Kent won the Golf Croquet Inter-County Championship
This year's event attracted 8 entries, two fewer than in 2005. 12 of the top 30 ranked players were participating plus at least three other players who would likely command a place in the table if they had played the requisite number of games. It was encouraging to see several highly ranked Association Croquet players taking part. As usual, it was held at Southwick and the format was based on teams of four (with reserves allowed) playing alternately doubles and singles, a system that offers a nice variety of play and a great opportunity for knowledge transfer to the less experienced players.
On paper, the favourites were last year's winners Sussex (who fielded Alan Cottle, David Hopkins, Mark Hamilton and Bill Arliss) and Kent (Roy Ware, David Dray plus the formidable Dulwich duo of Simon Carter and Pierre Beaudry). On Saturday, Kent were unstoppable, winning a remarkable 19 out of 21 games while Sussex slumped to only 3 wins. The three other qualifiers, each with five wins, were Dorset, Oxon (runners up in 2005) and the CA Select side.
Sunday's format was similar but with an important difference in that the result would be based on game victories rather than match wins and in the event of a tie the order on Saturday would be the determining factor. After Saturday's performance by Kent there seemed little point in the other teams even turning up but the catering at Southwick is good and the weather was tolerable so a full field arrived, albeit with Dorset having to substitute Chris Daniels, their top ranked player. The first round of two matches went according to the previous day's form: Kent thrashed Dorset 5-1, Oxon drew 3-3 with CA Select. In the one match before lunch Oxon managed to beat the formerly unbeatable Kent 2-1 and moved within one game win of their total. However, they needed to be at least one clear win ahead to be declared overall winners.
After lunch the Oxon team, refreshed by various beverages and solids not on the banned list of substances, emerged knowing what needed to be done. John Spiers raced to a 4-0 and then 5-1 lead over Pierre Beaudry who then fought back to 6-6. Spiers scraped home after Beaudry uncharacteristically missed a five yarder at the 13th. Norma Rayne played out of her skin to defeat Roy Ware and Oxon also won the doubles with Nick Butler and Benson Spiers. So now it was Oxon 8, Kent 6. Don Beck, unflappable tournament manager and unofficial manager of the Kent side, confidently predicted a 5-1 win for Kent versus CA Select, in which case Oxon would need better than 3-3 against Dorset. In the first three match sequence both Oxon and Kent won by 2-1, so the margin remained: Kent needed a 3-0 win in the final matches and for Oxon to win no more than 1 game. The Oxon team were confident.
Kent gained two fairly quick victories but Richard Thompson came back from behind against Roy Ware to reach 5-5. At 6-5 down and with less than a minute to play Richard had to shoot at hoop 12 from close to the south boundary. The shot was good but the ball failed to run the hoop completely. Under the rules of this tournament the additional eight shots after time were only played in the event of the scores being level. So Kent had achieved their 5-1 target.
Meanwhile, Oxon had banked one more victory and were leading in both other games, so Kent faces were long. On the doubles court Julie Hudson and Kath Burt were pushing the theoretically stronger team of Nick Butler and Benson Spiers. After being 5-4 down Dorset won hoop 10 and then the strategically vital hoop 11. When the game went to the 13th they had first mover advantage and used it well. Red took up position closer to the boundary than hoop and towards the corner, thereby gaining the ability to clear opponent balls far away. Yellow managed a lovely shot closely in front of the hoop. Blue needed to provide cover for black from red, from a range of almost 30 yards. It didn't work, black was despatched and on its return missed yellow. Game over.
Back on lawn 3, Norma Rayne was taking on Tom Weston. Against the odds, Norma took a 4-2 lead, Tom fought back to lead 5-4 only for Norma to run hoop 10 from 20 yards. It remained tight but Tom prevailed, leading to both Kent and Oxon having 11 victories and so the former were adjudged winners. Dorset finished third and CA Select 4th. In the consolation event, Sussex played closer to their abilities and edged out Leicestershire.
Based on their overall performance over the weekend, Kent clearly deserved the cup. Oxon were left to rue how they could defeat the winners handsomely but fail to beat either of the other finalists. Perhaps the lunch was the answer!