James showed the resilience of a top-class champion. He was 4-6 down in the third game of his semi-final against Pierre Beaudry, lost the first game of the final 4-7, saw a 5-1 lead in the second game become 5-5 and then went 4-6 down in the third. He has an air of Rob Fulford; his face betrays the merest flicker of frustration with a fluffed hoop shot (both of them doing this more than one would expect) and then he instantly returns to a picture of calm (many of the other top players start to show their intensity at these moments as they strive to reach the heights to which they know they need to play). Only once during the final did his mouth break into the briefest of smiles; one of a player who was truly grasping the battle.
A cold northerly wind blew top-class Golf Croquet to the Isle of Wight, where the Ryde Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club proved to be a fine venue for such a prestigious event. Although the absence of Reg Bamford and Rob Fulford was regrettable, the overall quality and competitiveness of the entry promised some close play and so it proved to be. Most notably, the young stars who have emerged with such distinction in the past two seasons were all present: Ryan Cabble, Howard Cheyne and William Gee playing in addition to Jacob and James.
The format of the Championship was somewhat different to previous occasions. Two blocks of eight players played 19-point games (all play all), leading to the top two players in each block progressing to the semi-finals. Given the stiff competition for these places, the challenge for everyone was to avoid a slow start. Ryan Cabble (winner of three qualifying events) was the first of the favourites to fall behind, losing to Alan Truckle, who was a last-minute entrant when the manager counted all the players and realized that one expected individual was missing. Alan, a local Ryde player, won that first round game 10-7. Elsewhere, although he started with a win, Howard Cheyne then proved to be a major casualty, losing every other game of the day; a highly unexpected turn of events.
By playing six of the required seven rounds on the Saturday, the die was likely to be largely cast at this point. The manager had to impose time limits on two games (Tim King versus Ryan Cabble and John Spiers versus William Ormerod) because of the late time of starting those games in relation to the impending dusk. The limit proved necessary for the latter of the two and was spot on with respect to the reducing visibility, in spite of the largely cloudless sky all day. If John had won his match then the Blue Block would have remained undecided at the end of Saturday (he also had the distinction of going to the 19th hoop in his first four games, including victories over James and Ryan); but William made his unique style work well to win 9-5 on time. Instead, Stephen Mulliner and James Goodbun knew that their final round results would only determine in which order they would finish first and second in the block. The Red Block was in interesting shape though. Will Gee was just off the pace with four wins, while on five were Jacob Carr, Pierre Beaudry and Ian Lines. With three relevant games in the final round to come, eight possible permutations of game result lead to six different pairs of qualifiers!
Sunday morning saw Ryan and Howard restore some personal pride. The latter halting the progress of Ian into the semi-finals. Will came close by beating Jacob but not by a large enough hoop margin. Instead Pierre came top of the Red Block (having beaten Mike O'Brian); Jacob was second. Meanwhile, James losing to Ryan pushed the former into second place in the Blue Block.
Thus, the semi-finals emerged as Stephen versus Jacob and Pierre versus James. The Blue block pair started strong: Stephen had a very comfortable 7-2 win, while James achieved 7-5 against Pierre. But then the Red block hit back; both games being 7-5, levelling each match at one game all. Jacob went on to win with another 7-5 scoreline, while James had a much tighter battle in taking his deciding game 7-6. Youth had stolen the laurels!
The final became a classic duel in conditions that made for chilly viewing for the spectators. James started slowly and missed several hoop chances early on. After failing to take hoop 7 from first approach, he also lost hoop 8 to go 2-6 down. He did recover to 4-6 but Jacob made no mistake on hoop 11. James then stormed ahead to a 5-1 lead in the second game. But Jacob was not put out, bringing the score back to level at 5-5. James kept his nerve and played with good control to ensure that he won that game 7-5 and take the match into the deciding third.
Game 3 started with another spell of James failing to run hoop 1 (three times) and Jacob went 2-0 up. This two-hoop advantage remained through to hoop 11, putting James on the edge of oblivion. He then failed a 3ft hoop chance before returning to the jaws and leaving Jacob with a jump shot to win. For the first time in the match, Jacob managed to get his jumping ball to pass through the hoop (by a long distance) but, just as he must have thought that he had clinched the title, he realized that he had also dragged James' ball through too! James kept hoop 12 simple, taking the point without trying tactics to negate giving Jacob first approach to 13. This approach was good and, while James' blue was even better, he then almost fell to disaster when his black ended up on the wire of the non-running side of the hoop. Jacob kept control with a good clearance but James was able to run black backwards far enough into the jaws of the hoop that (again), when Jacob failed to get a clean jump, this ball kept Jacob from winning. James followed by getting into the jaws from the boundary with blue, which was then unassailable and gave him the victory.
