The speed-doubles at Surbiton this year had a record 13 pairs taking part, many from Surbiton but including visitors from Bowdon, Ipswich, Nottingham, Caterham, Budleigh and elsewhere. For those unfamiliar with this variant of the game, it is played in rounds of 14 points with each side having 30 minutes of normal play available. If time expires for a team it may only play single stroke turns thereafter. As you can imagine, this makes for pacey play right from the outset and can favour an aggressive, risk-taking style.
As it turned out, play was even faster than the organiser had anticipated and 7 rounds were squeezed in on Saturday with 5 and a final on Sunday. As byes had been built in from the start this meant that every team played all but one of the others.
The first finalists who emerged from these rounds were Kevin Carter and Dorothy Miller, whose record of 10 wins included two notable recoveries won +1 and +2. The latter of these took advantage of the unfortunate Ted Matthews who had not been able to get onto the lawn and play his 3ft shot to the peg in the remaining 7 seconds and so forfeited the turn! (A rule that surely needs revising for next year's event.)
Their opponents were the youthful pair of Samir Patel and Gabrielle Higgins, one of 3 teams on 8 wins. Samir's break, peeling his partner through both final hoops and pegging out, incorporating some snooker-like trick shots en route, was certainly a tournament highlight for me.
In the event, Kevin and Dorothy won the day (and the Nelson Morrow Tray), with Dorothy, in her first speed-doubles tournament, showing some of the less-experienced players present the true meaning of "more haste less speed". Indeed, with a combined age of 130 this pair proved that this game is still about much more than sprinting around the lawn.
As a newcomer to this event myself, I was highly entertained by the format (and the excellent hospitality at Surbiton) and fear that regular doubles will now seem very tame by comparison. My partner's wife (a novice at the game) was even heard to say after watching my breathless rush (the running kind) to run rover and peg out in the last couple of minutes "I never knew croquet could be so exciting". So there.