Report on the Spain v England GC Test
England reclaimed bragging rights over Spain with a comfortable 18-8 victory in the third annual Test match. The Real Club de la Puerta de Hierro, a stylish members country club on the outskirts of Madrid, played host to a competitive contest, where an England team, bruised from a shock Spain victory at Hurlingham in the 2022 event, was looking to make their Dgrade superiority count.
The Spanish, who in the space of a few years have garnered a reputation for extremely welcoming and generous hospitality, didn't disappoint and laid on a splendid opening ceremony dinner. There was particular cause for celebration for the retiring President of the Spanish Croquet Federation. Jose Alvarez-Sala has led and overseen a transformation in Spanish croquet, with the list of clubs, courts and members continually growing ever larger. Their passion for the game has started to spill over onto the international scene, with Spain contesting Tier 1 of the 2025 GC World Team Championship (Openshaw Shield) and their top players making inroads to the serious stages of World Championships. Destino Croquet, a newly formed company by the Alvarez-Salas, are creating tournaments to rival any in the current croquet calendar - watch this space! We wish Jose well in his off-the-lawn retirement and will look with a keen interest how Spanish croquet continues to evolve under his successor, Guillermo Navarro.
Spain fielded an unchanged team from Hurlingham, with the usual suspects the four Alvarez-Sala brothers, Manuel, Jose (junior), Andres and Gonzalo playing as numbers 1, 2, 3 and 5 respectively. Basilio Iglesias and Pedro Lozano lined up as numbers 4 and 6.
A new GC Selection Committee led to a different England side this year, with Tobi Savage, Rachel Gee and Euan Burridge all coming in to the team. They joined John-Paul Moberly, Aston Wade and Stephen Mulliner.
The event was again a best of 27 matches Test, with 3 rounds of singles and doubles for each player. Friday saw the Test commence with two rounds of doubles. The Spanish opted for unchanged pairings: A-Ss M & A, A-Ss J & G and Iglesias & Lozano, with the English changing things up by forming three new partnerships: Moberly & Wade, Mulliner & Gee and Savage & Burridge.
England made a blistering start. By the end of the second doubles round, England had assumed a 6-0 lead. All three new pairings worked well, and the team were able to take advantage of the superbly flat and fast lawns by producing high quality positional and short boundary clearance play.
England won eight consecutive Test points before the Spanish got on the scoreboard. Resuming early on Saturday morning at 1-1, following a late Friday finish which couldn't be completed due to light, A-S A played brilliantly in the first singles round to beat Moberly 7-2 in the third game. From that point onwards, the Test was fairly even, with points being scored by both sides. A-S M beat Savage 2-1 in a very close see-sawing match, while Mulliner and Burridge beat Lozano and Iglesias 2-1 respectively.
Saturday morning saw arguably the two best sequences of English singles play. Burridge, 5-6 down in game 3 vs A-S G, found himself with striker's ball in corner 3 with both his opponent's balls in front of hoop 12 ready to win the match. Burridge played a sequence of perfect strokes; firstly running hoop 12 from corner 3 to level the game at 6-6, then clearing A-S G's ball at hoop 13, before then running the golden hoop from the boundary to win the game and match. Wade had a similarly close contest vs A-S A. After running hoop 11 from the North boundary to go 6-5 up in game 3, Wade had first approach to hoop 13. Following a series of clearances and then missed hoop attempts by both players, Wade was left with a do-or-die boundary shot at hoop 13 for the game and match. With both of A-S A's balls in front of the hoop, Wade nailed the 7 yard hoop and quietened the partisan crowd a little. Gee also came through a close contest vs Lozano 2-1.
Further wins came for England as Wade beat A-S M 2-0, Mulliner beat A-S G 2-0, following two wins for Spain as A-S J beat Savage 2-0 and Iglesias beat Gee 2-1. With the Test score at 13-4, Moberly scored the Test winning point by beating A-S J 2-0 to give England an unassailable 14-4 lead.
The third and final doubles round saw Spain win overall 2-1, with a mix of good play and a little good luck to allow Moberly & Wade beat A-S M & A 2-0 - in game 1, at hoop 13, A-S M snicked his clearance on Moberly's ball, putting it into the jaws from 3 yards at an almost impossible angle!
There was one final round of singles to play on Sunday morning, which pitted seeds 1 vs 1, 2 vs 2 etc. The two best Spanish players in the event, A-S A and A-S J both won their matches 2-0 against Savage and Wade respectively, with A-S J doing particularly well to come back from 3-6 down in game 1. England had a 2-0 win of their own, with Mulliner beating Iglesias. Mulliner was pleased to reverse the result from the same match at Hurlingham last year! Burridge beat Lozano 2-1, which was paused temporarily for the closing ceremony and speeches to take place. To finish, Moberly played the final game of his singles match vs A-S M. Level at 1-1, Moberly edged a close contest 7-6. Gee vs A-S G was left tied at 1-1, with 26 of the total 27 games completed.
We thank the Spanish Croquet Federation and the Real Club de la Puerta de Hierro for their hospitality. We look forward to next Test match in Roehampton in 2024!
Full results can be found on Croquet Scores: