The Sue Mackay Report on the 2015 Inter-Counties Championship
Surrey won the 101st Inter Counties Championship on a blissfully sunny Whitsun weekend. This was their first win this century, their last coming in 1999; so often in second or third position in recent years - they have the highest average finish of the first division - they swept the board with 10 wins, 9 players and 11 mallets. Their team of Jamie Burch, Jeff Dawson, Sam Murray, Stephen Mulliner, George Noble, Samir Patel, Duncan Reeve, Tim Russell and Tim Wilkins democratically had no captain, but "convener" Samir accepted the trophy and paid tribute to all the teams who make the Counties such a wonderful festival of croquet.
Surrey effectively won the tournament on Sunday evening at Compton when they beat Nottinghamshire 2-1. Nottinghamshire finished second on the same number of games won as Surrey, but with only 9 match wins. On the final day Surrey only had one match, followed by their bye, and Stephen Mulliner pegged out to win the first game against Gloucestershire +26TP at 10:40. The second pairing took a little longer, but Samir Patel pegged out to secure the championship at 11:15. Gloucestershire's third pairing of Louise Bradforth and Craig Edwards held out the longest, but in the end Surrey won 3-0. It was decided to present the trophy after lunch to allow the Surrey players to go home - Colin Irwin made the presentation and paid tribute to ex WCF Secretary-General Chris Hudson, whose funeral was that day. Poor Nottinghamshire, who had a bye in the morning, arrived to find the silverware disappearing to the car park, and all they could do was secure second place.
There was no presentation of the Second Division trophy, firstly because the winners, Lancashire, were at Compton on the last day, but also because Nick Parish had been attempting to get his hands on both trophies at once for Middlesex and had left the trophy they won last year sitting on his mantelpiece! Lancashire finished on 8 match wins, and their team of David Openshaw (c), James Hawkins, Matt Holmes, Ailsa Lines, Annabel McDiarmid, Paul Rigge and Liz Wilson will have been delighted with their win, in particular their 3-0 victory in the War of the Roses against Yorkshire.
The Channel Islands, Essex and Oxfordshire all finished on 7 match wins, but Oxfordshire lost out on the third promotion place on games won. This was Oxfordshire's first appearance as an independent county since 1911. They started strongly and were undefeated at the start of Day 2, as were Dorset. Sadly for Dorset, William Ormerod developed a debilitating leg pain, and realised after the first three balls had been played on to the lawn and it was his turn to play that he was unable to continue. The ROT was consulted, and David Williams was allowed to take his place. Bedfordshire ended up with the wooden spoon with only 2 match wins.
Berkshire found it tough in the First Division having separated from Oxfordshire. They did not have the best of starts, as Nick Butler got stuck in traffic and Alan Edwards misread the schedule and turned up at Compton instead of Southwick. Furious reading of the rules ensued, instead of practice on the lawns. They did eventually get a team of six, although as they were up against a strong Nottinghamshire side they didn't get much lawn time anyway! They did have a win against Suffolk, but were clearly going to be relegated, as were Gloucestershire, who had two wins under their belt at the start of the final day but would have had to beat Surrey and Nottinghamshire to stay up.
As so often happens at the Counties there was fierce competition on the last day to decide the third relegation place. In the morning Hertfordshire pulled off a really tight 2-1 victory over Suffolk. This effectively ensured that Hertfordshire would stay up on 4 wins, with a superior game tally. They had had a disastrous start to the tournament with five straight losses, in complete contrast to 2014, where they started with five wins followed by five losses. They must be the only county in history to have a run of ten straight defeats in the First Division and not be relegated! Their win over Suffolk meant that the final match of the day between Suffolk (on 3 wins) and the holders Glamorgan (on 4 wins) was a straight battle for survival, with the loser being relegated.
Glamorgan's Kevin Ham had managed to leave his mallet at Compton on Bank Holiday Monday, and so he had borrowed the report writer's mallet for the morning match against Cheshire, but a David Maugham triple (not quite as spectacular as the TPO he apparently did against Gloucestershire, where he made the rover peel after Hoop 5) at least ensured Kevin was able to rush over to Compton to retrieve his own mallet in time for the crunch match against Suffolk. It didn't appear to improve his hoop running, however, and the third pairing went down to Mark Avery and Mick Belcham. Chris Williams and Garry McElwain had earlier had a good win, so it was down to David Walters and John Evans to prevent Glamorgan going from champions to relegation in one season. Mistakes were made by all, but eventually David pegged out to send Suffolk into the Second Division.
Suffolk had been without their long standing captain Steve Comish, who is sadly battling cancer, and a card was circulated to wish him well. A get well card was also required for Hilary Smith, the well-known queen of catering at Compton, who had to be taken to hospital with gall stones on the Sunday. Everyone wished them both a speedy recovery, and sympathy was also extended to William Ormerod, who had to go home early for the second year running.
Catering and hospitality was, of course, superb at both venues, and the lawns looked really good in the sunshine - for the first time in many years we had no rain at the Counties. There was a bit of confusion at Compton over lawn allocation, as the trial "L shape" allocation used last year at Southwick, designed to give players a central spot to stand and view progress on all three lawns used in their match, was extended to Compton, but a few tweaks were needed to prevent some players playing all day on the same lawns. Thanks are due once again to Chris Williams for managing the event and to all who contributed to its success.