The match statistics indicate that Jacob had the edge on mid-range hoops (3yd to 7yd), running 50% of his attempts (James only achieving 21%) but James was well ahead in all clearances greater than 5yd, hitting 71% (Jacob only achieving 46%). Between them, they only missed a single clearance less than 5yd. Overall, the standard of hoop running was not spectacular (only 35%) but after a refresh of the settings before the final, the hoops seemed to reject from the jaws with greater vindictiveness than had been the case during the rest of the weekend. Jacob also was below par on his normally excellent jump shots, failing all four attempts, including peeling James through twice.
Overall, the Ascot Cup appears to be working well. Despite increasing in number, the qualifying tournaments are attracting good levels of entry. Players appear to understand the points system; winners automatically qualify, while 2nd to 4th place earn points towards claiming the remainder of the places after those going to the winners. Certainly the emergence of the young players has made for a challenging circuit and if they continue to seek higher levels of achievement then they will no doubt spur each other on. The presence of William Ormerod in this year's final though showed that experience also has a place in the game and certainly his links back to some of the historical names of croquet added an extra dimension to the court-side talk.
Ryde proved to be an excellent host club, managing to also stage a weekend of finals for the tennis section without adversely affecting either of the events.
James Goodbun (Ramsgate) Be & Bk (Irish grip, left hand upper) versus Jacob Carr (Tyneside & Ripon Spa) Rd & Yw (Irish grip, fingers interlocked).
|Hoop||Main highlights||Resulting score|
|G1H01||Some early hoop misses from each player before Rd runs from S boundary.||0-1|
|G1H02||Each player misses once before Bk runs from 6ft.||1-1|
|G1H03||From 15y, Be clears first approach of Yw (3y in front of hoop) but later Be attempts to clear Rd off LHW of hoop but Bk on the RHW guides Rd through the hoop.||1-2|
|G1H04||Poor first approach by Rd but 5ft hoop to Yw.||1-3|
|G1H05||5ft hoop to Be.||2-3|
|G1H06||Bk fails attempt to clear from 15y, Yw runs angled 3ft hoop.||2-4|
|G1H07||Be makes a couple of mid-distance clearances but Rd runs from 6ft to 5y in front of H08.||2-5|
|G1H08||Rd (to vicinity of H09) clears Bk (just not wired on S boundary), which clears Yw. However, later Bk fails 8y clearance of Yw, which runs 3ft hoop.||2-6|
|G1H09||Rd clears Be (initial 5ft close approach) but fails two mid-distance clearances. Be runs 6ft hoop to 6y in front of H10.||3-6|
|G1H10||Be & Bk use position of strength but leave 5y angled hoop for Yw, which fails. Yw then fails one of few blocking attempts in match; Be runs 2y hoop.||4-6|
|G1H11||Rd over approaches but Bk approaches too close to Rd, which clears Bk to N boundary in front of H03. Bk misses double of Yw & hoop (clanging hoop). Yw runs from 3ft.||4-7|
|G2H01||Be & Bk both approach to close position, Rd & Yw both miss Be but Be fails hoop. Rd misses 7y clearance of Bk, which runs to N boundary.||4-7, 1-0|
|G2H02||Rd has first chance with a 3yd angled hoop but fails. Eventually, Be runs from 6in.||4-7, 2-0|
|G2H03||Rd & Yw both over approach but Yw gets first attempt at hoop from boundary (fails). Then both players fail three hoop chances, in the last of which Rd ends in the jaws. Be & Bk fail both jump shots attempts (4yd & 8yd).||4-7, 2-1|
|G2H04||Bk makes a 7yd clearance of Yw, which fails the return 7yd clearance. Be fails hoop (4yd) but remains in jaws. Rd fails jump shot (5yd) & peels Be.||4-7, 3-1|
|G2H05||Bk hits a 10yd clearance to set up chance for Be to run 4yd angled hoop, hitting RHW of Hoop 6 & stopping 3yd NE of that hoop.||4-7, 4-1|
|G2H06||Be & Bk find clearance form (10yd, 27yd, 10yd & 13yd) to set uo chance for Be to run hoop (6ft).||4-7, 5-1|
