Not for the first time in this supposed summer, a group of croquet players had to dodge showers; on this occasion, for the cause of the second semi-final of the Golf Croquet Inter-Club Championship. Ashby versus Blewbury was a repeat of the 2007 final. Some careful archaeology also revealled that the teams had played in 2000 (although Blewbury was playing home fixtures at Harwell) and Ashby claimed the prize of being the home team on this latest installment.
The morning legs provided some sense of balance between the two teams. From 3-2 up in the doubles, King and Mounfield then only took two further hoops. Meanwhile, after a comfortable win in his first game, Gee found himself 2-5 down in the second, while Mitchell levelled his leg at 1-1 with O'Brian. Gee responded first to win his next five hoops and seal the leg. Then O'Brian played with reasonable control in the deciding game and Blewbury hoped in vain for a 2-1 lead at lunch.
In the afternoon, Ashby proved even more resilient than in the morning. Mounfield failed to find much form but King, Gee and O'Brian were in a race to secure the winning leg. King gave up some ground when he allowed Spiers to take the first game to hoop 13 (a rare occurrrence between these two players), there having been a two-hoop difference for most of the game. O'Brian finished his 2-0 victory first and then Gee secured the match, leaving King to put the icing on the cake. Butler acquitted himself best of the Blewbury players although Mitchell also proved very dogged with some excellent long clearances.
Unfortunately, the hectic schedule of the croquet calendar depleted the Blewbury team from being full strength, while Ashby have played in 2008 with the added strength of William Gee. Thus, the result was somewhat of an over-compensation for the one-sided final last year. Hopefully, the two will play again and be more closely matched in the future.
Ashby will play Surbiton in the final (at Wrest Park on Saturday 27 September). Both teams share the honour of being the first to play in three finals since the Championship began in 2000. Surbiton won in 2005 and 2006, while Ashby were losing finalists in 2004 and 2007. Ashby beat Surbiton in the 2007 semi-finals, so the latter will no doubt consider adding to the strength of their team on this occasion.
Ashby names first (handicaps in parentheses)
Tim King (1) and Ray Mounfield (1) lost to John Spiers (1) and Nick Butler (1) 4-7, 1-7
William Gee (2) beat Jim Bartlett (4) 7-3, 7-5
Mike O'Brian (2) beat Gerald Mitchell (3) 7-4, 6-7, 7-3
Tim King beat John Spiers 7-6, 7-3
Ray Mounfield lost to Nick Butler 5-7, 3-7
Will Gee beat Gerald Mitchell 7-5, 7-3
Mike O'Brian beat Jim Bartlett 7-4, 7-3