Cheltenham's Ascot Cup Championship Qualifier : if's, but's and only's?
Once again I will explain my title. The entry was back to its full capacity of 32 which is great for the extra 8 players that are accepted into the tournament. However, unlike 24 competitors it can be a big ask if the manager (me) wants to put 16 through to the knock out stages, especially if as the regulations direct there are no 'time limits'.
If, only I had remembered what a squeeze it had been pre-covid when I had tried to play the 1st round of the knock out on the Saturday night! Still, the weather was going to be sunny all weekend and the lawns were looking great. So, I thought 16 happy players after the 4 blocks of 8 was an achievable target to aim for. But, the hoops and the lawns thought not, and as the day wore on it became clear that the conditions were not conducive to quick games with many players becoming 'frustrated, irritated and despondent' almost as much as the manager when the last block game finished at 8.30pm!! Only, drastic action was going to save tomorrow's final from being played under floodlights. After a restless night, the manager had a brief conversation with his Rot (Richard Brookes) and decided not to enforce time limits, but have a player's briefing to apologise and explain the reasons behind the change of format from Bo3 13pt games to a single 19pt game for the next two knock out rounds, allowing the semi-final and final to remain as Bo3.
So, to the blocks themselves. Block A saw the top 2 seeds going though Richard Brookes (winner) and Jack Good, followed by Paul Gunn and Igacio Alesanco. Block B was won by an undefeated Simon Carter who was clearly enjoying the conditions. Local 'boy' Andrew Cowing was also enjoying his time(8.30pm finish) followed by Stephen C-Baker and Michael Bilton(remember that name). Block C was a much tighter affair with net points being used to split the order as follows, Colin Britt, Nick Saxton, Lionel Tibble and Richard Brand. Block D saw an undefeated Dominic Aarvold march through followed closely by Tim Russell, John Taylor and Tim Crowdy.
The 16 who did not qualify for the knock out went into two consolation blocks for their final positions. These all had 60min time limits, which proved to be necessary to gain a satisfactory finish to the weekend. Tony Butcher was undefeated in the 17-24 block with Kevin Connolly finishing as runner-up. The 25-32 block was a much tighter affair with Ignacio Ariza edging it from Neil Fillery on net points.
The first round of the knock out proved to be equally tight with half the games being won by a single point! The quarter finals saw more 'top' seeds fall by the way resulting in two semi finals between Simon Carter (block winner) v Michael Bilton (4th in block) and Dominic Aarvold (block winner) v Paul Gunn (3rd in block). Both of these were won in two games setting up the final with the undefeated and probably favourite Dominic against probable underdog Michael (who only qualified out his block at the expense of the manager). The first game proved similar to the weekend's experience with a tight win 7-6 for Michael after Dominic failed an ambitious jump shot. Dominic continued to play his attacking style in the second game while Michael showed his experience by playing the conditions and won the match at a tactical 12th hoop which saw the 'Rot' having to make camp on the lawn!
Meanwhile, the shield (positions 5-8) was being won by an undefeated John Taylor with Tim Crowdy as runner-up. Simon Carter won the 3rd/4th play off 10-4 over Paul Gunn. All results are on Croquet scores.
My gratitude goes to my team Richard Brand (assistant) and Dawn Good (croquet scores recorder) for keeping the blocks moving forward over the weekend and allowing me time to play. Also, to club member Ray Bassett who filled in on Sunday after Philip Blake tested positive for Covid. Lastly, Graham Good who once again took up his mallet to play friendly games in the 'bowl' so that no one was sat out waiting after Andrew Cowings retirement due to injury. Thank you to Cheltenham's catering team led by Pat Francis and Adam Moliver and Naomi Whitehead.
Finally, I feel it was frustrating weekend for all and appreciate the players support especially if the person who picked up my sun glasses would return them to me or the club (no questions asked)