary having jumped over the peelee after a straight rover peel. His opponent Kirby went to 4back but made a mess of the leave giving away a perfect double and Maugham hit and finished to end the first series in the outright lead on 6.
The day concluded with Maugham maintaining up his lead with a textbook 5th turn +20TP against Fulford. Aiton and Death kept pace, Aiton winning comfortably against Kibble, Death aided by a broken down Clarke sextuple attempt. Avery broke down at 3back against Kirby and a Kirby TP later it looked like a three horse race.
Scores at the end of day 2 Maugham 7, Aiton, Death 6, Avery 4, Fulford, Kirby 3, Clarke 2, Kibble 1.
On Saturday every game finished with a triple or better, the first time this has happened in the Pres. The swap from Barlows to Dawsons has made peeling easier, but also the overall standard of this year's event was very high. In particular the play was much better than last year when the lawns were similarly easy.
As on Friday Aiton and Maugham met first thing. Before play one pundit, not unreasonably, suggested the event might all be over in Maugham's favour by tea time. Maugham put out a supershot ball, Aiton hit and got as far as failing hoop 3 on a two ball. Maugham made 1 off this but was hampered and missed to the north boundary giving Keith a 6 yarder. Keith hit and went to 4b peeling Maugham to 1 and 3. Maugham hit the lift but failed 4 giving Aiton an easy finishing chance that was taken. Death lost no croquet to a Fulford sextuple, missing a ball peg high up and down the east boundary on both turns 3 and 5 in the opening.
In round 10 Death again failed to trouble the scorer this time against Kirby. Aiton established the first break against Avery. Avery hit his long lift rushing the ball into corner 4 and failed to get going. Aiton, despite having a 25 yard shot from corner 4 to Mark's balls near corner 1, took a 35 yard shot at partner which was on the end of B-baulk and hit it. Keith said later he'd hit the shot the other way around in the first series and knew it was flat (?!). Keith finished.
Maugham had a scrappier game with Clarke. The game started well with hit ins on the 2nd, 3rd and 4th turns. Clarke missed the long lift turn 5. Maugham ran 1 but with a somewhat hampered stance missed a 5 yard forward roquet. Clarke went to 4back peeling Maugham to 3, partner to 2 and placing Maugham's 4-back ball in hoop 2. Maugham played with his backward ball anyway, hit, but then misapproached 4 before establishing a break. Clarke missed a 13 yarder and third time lucky Maugham finished.
Round 11 saw all the important games finish +26TP. Aiton beat Kirby including another 30 yard hit in after Kirby failed to get going 4th turn. More surprisingly Maugham was beaten by Kibble recording only his second win. Avery handed Death his third straight to nil loss leaving Death's chances little more than mathematical.
Maugham met Death in round 12. Death got a break going turn 2 but failed 4. Maugham missed the ball in hoop 4 from A-baulk. Death hit the open ball from A-baulk and cannoned partner through 4 obtaining a rush to one and embarked on an ambitious nontuple. Predictably this fairly quickly came to grief, James failing 4 having rushed to the hoop immediately after peeling partner through 6. Dave went to 4b but then setting up for his delayed TP landed on a hoop and had to play away. James took his hoop 4 ball to 4back laying up with Maugham's 4back ball placed on the back of 1-back. Maugham missed with his backward ball. James peeled 4-back getting a rush to 3-back and then finished with a straight double.
Aiton's final game of the day was against Fulford. Aiton put out a long supershot ball and Fulford dubiously attempted his 19 yard rush to 1 from B-baulk, missing into A-baulk. Aiton went to 4-back 3rd turn. Fulford hit, TPOed and pegged off two balls leaving his other ball 10 yards south of corner 3. Keith played a brilliant contact stroke splitting to eight foot straight in front of 1, ran the hoop down to the other ball which he'd croqueted near to 2 and was off and running on a two ball break. The break continued right round to rover where with the game and a claim to one of croquet history's great turns almost in the bag Keith failed a 4 feet straight hoop. Fortunately he'd stuck in the front of the hoop only leaving Robert a six yard shot which virtually needed to run hoop 5. Robert missed having some luck himself as the ball bounced away off the hoop to near the west boundary rather sitting next to rover. Keith ran the hoop and lagged to a spot east of the peg failing to cross-peg from Robert's ball. Robert missed this 13 yarder and Keith pegged out to go 2 wins ahead with 2 rounds to play.
Scores at the end of day three; Aiton 10, Maugham 8, Death 7, Avery, Clarke, Fulford, Kirby 5, Kibble 3
Anticlimactically (for everyone except himself) Keith won the first game on Sunday clinically 5th turn 26TP versus Clarke to secure the Cup. Maugham beat Avery by the same score but to no avail. The last round was an exhibition, Clarke winning 4th turn, Kirby 5th turn, Aiton 5th turn with a ladies sextuple and Fulford 6th turn with a sextuple.
Keith was a very worthy winner. He rode his luck a little on the first day but bolstered with those wins under his belt he never looked back. Keith's route to winning the Pres has been an unlikely one. He was reasonably successful in the Eighties reaching the final of the Opens in 1983 and winning the Men's twice though on both occasions the fields were fairly weak. He played little in the early Nineties and has spent most of the time since languishing at the bottom of the Chairman's or the top of the Spencer Ell. In winning Keith became the first player to have won the top three eights. Keith has always been a very accurate break player, this year with a new, brass end faced Pidcock millennium mallet he has become a good shot and a more reliable hoop runner. Here, where the lawns were flat enough that shots hit at Keith's fairly gentle pace went reasonably straight, he was a great shot. It will be intriguing to see what direction Keith's croquet career takes next.
Since the event our MacRobertson Shield team has been picked and it's possible to talk about the players in this light.
James can consider himself very unlucky to have missed out. If we had been picking the six British players most likely to win the next World title both James and Pete Trimmer would probably have been included. More results like this one would have helped James's cause.
Kirby of the top seven here was the only one to occasionally make break play look difficult and struggle with the change in pace between the various lawns but like Maugham and Aiton hit excellently. Jonathan has great tenacity and despite his errors achieves consistently good results.
Mark is also very consistent but needs to hit more to have a chance of winning another major singles event. He is still the same player who scored 13/15 in the last Mac and should do well again next time.
The backbone of the GB team Clarke, Fulford and Maugham all played reasonably well and it was a testament to the others that between the three of them they only averaged 50%. Maugham will have been disappointed not to have done better after his good start but still notched up his typical sort of total. Fulford and Clarke although only scoring six, have both won the event playing worse than they did this year.
Kibble will have been disappointed to only score 3 but this was no disgrace in this field. He will have to work to get back and see if he can do better next time.
Thanks to everyone at Bury and Heaton Park for looking after us so well.