Croquet might be seen as a quintessentially Oxford sport; this year’s cuppers competition has an entry of over 500 players. However, outside Oxford the game is very much a specialist sport, and for this reason there are no university leagues. During the croquet season the players therefore instead battle out for the Frank Cooper Varsity Bowl against Cambridge, compete in the nationwide Longman Cup and play a number of friendlies, such as the game against High Wycombe last Saturday. This fixture was not without a history. The Oxford team entered the Longman Cup for the first time last year, and was defeated in the first round by High Wycombe. It was a tense affair, finishing 4:3 to the Buckinghamshire club, and the result may well have been different if the teams had been playing to the 3hour 30-minute time limit set in the rules. The friendly was a chance to seek revenge after this earlier loss. A game of croquet takes most of the day, and the two teams of four commenced at nine in the morning with doubles. The captain Stuart Romeril and Peter Barker lost to the High Wycombe duo of Bryan Judson and June Robinson, but the other Oxford doubles team, Simon Proctor and Andrew Cottrell, won their game to level the tie going into the lunch break. After the break all four team members engaging in singles play, and the players were paired together on a handicap system, similar to that of golf. Croquet has been dubbed ‘snooker on grass’, and the singles game between the Oxford captain Stuart Romeril and David Croker exemplified this. Like professional snooker, the players in croquet aim to create the opportunity to finish in one go, very similar to break building in snooker. After a scrappy start to the game, which could be compared to safety play in snooker, Stuart broke away and created an early lead. However, the points scored and the hoops passed can be a misleading guide to who’s winning because a good player, given the right opportunity, should finish the course in two goes or less. This theory was put into practice when, after a relatively easy miss, the Oxford captain let his opponent back into the game, and subsequently lost by 5 points. In the other singles the Oxford players won twice and lost once, and therefore the day ended in what the Oxford captain called “an honourable draw”, the scores in games three a piece. The Oxford team still have a number of home friendlies throughout term, but the main focus will be the Longman Cup, in which their first challenge will be an away fixture in Bristol, and of course the Varsity match, both of which will take place in June.
ARCHIVE: 3rd Week TT 2003