Tim King started the weekend by apologising to the Northampton Club for a role in limiting the potential size of the field for the tournament. In Autumn 2015, the initial proposed date of the East Anglian GC Championship had been one week later, clashing for the first weekend of the World Team Championship. Tim had identified that this clash was never going to be acceptable for an Ascot Cup qualifier, so the East Anglian was moved forward and Northampton became the tournament likely to lose out.
The next challenge was putative manager Lionel Tibble needing to compete in the East Anglian Championship to allow the selectors to compare all the members of the England squad for the World Team Championship. So Tim volunteered to redeem himself by stepping into the manager role, freeing up Lionel.
With the apology out of the way, the fun began as play commenced. The courts revealed themselves to be in good shape, with decent pace. The hoops were decently firm.
The chosen format was two blocks of five, playing cross-block matches that consisted of two games. The top two in each block would then qualify for semi-finals.
The play on Saturday covered the first four rounds, which were completed apart from a single game that had been pegged down with hoop 7 having just been run after well over an hour of play. By this stage, the blocks were in a contrasting state.
In Block A, Mike Hills looked in good shape on seven wins out of eight but all the other four players still had the opportunity to reach seven wins out of 10.
In Block B, Tim and Les Heard had already qualified to play a semi-final against each other, as the other players were all too far behind.
Undoubtedly, on this occasion, the ranking system had thrown up a block distribution that did not reflect the current form of the players.
The final round of block play took place on Sunday morning, with the manager facing the potential of two or more tied players in Block A. Tim was then further distracted by his match with David Widdison being a tight affair. Before finishing, Tim had to make sure that the incomplete game was also played out. David, however, thoroughly deserved a two-game victory, which took him through with David Bell to the semi-finals.
Both semi-finals were epic affairs. Les showed far greater consistency and took a deserved lead of 7-4, 6-4 against Tim. The former then showed some nerves in the face of winning opportunities at Hoop 12 and Tim came back to win the second game 7-6. This reversal, though, did not especially settle Tim's inconsistency and, having been ahead throughout the third game, Les had first approach to Hoop 11. Unfortunately, he played Tim's ball instead of his own and then peeled Tim through that hoop. Once again, Tim had an undeserved lifeline and he did not slip up.
In the battle of the Davids, matters were equally close, but David Widdison had grown in confidence over the weekend, deploying an effective standard grip and, undoubtedly, benefiting from his sporting background, in particular as a marathon runner. He almost certainly will never face a situation on a croquet court as mentally demanding as needing to find the will to carry on at moments of pain and suffering during a race. He was the one who prevailed in the third game.
The final very much followed the course of the morning match between Tim and David. The former had the bigger shots but the latter never panicked and he was usually there to take advantage when Tim was unsuccessful. David thoroughly deserved his eventual victory and showed the attraction of having a series of A Level tournaments for those who have worked their way through the B Level ones.
The Northampton Club did an excellent job of providing a relaxed, sociable atmosphere despite the small number of entrants, half of which were from other clubs. The performance of the local players is a splendid testament to the influence of Lionel Tibble. These players included, in particular, Peter Dowd and Jayne Stevens, who have both made excellent progress in relatively short playing careers. If the tournament avoids a clash with the East Anglian Championship next year, Northampton will definitely offer a fine and enjoyable challenge for a larger field.
Full scores available on CroquetScores.