The team variously foregathered in down town Melbourne on Sunday & Monday 12 & 13 November, largely to six degree temperatures and hail storms. Indeed it was so cold and windy at Cairnlea on Monday no one was inspired to put in more than 90 minutes practise, not unreasonable assuming the 30 degrees forecast for Rich River would transpire. Instead the team took advantage of various of Melbourne's tourist attractions: the Observation Deck of Rialto Tower, the Aquarium, and the various night life options. With regard to the latter, obviously not Keith, Ailsa.
Cairnlea is the site of the new Victoria Croquet Centre, potentially a twelve lawn complex similar in concept, though not quite so lavish, as the NCC in Palm Beach. I say potentially as currently only three of the twelve lawns have been laid, but the fine open plan clubhouse seems to all intents and purposes to be complete. In fact this MacRobertson Shield was originally scheduled to be held at Cairnlea, and was only moved to the split venues of Rich River and Shepparton Clubs in May this year.
More clement whether on Tuesday was conducive to more practise, which saw the team in residence on the lawns from ten to four. But it was back to cold and hail on Wednesday for the warm up match against a strong Victoria representative side. Jonathan Kirby has supplied a detailed report, but basically all went well as we swept the single game doubles 3-0 (although Keith and Jonathan had a bit of a struggle), and then Rob, Keith, Mark and Chris won their singles in straight games to give us an unassailable 7-0 lead. Dave and Jonathan both remained unfinished at 1-1.
We left Melbourne early on Thursday morning, and after a brief stop to collect keys and offload luggage it was straight to the Rich River Club to put in an hour's practise before lunch. The Rich River Club is primarily a golf club and resort situated just over the Victoria/NSW border near the twin towns of Moama & Echuca. It has six lawns in use for the Mac. Four side-by-side in front of the croquet pavilion are very similar: good surface, easy paced, flat, but sandy soil means hoops are very soft and hoop running is easy.
Indeed we had to forcibly stop Robert when he reached 108 hoops on his practise two ball break for fear of missing lunch. A further dedicated croquet lawn behind the pavilion is rather more sandy, and as a result represents a bit more of a challenge. The sixth lawn is on a bowling green, and looks like it will produce an excellent challenge as it is much harder and faster than the rest. On Friday morning the four main lawns measured 11 Plummers, the sandy lawn 10, and by contrast the bowling green 15.
More practise at Rich River on Friday morning was followed by our first trip to Shepparton, an hours drive away (for some), after lunch. Shepparton is an excellent facility, reminding me somewhat of Colchester, as it has four lawns in a square in front of a clubhouse set in a residential area. Lawns are also flat and generally easy paced, though more difficult than Rich River largely due to less sandy soil. Shepparton measured 10 Plummers on Friday afternoon (and had not changed significantly when re-measured after play on Sunday).
One of the great things about being involved with international croquet is the friendships made which last for years and are renewed from time to time at events like this. No more so than at the formal Opening Dinner itself, held this time in the main building at Rich River Club. Speeches were great: not too many, and mercifully short. Between the main and dessert the captains/managers introduced their teams. This was followed by the announcement by Gary Fox (Tournament Director) of the playing order for the first two tests (GB v. NZ and Australia v. USA). The announcement of the Australian order in particular proved to be the highlight of the evening from a cabaret point of view. This immediately gave rise to a series of whispered, clandestine discussions between the other three teams, culminating in the lodging of a formal complaint by USA & GB, supported by NZ. Wisely, since the order affects singles only which the Australians were not due to start until Day 2, and since the supply of wine at the dinner had been plentiful, Gary Fox scheduled a meeting of the Appeals Committee (himself plus one representative from each team) to consider the issue to follow the end of play on Day 1. When the meeting was held resolution was ultimately achieved after some discussion by the Australians offering an amended order acceptable to all concerned. (As an aside, my involvement both as a member of the Appeals Committee and in the preparation of the case has meant some delay in publication of the first two reports, for which I apologise).
Politics resolved, at long last (it seemed) play begins. Watch this space.
After Rob & Chris got us off to an excellent start, the other two pairs lost disappointingly to give New Zealand an early 2-1 lead. The GB performance however was marked with a certain amount of mitigation. Whilst I'm sure no one would want to make excuses or detract from an excellent fighting Kiwi performance, I'm sure Dave and Mark must have suffered some effect from the cold imported by Mark and passed on. Mark himself most uncharacteristically missed a number of opportunities with the second ball in the deciding game of their match. Jonathan Kirby admitted to being rather more nervous than healthy on his MacRobertson Shield debut. Our other debutant Keith showed no signs of nerves however, as he had a ball round the only time he took croquet. Early days.
Robert Fulford & Chris Clarke beat Aaron Westerby & Paddy Chapman +26tp (C),
Chris lays supershot ball (ss). Aaron to slightly S of optimum spot on E boundary. Robert hits on E boundary and goes to 4b, with standard defensive 3rd turn leave: his ball on W boundary S of hoop 2, Chris with a rush on opponent ball on E boundary N of 4. NZ misses lift. Chris rushes to partner, but rushes into 4 trying to pick up opponent ball in IV. Casually takes off from 4 into corner area to get a rush to 1. Finishes.
Paddy puts out ss. Chris to II. Aaron hits in II and gets going. Unluckily glues striker's ball to the peg after running hoop 5. Attempts an impossible looking sweep, but faults (bevel), leaving Robert a more or less perfect treble from B baulk. Rob hits and goes to 4b, popping Paddy to 3, with an NSL, hoop three ball on 4. Paddy misses short lift. Chris finishes.
Keith Aiton & Jonathan Kirby lost to Greg Bryant & Shane Davis -10tp (D), -17
Shane supershot. J peg high E. Greg rushes to IV from III. Fails 2yd hoop 1. K hits 6 yarder and goes to 4b, spread. Shane rushes long lift to IV. Jonathan two 3 or 4 yd misses, one rushing to 4, the other return after 1b.
Eventually Greg to 4b. Shane finishes from 2 off Jonathan's miss after 1b.
Promo cannon after jumping peelee ? inch through.
Keith puts out long supershot ball. Greg to IV. Jonathan hits in IV, fails to get rush on supershot ball, so makes 1 with 8 yard backward take off and 5 ft hoop. Goes to 4b, standard defensive leave. Shane hits, from III. Shuffling to 3 & 4. Greg eventually goes to 4b from 3, NSL. Jonathan misses. Shane goes to peg with no peels, leaving Jonathan on 4b and Keith peg high just W of line between 1 & 2. Keith missed ball on 4b from end of B baulk. Greg finishes.
David Maugham & Mark Avery lost to Brian Wislang & Robert Lowe -2, +24tp(A), -10tp (W)