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Chris Clarke's 2014 Mac Overview

[<<] [>>] by Chris Clarke
17th January 2014 (The MacRobertson Shield)

Having won more matches than GB in 2010, it came as little surprise that the addition of Garrison and C. Clarke were enough for NZ to complete a comfortable victory in 2014. The team had 3 strong doubles pairings that remained unbeaten until 5pm on Day 12. Sceptics have said that the NZ players are over-ranked, but their performances in the recent World Singles and this event have shown that not to be the case.

In order to win a Mac, it is important to have some level of strength in depth. I would like to thank our two reserves, Paul Skinley and Michael Wright for all their help and support. Paul, a winner of 2 previous Mac's and a 7-time competitor should feel particularly unlucky that as world number 13, NZ had 6 stronger players. I would also like to thank our fabulous team Manager, Jarrod Coutts, who played a vital part in our success.

From a personal perspective, I enjoyed the event, particularly the doubles. Whilst I was thrilled to win, there was still an element of sadness that unfair/inept selection had virtually forced me to leave the country that I had represented for over 20 years in order to be able to play GC at World level.

I would like to thank all those involved in making this event a success. I hope that CNZ is able to improve in many areas over the coming months and that lessons will be learnt from mistakes that have been made in the past. Finally, a big thank you to Ray Atkins - your hoops helped to make this event a proper Test of Croquet.

The venues

United gave a wide range of playing conditions from easy on day 1 to challenging by day 5. It was fascinating to see how the players adapted over the 5 days. Plugs taken from the courts showed that the ground was wet for over 10 inches, but despite this, the hoops provided a great challenge.

Te Mata looked very green at the start of the event, but started to develop faster patches as the week progressed. Both teams had difficulty with hoop running until it rained on day 5.

Marewa had been superbly prepared. The lawns were brown and running at 12 seconds at the start of play and the hoops were set in very firm ground. This would have provided sufficient challenge, but playing conditions were made even more difficult by many of the hoops being on hills, meaning that either complete control was needed in break play or exceptional single ball strokes. It was unfortunate that the lawns were watered during the event, but it only really affected one days play.

The Mount is a fairly new croquet venue - particularly with regard to association croquet. The members seemed surprised by the players' reactions when they arrived to see 9 second lawns, but to their credit, agreed to stop watering and continue mowing. This generated pretty tricky conditions for the final two days with some very fast patches on the majority of lawns. The wind provided extra challenge and the pressure of playing to win the Mac was ever present.

The teams

USA

For the first time since 1996, the USA came last. This is perhaps somewhat strange given that they have won 2 Solomon trophies over the past 4 years. My perception is that croquet is flourishing in America and that the only thing they lack is some younger players. In his final Captain's speech, Danny Huneycutt indicated that he thought that the other countries had improved. This may be true to some degree, but I believe that the main reason for their poor results was an inability to handle difficult playing conditions, both technically and tactically.

Ben Rothman

An exceptional shot. Whenever I was watching, it appeared that he hit 10-13 yard shots about 90% of the time - truly phenomenal. However, when he had a break, his average hoop running distance was much longer that it needed to be to cope with the extra difficulty of the Atkins hoops. He hated the lawns at United describing them as "bad" and seemed to be completely lost with the new challenges that presented themselves.

Doubles 2/9, Singles 1/6, Total 3/15

Danny Huneycutt

A determined performance from this good player. He was clearly improving as the event progressed and should have benefited from the experience. Represented the team well as Captain at all functions. Breaks tended to be slightly too loose, but generally better than most of his team.

Doubles 0/9, Singles 2/6, Total 2/15

David Maloof

A fabulous debut, David fully embraced the challenge of playing proper Test croquet. His single ball strokes were very good and he put together many good games. He said he thoroughly enjoyed the extra tactical and technical variety that the NZ lawns provided, saying that "every game I play in America is started with a supershot - this is much more interesting". I believe that David will continue to improve and provide a solid base with Ben and Danny for their next Mac team.