|G2H07||Bk misses 7yd hoop. Rd runs hoop (4ft) to S boundary.||4-7, 5-2|
|G2H08||Yw hampers Be to gain control at hoop & then peels Rd, ending up 5yd in front of Hoop 9.||4-7, 5-3|
|G2H09||Bk misses clearance of Yw but Yw misses 5yd hoop attempt (Lines wins plate final 7-6 on adjacent court). However, Rd & Yw take control of hoop & Yw runs 5yd hoop.||5-4|
|G2H10||Rd & Yw draw level with a 6yd hoop from Yw.||4-7, 5-5|
|G2H11||Bk misses first hoop attempt (3ft) but retains control of hoop & Be runs (4ft) to 2yd N of peg, with hoop open.||4-7, 6-5|
|G2H12||Rd fails to hold close position in an exchange of clearances & then only clips Bk to straight 3yd position from where Bk runs hoop to take Game 2.||4-7, 7-5|
|G3H01||Rd & Yw fail to approach to hoop running position but Be & Bk fail three hoop attempts (8yd, 7yd, 4yd) before Yw runs (5yd) to N boundary.||4-7, 7-5, 0-1|
|G3H02||Exchange of clearances but then Be misses 7yd attempt at Rd. Rd fails hoop (2yd) but ends in jaws. Bk plays off Yw into Corner 3 but Rd still runs hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 0-2|
|G3H03||The wind has become a stiff breeze & is very cool. Exchange of two hoop misses each before Yw clears Be to N boundary, from where Be runs hoop (8yd) to 9yd S of Hoop 3.||4-7, 7-5, 1-2|
|G3H04||Rd initial approach is to a superb 12in but Be clears (12yd) before misses the next clearance (10yd). Rd grovels through hoop (4yd).||4-7, 7-5, 1-3|
|G3H05||Bk fails hoop twice but second time remains on LHW. Yw clears Be to S boundary, from where Be (12yd) uses Bk to go in-off through the hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 2-3|
|G3H06||Rd & Yw gain initial control of hoop before Bk clears both Yw & Be, leading to Yw (3yd) running hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 2-4|
|G3H07||Be & Bk fail to take initial control but after Yw (3yd) misses, Bk (8yd) runs hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 3-4|
|G3H08||Bk gets a 6ft chance at hoop after some good clearances but fails. Rd & Yw take control & despite consecutive 30yd clearances by Be & Bk, Rd (3yd) runs hoop to S boundary.||4-7, 7-5, 3-5|
|G3H09||Anywhere other than the boundary becomes a no-go area as the clearances find their target. Rd & Yw have four failed hoop shots from S boundary; Be & Bk have two before Bk (8yd) finally runs the hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 4-5|
|G3H10||Yw puts initial approach to 6in, Bk fails to run hoop from N boundary to attempt clearance & Yw runs hoop.||4-7, 7-5, 4-6|
|G3H11||Be has 3ft hoop chance but fails. Be then returns to enter jaws. Rd (3yd) makes jump shot & runs hoop but drags Be through by 6in; almost match point taken!||4-7, 7-5, 5-6|
|G3H12||Bk attempts no Hoop 12 tactics, running from 4yd after Rd misses 12yd clearance opportunity; another Ascot Cup final goes to 13th hoop of the deciding game.||4-7, 7-5, 6-6|
|G3H13||Yw & Be both approach to hoop running position (6yd & 4yd, respectively); Rd goes too far & then disaster for Bk, drifting down hill onto LHW of non-scoring side of hoop. Yw clears Be & holds position; Be (25yd) misses return clearance. Rd misses angled hoop. Bk into jaws from non-scoring side (Mulliner on to referee). Yw fails the jump, knocking Bk through to non-playing side. Be (7yd) attempts hoop, ending up in jaws. Neither Rd nor Yw has required angle to remove Be. James becomes Champion!||4-7, 7-5, 7-6|
|Distance||Jacob - succeed||Jacob - fail||James - succeed||James - fail|
|less than 3yd||7||6||9||4|
|3yd to 7yd||6||6||3||11|
|Distance||Jacob - succeed||Jacob - fail||James - succeed||James - fail|
|less than 5yd||-||0||-||1|
|5yd to 7yd||2||2||3||1|
|7yd to 12yd||8||7||14||4|
|peel on opponent||2||0|
|failed hoop approaches||9||4|
Stephen Mulliner beat Pierre Beaudry 7-4, 7-2
Ian Lines won the plate, being the first player to tame Ryan Cabble once the latter had settled into his stride after a disappointing start on the Saturday.