Reg Bamford and Richard Bilton won the GC Open Doubles Championship
The GC Open Doubles had had the ideal number of 32 entries for a while, before different reasons meant that some had to withdraw prior to the event. Some new entries allowed the event to return to that ideal size. With 32 players, the initial stage consisted of two blocks of 8 pairs, played on the first day. The top four pairs from each block progressed to the knockout, while the bottom four played in the plate.
The new partnership of Reg Bamford and Richard Bilton started the event as top seeds after their original partners had to withdraw, and they decided to play together. This meant that the next two teams of John-Paul Moberly & Will Gee and Rachel Gee & Ian Burridge, whose average grades were significantly higher than those seeded fourth, were now drawn into the same block.
Sussex County Croquet Club were incredibly welcoming as usual and put lots of effort into the facilities and conditions for the Open Championships. They had unfortunately, but understandably, taken the decision to not open the bar, but were still able to provide superb catering throughout the week, aided by their new barbeque.
The manager sent out the blocks and order of play to the players in advance, as well as the lawns for the first round, but upon arriving at the club on the first morning, there were already problems - it had rained heavily for most of the previous day and some of the lawns had not drained in time, so the manager and club decided to use some different lawns and some secondary colour balls for the first few rounds.
The top two pairs in each block played in the morning, and in block B, that match was tough to call, but Gee & Burridge took it comfortably 7-3, leaving Moberly & Gee on just one win out of three before lunch. The same match in block A was rather more straightforward with Bamford & Bilton leading Tibble & Wade 6-0. Tibble ran an angled hoop 7 to save being whitewashed, but the pair lost the game at the following hoop.
Starting to emerge as one of the stronger pairs was Ryan Cabble and Louise Smith as they quietly but impressively beat a lot of the other pairs in their block. Round 5 saw not only the first, but two games won 7-0 as Moberly & Gee beat Richard Brooks & Morgan Case and Tibble & Wade beat Keith Pound & Ian Shore. The following round saw the number 3s beat the number 1s in both blocks, with Stuart M Smith & Stephen Leonard beating Bamford and Bilton - their first loss, and Euan Burridge & Callum Johnson taking out Moberly & Gee.
Gee & Burridge were undefeated going into the last round of the block, but couldn't finish the day with that feat, having lost to the in-form Cabble & Smith 7-6. Bamford & Bilton finished the block with the unusual result of winning alternate games 7-1, with games 2, 4 and 6 going past hoop 8. Block A finished with 4 clear qualifying pairs for the knockout; block B however, finished with 3 pairs tied on 4 wins for 2 places. Burridge & Johnson were unfortunate as their net hoop score was 5 below that of Simon Carter & Peter Haydon in fourth. Moberly & Gee finished in third.
The knockout consisted of three rounds of best-of-three matches. The top pair in each block played the number 4 in the other block, and the number 2s played the number 3s. Bamford & Bilton had a battle against Carter & Haydon, as did Gee & Burridge against Ben Harwood & Mark Hamilton, although in both cases, the favourites won 2-0. The other two matches both went to three games - the B2 pair (Cabble & Smith) came through against Liz Farrow & Jonathan Isaacs. Smith had a 30 minute purple patch in game 2 in which he hit everything, allowing him and Leonard to take that game, and although finishing second in their block (as opposed to third) lost the match to 'ranking' favourites Moberly & Gee.
It was again hard to predict a winner of the semi-final match between Moberly & Gee and Gee & Burridge, even though the latter had won their block match. Moberly & Gee turned the tables and won the first game 7-4, and the next game was even closer, but after their opponents missed a chance to run hoop 13, they were able to win the match 2-0. The other semi-final appeared on paper to be more straightforward, but it was just as much of a contest and even finished after the others as Cabble and Smith continued with their strong game plan and solid shooting. But still Bamford and Bilton were able to win 7-5, 7-5.
Based on both pair's form coming into the final, Bamford & Bilton were probably slight favourites, but the match would likely be decided by which side had the momentum the longest and who made the fewest unforced errors. Both teams' form had fluctuated during the blocks and both had improved during the knockout. There are plenty of lawns at Southwick so every match in the knockout could be played on a different lawn - both pairs had played on the final lawn already, but on the previous day.
Moberly & Gee won the toss and Moberly played B into position at hoop 1, R and K followed, and Bamford shot at B with Y, clipping it to the side of the hoop. B moved R to the South boundary and from there Bilton ran hoop 1 to 6' West of hoop 2. Capitalising on an opponent's miss, Bamford ran hoop 2, and later had an angled jump shot for a 3-0 lead, but it was rejected. For a few rotations at hoop 6 and 7, R and K were hampering each other and declined to give an advantage. While B and Y played for hoop 7, R tried to create an angle to get to hoop 8 off K, but before that played North of hoop 6, which was declared a fault but not replaced. From there, both sides contested each hoop quite closely, but with Bamford and Bilton having the edge and taking the first game 7-4.
By this time, the 'RBs' were confident in their tactics and of the form difference over their opponents. They had control of most hoops, forcing Moberly & Gee into constant clearing to stay in contention for each. Perhaps the shot of the final was at hoop 7 in game 2 - after Y ran hoop 6, B played into 4 yard straight position, R played to 2' straight in front, K played across from the opposite penalty area, and Bamford played a signature 7 yard 90° block right in front of B, leaving only a rush of B onto Y to R, which misses. After this, Moberly & Gee didn't have enough answers to how Bamford & Bilton were playing. They made the game close, but Bilton was left a 4 yard hoop 12, which he ran for a 2-0 victory.
After beating Farrow & Isaacs and Harwood & Hamilton respectively, Smith & Leonard beat Carter & Haydon in a close 10-9 match for the Shield. The Plate followed the same knockout format with playoffs. Michael Bilton & Michelle Leonard found some rhythm in closely beating Burridge & Johnson 10-9, and Sue Lightbody & Jonathan Claxton 10-4 to reach the plate final. After being second seeds in their block and surprisingly not qualifying for the knockout, Tibble & Wade settled down on day 2 and overcame Neil & Jane Humphreys 10-3 and Brooks & Case 10-5. They then went on to beat Bilton & Leonard 7-4, 7-3.
All results are available on Croquet Scores.