Doubles 2/9, Singles 2/6, Total 4/15

Jeff Soo

Good focus and effort were not enough to produce any match wins under the testing conditions of the first two weeks. I felt that Jeff shot fairly well during the event, but was unable to hold a break together until he reached the easier lawns at the Mount. To give some idea that he wasn't playing badly, his only win included two triple peels.

Doubles 0/9, Singles 1/6, Total 1/15

Jim Bast

Jim never seemed to fully get into stride. On day 1, he won his first game of doubles +16 against Bryant and Clarke, but then lost a very long second -3 and that was to be the closest he came to winning a match. He was competitive in many matches and could easily have won 2 or 3.

Doubles 0/9, Singles 0/6, Total 0/15

Rich Lamm

Rich got off to the worst possible start, failing to score a point over the first 2 days. From there, he did really well to mount a comeback, taking games off Jenny and Jamie. Despite some good turns, he was unable to win any matches.

Doubles 0/9, Singles 0/6, Total 0/15

Australia

Having come last in 2010, this was an improvement for Australia. They will be disappointed with their heavy defeats against England and NZ, but also pleased with an emphatic victory over USA. I felt that they failed to optimise their doubles pairings for the first two tests. Many of their players lacked International experience and failed to deal with the varied and challenging playing conditions. Leaving Kevin Beard out of the team looked like a bad mistake.

Robert Fletcher

In my opinion, Robert was the best singles player at the event. His single ball strokes were exceptional, he was tactically sound and he won 5 of his 6 singles matches in straight games to regain the world number 1 position. His partnership with Stephen Forster failed to deliver anywhere near the number of wins it should have done. To become as good an all round player as he is when based in Australia with minimal competition or tactical awareness is a fine achievement. He is one of the best players I have ever seen.

Doubles 4/7, Singles 5/6, Total 9/13 (2 unfinished)

Stephen Forster

Stephen is one of my favourite players to watch with his fluent style. He struggled with the testing playing conditions and his partnership with Robert Fletcher failed to work. In 2003, I was enormously impressed with his ability to guide a junior partner round and I felt that he would have been more valuable in the senior partner role.

Doubles 4/7, Singles 2/6, Total 6/13 (2 unfinished)

Ken Bald

Ken was fairly good when in a break, but his shooting was worse than I remembered it being in the past. Playing in your first Mac is difficult enough at any age, but doing so in your late 60's must be a huge challenge particularly given the length of some of the matches. Tactically, his partnership with Malcolm was dreadful. They shot at virtually everything, took on very difficult hoops to give breaks away and regularly gave opponents much easier opportunities than they should have done in difficult conditions.

Doubles 3/9, Singles 1/6, Total 4/15

Ian Dumergue

Played some good turns, but often seemed obsessed with playing a series of massive shots just to dig balls out of corners in one turn. Tended to make leaves which gave opponents much shorter shots rather than playing a series of turns to optimise his position. As Captain, he presented a positive and friendly demeanour and spoke well at all functions.

Doubles 3/9, Singles 3/6, Total 6/15

Malcolm Fletcher

Attempted far too many long angled hoops, particularly as his first hoop of a turn. Reasonable break play when he had the balls, but needs to develop stronger tactical awareness to optimise his starting positions.

Doubles 3/9, Singles 3/6, Total 6/15

Tim O'Leary

Struggled during the first 2 Tests. His break play and croquet strokes were probably the most underdeveloped of any of the players and he was always likely to break down in testing conditions. However, his single ball strokes were very good and when he found easier playing conditions, he took advantage of them well. Having lost his first 10 matches, winning all 5 during the last Test was a good comeback. He should continue to improve and will remain a potentially strong competitor in easy conditions.

Doubles 3/9, Singles 2/6, Total 5/15

England

Robert Fulford

I can't remember having seen Robert play as poorly as he did in this event for 25+ years. His hoop running was particularly fragile and he missed some 3-yarders as well. Tactically, he was excellent and his partnership with Samir was a strong combination. The contribution he has made to GB/England over the past 25 years is immeasurable.

