Varsity match by year:

Monday 17th June at Hurlingham.

Cambridge beat Oxford 8-1

Click on images for an enlargement

It was good fortune that the scheduled date for the 2024 Varsity Match turned out to be what was arguably the first day of decent summer weather for the year - dry, sunny, pleasantly warm, and a notable contrast with the long run of unrelentingly cool, wet weeks that had preceded it.

The Oxford team arrived with only one member having a handicap below 22, their captain Charlie Sharpe who was playing off 10, while the Cambridge team had three players with handicaps in the low teens. So on paper Cambridge looked like the favourites to retain the title that they had won the previous year. But such paper predictions are notoriously unreliable when confronted with the cut and thrust of varsity competition.

As usual the Hurlingham courts were green, immaculate and much faster than the visiting students were accustomed to. One prediction that could be made with some confidence was that the morning doubles games would not finish before lunch, as it was 9 years since any varsity doubles game had actually gone the distance. (9 years on and the winning Oxford pair on that occasion now have handicaps -2 and -1.) And so it proved when play started at 10:20, with both sides having difficulty adapting to the fast lawns, and there were numerous instances of balls being croqueted off the court.

Oxford made the better start in all three of the doubles games, and after nearly an hour were 8 hoops to 4 up on the top court, 3-1 up on the second and 5-3 up on the third. But then Cambridge started to claw their way back, so that by noon Cambridge had gone 5 up on the third court with Jerome Gasson making a break to 4-back with a (roughly) diagonal spread leave, Joseph Steane on the second court reaching 1-back for Cambridge to go 1 up, and Dan Heathcote reaching 3-back on the top court to draw level. Over the remaining hour Oxford were unable to counter the Cambridge advance, and although on the top court Charlie Sharpe reached peg himself, his partner Sam Reynolds remained stuck on hoop 1 while Dan's partner James Faulkner made a few hoops. Then as time was about to be called Dan also reached peg and pegged himself out for an extra point to win +4 on time. Meanwhile on the second court the Cambridge pair hung onto their 1-hoop lead, and on the third Cambridge increased their lead to +10. So 3-0 to Cambridge at lunch.

Hurlingham lunch

The lunch kindly produced by the varsity alumni members of the Hurlingham club was much appreciated by all, and provided an entertaining opportunity for the aspiring young varsity croquet players to encounter the vintage variety (amongst whose ranks your reporter now finds himself too).

Duly refreshed, the players resumed the contest in the afternoon with the usual 6 games of singles, played in handicap order, from which Cambridge needed just two wins to secure the match.

On the top court Oxford's Charlie Sharpe was matched against Cambridge's Dan Heathcote. On turn 3 Charlie hit first ball on the east boundary and put Dan's first ball to 2 ready for a break. Dan missed on turn 4, but Charlie then failed hoop 1 off his partner ball, Dan missed again, and Charlie made his first hoop, but neither player managed to make any significant progress for a while.

Meanwhile on the next court Cambridge's Jerome was off to a good start, notwithstanding sending his ball off the court on the croquet stroke after hitting his very short Duffer tice on turn 4. But his opponent Oliver Brewster failed to make much progress from the error, and not long afterwards Jerome was back in with a good break, so that after an hour or so he had taken his first ball to peg while Oliver was still for hoop 2 with both balls. Jerome then followed with his second break, which by 4pm he had taken round to finish +24 and increase the Cambridge match lead to 4-0, and earning himself a handicap reduction to 9.

Back on the top court both Charlie and Dan had managed to get a ball to 4-back. Charlie's second ball was for 3, but failed the hoop after a long rush from near corner I, leaving Dan to make 4-back and penult with his forward ball. Dan then failed 3 with his backward ball, but shortly afterwards hit a 25-yarder from the south boundary to regain the innings with a 4-ball break awaiting, only to fail at hoop 3 as well. Charlie then picked up his own break with his backward ball which he took to peg, and finished +13 a little while later to bring the match score to 4-1, also earning himself a handicap reduction to 8.

The other four games were slower affairs with no breaks of more than a few hoops at a time by either side. As the time limit approached, in the sixth game Cambridge's James Faulkner had managed to reach penult and peg while his opponent had only made 9 hoops, at which point James pegged out his peg ball to win by a comfortable +14(T). The remaining three games were all relatively close affairs, but in all three of them the Cambridge players managed to maintain their advantage of a lead of a few hoops, so that when time was finally called a jubilant Cambridge team emerged with a convincing 8-1 victory, their their best result for over 20 years.

Many thanks once again to the Hurlingham club for hosting this annual match, and to referee Richard Hilditch for his usual inimitable contribution in keeping everything running smoothly.

Photo gallery

Scores (Cambridge names first)

all games Level Advanced

Dan Heathcote (11) & James Faulkner beat Charlie Sharpe (10) & Sam Reynolds (26)
Ben Risebrow (12) & Joseph Steane beat Josh Jackson (24) & Oliver Brewster (24)
Jerome Gasson (14) & Jack Sydenham beat Greg Simond (22) & Colin Mullins (26)

Dan Heathcote (11) lost to Charlie Sharpe (10)
Ben Risebrow (12) beat Greg Simond (22)
Jerome Gasson (14) beat Oliver Brewster (24)
Joseph Steane beat Josh Jackson (24)
Jack Sydenham beat Colin Mullins (26)
James Faulkner beat Sam Reynolds (26)



Report and photos by Simon Hathrell

See also:

Oxford University Association Croquet Club
Cambridge University Association Croquet Club
Varsity match archives (1961-)