Varsity match by year:

Oxford beat Cambridge 7-2

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Morning doubles at Hurlingham

Last year's Oxford University "Cuppers" tournament had a record-breaking 1800 entrants, and this year's tournament is comparable in size. So Oxford had the advantage of the largest pool of Association Croquet players from which to draw a team for the 2012 Varsity match, hosted once again in the splendid grounds of the Hurlingham Club on Thursday 14th June. But Cambridge should take the prize for fielding the most international team: in addition to a captain from the USA, this year's Cambridge squad included an Austrian, a Saudi Arabian and a Mexican to outnumber the home-grown entry. WCF please note!

Will Gee in a sextuple attempt

... back in, peeling rover...

... and pegging out.

The match comprised as usual 6-a-side teams, Level Advanced play, with three games of doubles in the morning and six of singles in the afternoon. From the start Oxford made steady progress in all three doubles games. In particular in the top team, Oxford's William Gee concentrated on getting his partner James Keiller round while holding back himself. Then when James had reached 1-back the fireworks began!

With an opposition ball near the south boundary behind 1 and Will in position to rush partner to a close peeling position at 1-back, what at first looked like a simple peel to save the 1-back lift soon turned out to be rather more. After Will had made the 1-back peel, then hoop 1 and a long-range 2-back peel as well, to the surprise of the spectators it was by now evidently a highly audacious sextuple peel attempt. What made it remarkable was not so much that it was an attempt at a sextuple, but that it also involved Will doing it with his "pioneers"/"escape balls" all over the place on court. Hoop 3 was made from some distance, then hoop 4 while setting up for the 3-back peel, but by this point the 3-back peel escape ball/hoop 5 pioneer was at the other end of the court between 6 and 4-back. No problem! The 3-back peel was completed with a death-roll to get a few yards behind the distant escape ball for the rush back to 5. Soon afterwards the 4-back peel was completed leaving an awkward long-range rush on the escape ball to 1-back, also expertly executed. So by now 4 peels and the hard work had been done, and "only" the equivalent of the last two peels of a delayed triple remained. Unfortunately at this point things finally came unstuck: the 2-back pioneer was too deep, and Will's long approach to 2-back failed. End of break. However, there was not much respite for the Cambridge opposition of Rush Cosgrove and Madjdy Al-Qaramany, because Will was soon back in play to complete his break with the final two peels and peg-out for a well-deserved +22 win. Perhaps there should be a special score suffix for a sextuple peel split into two turns instead of one. After all, it is comparable with doing two tp's in one game!

Meanwhile the other two Oxford pairs had continued to make good if less spectacular progress as well, and wrapped up comfortable +24 and +9 wins in their two games. Score at lunch: 3-0 to Oxford.

Peter Willeit

Tom Eccles

With appetites sated and thirst quenched by the Hurlingham lunchtime hospitality, the players resumed for the afternoon singles. William Gee had to leave early, no doubt to the relief of the Cambridge players, so his singles place was taken by Ben Mason. Cambridge also substituted Jeremy Richardson for Douglas Buisson. It transpired that several of the other players had evening engagements lined up as well (with exams over, what do you expect?), so a time-limit of 2½ hours was imposed. This proved to be a bit on the short side as all but two of the six games went to time. In the two that did finish, Richard Sykes vs. Rush Cosgrove and Simon Picot vs. Madjdy Al-Qaramany, both were comfortable wins for Oxford's Sykes and Picot, and together with the three doubles wins from the morning this sealed the overall match win for Oxford. (Perhaps it was just as well that Simon Picot won, as he is rumoured to have a karate black belt too...)

Match decided, the next question was: would Cambridge be able to improve on last year's 9-0 whitewash? As the time-limit approached, Oxford's John Gale and Ben Mason both had comfortable margins ahead of their respective opponents Jeremy Richardson and Cesar Miranda-Reyes, eventually winning +8(T) and +15(T); but Cambridge's Peter Willeit had managed to keep Luke Valori in check with some sensible tactics. Although Luke managed to erode some of Peter's initial 13-hoop lead, time expired before he could claw it all back, and Peter won +7(T). A Cambridge win at last!

Then in the final game between James Keiller of Oxford and Tom Eccles of Cambridge things were very close: after time was called James took his turn two points adrift, but with a lift available and an opponent's ball within range of his next hoop at rover. He hit with the nervous lift shot from A-baulk, made rover and pegged out to leave a 3-ball, sudden death finish: James with his other ball (for 6) sitting near 4-back, and Tom with one ball (for peg) in corner IV and his other ball (for 1-back) near the peg. In the heat of the moment Tom then forgot that his safest and easiest point would have been to join up near partner in corner IV and score the peg-point if James missed the 25-yard roquet, instead took the risky 10-yard shot at the oppo ball near 4-back... and hit. The take-off approach to 1-back wasn't ideal, so he settled for taking better position rather than risk failing a difficult hoop, and hoped that James would miss the 15-yarder from near 4-back... which he did, leaving Tom to make 1-back and win the game +1(T). So in the end Cambridge managed to extract a couple of wins for a final score-line of 7-2 to Oxford.

While the rain which had held off all day finally threatened to start, the trophy was once again presented to Oxford by match referee Richard Hilditch.

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Scores (Oxford names first, with handicaps where known)
Oxford beat Cambridge 7-2

William Gee (-1) & James Keiller vs. Rush Cosgrove & Madjdy Al-Qaramany
John Gale (7) & Simon Picot (12) vs. Peter Willeit & Cesar Miranda-Reyes
Richard Sykes (9) & Luke Valori (10) vs. Tom Eccles & Douglas Buisson


John Gale (7) vs. Jeremy Richardson
Richard Sykes (9) vs. Rush Cosgrove
Luke Valori (10) vs. Peter Willeit
Simon Picot (12) vs. Madjdy Al-Qaramany
James Keiller vs. Tom Eccles
Ben Mason (14) vs. Cesar Miranda-Reyes



See also:

Oxford University Croquet Club
Cambridge University Association Croquet Club

Report and photos by Simon Hathrell