Doubles 7/9, Singles 3/6, Total 10/15

James Death

Enigmatic, flamboyant, talented... you could keep going. James played some of the best turns of the event. His shooting seems to have improved and he added significant strength to the England team. Winning less than half his doubles was poor, but he did have an excuse.

Doubles 4/9, Singles 4/6, Total 8/15

David Maugham

Dave never looked comfortable when I was watching him. He seemed to be struggling with his technique and was using all his experience to generate adequate levels of performance rather than ever being confident and fluent. Despite this, he entered the final Test on 10/10 - a very fine achievement. Played his 100th Mac match on day 14, winning to keep England well in the contest. His contribution to GB/England over the past 20 years has been key to their success.

Doubles 7/9, Singles 4/5, Total 11/14

Stephen Mulliner

Stephen played some good turns during the event but mixed in with that were some really bad decisions. I remember him taking on a long angled hoop 2 in a doubles match on lawn 4 at United which was sheer madness. It turned the match completely and they lost in 2 more turns. It is this aspect of his play that makes him a liability in team competition. Overall, his standard of play was fairly reasonable and he played some good turns in the final Test until the pressure really hit him on the final day.

Doubles 4/9, Singles 4/6, Total 8/15

Samir Patel

I was impressed with Samir's play. His single ball striking was pure and his break play was sound. He played some of the best turns I saw during the event. Perhaps his greatest weakness was running hoop 1. I was particularly impressed with his positive lines of play when under pressure. Gave a much better speech on the final night after a few pints of cider and a bottle of wine than previously!!

Doubles 7/9, Singles 3/6, Total 10/15

Jamie Burch

Excellent single ball strokes. Jamie is a very fluent player who doesn't stalk the ball for many shots. His break play was slightly ragged and this sometimes led to a failed hoop or poor leave. Entered the final Test on 10/10 - good effort on debut.

Doubles 7/9, Singles 5/6, Total 12/15

New Zealand

Chris Clarke

Another very strong doubles performance. Chris (and Paddy) were the first to regularly use defensive leaves during the first Test and reaped huge rewards. Slightly vulnerable in the singles, Chris nevertheless beat all 3 opposing number 1's.

Doubles 9/9, Singles 5/6, Total 14/15

Paddy Chapman

Whilst never quite being on top form during the event, Paddy provided a fairly consistent performance level. On day 1 of the final Test, it looked like England would take a 1-0 lead when they reached 4-b+peg v 1+1 in the third game. Paddy middled the lift shot and went on to take NZ into a 1-0 lead that the other pairings converted to 3-0 a few hours later. This lift could have been the most important single stroke of the event.

Doubles 9/9, Singles 4/6, Total 13/15

Greg Bryant

Greg started very strongly, hitting a vast number of mid to long range shots. This enabled him to hang into doubles matches long enough to cope with the odd poor patch from his partner. His form over the last few days dipped as he may have taken on lines of play that were too difficult, but he remained tough to beat.

Doubles 6/8, Singles 3/5, Total 9/13 (1 unfinished)

Aaron Westerby

Totally focussed, Aaron set a high standard that you had to beat to win. A slow methodical player, inclined to over-think positions, he was exhausted after many of his matches. An excellent performance in the final Test was followed by a great Captain's speech at the Closing dinner.

Doubles 7/8, Singles 5/6, Total 12/14 (1 unfinished)

Toby Garrison

One of the best players in the event. Toby was competitive in every match, with fabulous single ball strokes. His win in the 2-ball ending on day 2 of the final Test was massive for the team's morale. A marvellous team member, it was fitting that Toby scored the winning win after the amount of personal sacrifice he has made.

Doubles 7/8, Singles 4/6, Total 11/14 (1 unfinished)

Jenny Clarke

The first couple of Tests were a bit of a struggle, particularly at doubles. However, Jenny's singles form was generally very strong. Her performance during the final Test was extremely strong and her excellent play on the morning of the last day played a key role in helping NZ clinch the Shield. She is the second woman to win the Shield in more than 50 years.

Doubles 6/8, Singles 5/6, Total 11/14 (1 unfinished)



 

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