CA v SCA 2008

23-24 August 2008, Crake Valley

The Scottish Croquet Association mounted a successful raid across the Border to win its annual match against the English CA and regain the Glasgow Quaich.  The match hung in the balance right to the final two minutes, when the Scots took the last two games by margins of 1 and 2 on time to make it 16-14 - the SCA's first away win in this series since it was played at Southport in 2000.

The teams gathered on Saturday morning in the idyllic setting of the Crake Valley on the south side of the Lake District, with cattle looking down upon the lawns as they grazed on the levees of the River Crake.  Three of the Scots had travelled that morning from Edinburgh (James Hopgood, Brian Murdoch and Fergus McInnes), and two had arrived the night before from further west (Bill Spalding and Alan Wilson), while Bruce Rannie came over from Tyneside.  The CA team was mostly from the north of England, with local player Mark Miller being joined by Ray Lowe and Keith Roberts from Southport, Paul Rigge from Bury and Peter McDermott from Middlesbrough; Klim Seabright of Cheltenham represented the deep south.

That the teams were well matched is shown by their grades in the world ranking system:

Ray Lowe 1935
Peter McDermott 1862
Mark Miller 1853
Paul Rigge 1850
Klim Seabright 1657
Keith Roberts 1532
(average grade 1782)
Bruce Rannie 2048
James Hopgood 2013
Brian Murdoch 1771
Bill Spalding 1728
Fergus McInnes 1687
Alan Wilson 1578
(average grade 1804)

Furthermore, while the grades gave the SCA a slight advantage, on handicaps the CA appeared stronger.  The playing orders were in fact decided on handicap, giving the following line-up:

Ray Lowe 0
Paul Rigge 1
Klim Seabright 1.5
Peter McDermott 1.5
Mark Miller 2
Keith Roberts 5
(average handicap 1.8)
Bruce Rannie -0.5
James Hopgood 0.5
Brian Murdoch 2.5
Fergus McInnes 3.5
Bill Spalding 4.5
Alan Wilson 4.5
(average handicap 2.5)

The daily schedule comprised one round of doubles followed by two rounds of singles, with no.1 playing no.2, no.3 playing no.4 and no.5 playing no.6 (twice each) in the first day's singles, and all playing their opposite numbers on the second day.  There was a plan for the top two to play best-of-three in each day's singles, but the timing was such that this was not carried through.

On medium-paced lawns with a few tricky slopes, the first morning's doubles put the CA 2-1 up - Brian and Fergus having the SCA's only win, on time, against Ray and Keith despite Fergus's repeated difficulty in getting position at hoop 1 on a fast patch of lawn 1.  Bruce and Bill were well ahead against Paul and Mark until an over-ambitious attempt at a straight triple gave away the innings.  But the SCA did much better in the singles, winning eight games out of 12, to finish the day with a 9-6 lead.  Bruce completed his two wins quickly enough to go off to the Travelodge by the M6 (where the Scots were staying, having found no rooms available any nearer at this bank holiday weekend) and check in and change before rejoining the rest of the players.

Dinner orders were taken as the day's play drew to a close, and at about 8pm we made the short journey from the club to the Armadale Hotel, where the catering was up to its usual high standard in both quality and quantity.  Dinner-time entertainment included a competition to caption a photograph (taken at Cheltenham) in which several croquet players with a ladder and a pitchfork were trying to reach a flag at the top of a tall pole.  The winning suggestion, as judged by informal clapometer, was "If you hadn't persuaded us all to take that shrinking potion, we wouldn't be having all this trouble with the corner flags!"  The trouble that the Lilliputian players would have with the hoops and balls - regardless of whether their mallets had shrunk - was left to the imagination.

After sunshine and showers on the first day, the rain had set in before dusk, and there was a considerable amount of it during the night.  The lawns on Sunday morning were consequently soggy - especially lawns 2 and 3, which are further down the slope towards the river than lawn 1.  (This slope, incidentally, is not nearly as steep as it looks from the top end.  The illusion of a significant south-to-north slope, due to the lie of the surrounding land, can distract a player from noticing the slopes in other directions that actually do exist!)  To avoid the worst of the waterlogged areas, two of Sunday's doubles games were double-banked on lawn 1, while Brian and Fergus, who had been on lawn 1 on Saturday, had some heavy going to contend with in their game against their opposite numbers Klim and Peter on one of the wetter lawns.  All three doubles games went to time, with winning margins of no more than two points, and again the CA won two of them, pulling back their deficit to make the score 10-8.  This time it was Bill and Alan, who had had the SCA's poorest results on the first day, who kept the opposition from having it all their own way, while a valiant fight-back by Klim and Peter stopped Brian and Fergus from repeating their first day's success.

So the outcome was far from decided as the match went into its last two rounds of singles.  And it stayed that way - reaching 12-12 by late afternoon when only the middle two in the SCA line-up won their first games, then 13-13 after Fergus dispatched Peter while Ray had his second win over Bruce, then 13-14 from the English point of view (a good omen for the Scots!) with another win by Brian over Klim, and 14-14 when Mark beat Bill as the evening shadows lengthened with only two games left in play.

Those two last games were the second and sixth in the rank order: James Hopgood versus Paul Rigge, on lawn 1 nearest the clubhouse, and Alan Wilson versus Keith Roberts, on the adjoining lawn down the hill from it.  And both were hard-fought battles.

With the time limit approaching, Paul had pegged out his blue ball, and black and red were on 4-back, with yellow on 1-back.  After time was called, James got yellow round and pegged it out to level the scores, leaving red a few yards in front of 4-back and black south of 3-back.  Having pegged a ball out, Paul didn't get an advanced lift - but he did get a wiring lift.  He hit red from B-baulk, sent it away to the west, and had a shot at the deciding hoop from about three yards.  The black ball ended against the wire, in a non-running position, and now James had a wiring lift!  Having considered the options, James decided to play red gently from B-baulk with the aim of taking position at 4-back where black could not hit it and, should black take close position at the hoop, he would be able to jump red over it.  In fact he did better than that, by hitting the edge of black which protruded at the side of the hoop, thus giving himself an easy opportunity to take good position and run the hoop.  So +1 in extra time to James, and 15-14 to the SCA, at 7.11pm.  But would it be a draw, in which case the CA would retain possession of the Quaich, or would it be an SCA win?

This depended on Alan and Keith, who were also having a close endgame.  And at 7.13pm, just as your reporter got back from updating the scoreboard with James's win, it reached its conclusion.  With a few minutes to go, Alan had been on 3 and 4-back, with some catching up to do, but hit in and got a break going with his backward ball.  When Alan failed 2-back, Keith got an opportunity with his forward ball, which was for 4-back with its partner on hoop 6 so that he needed two points to catch up - but fortunately for Alan he made nothing of it.  So it was +2 on time to Alan (16-14), and 16-14 to the SCA overall.

The non-playing CA organiser Bob Burnett presented the Glasgow Quaich to his (playing) SCA counterpart Fergus McInnes, the CA team and the Crake Valley Club received well-deserved thanks for their hospitality, and the Scots headed off up the M6 with the Quaich and a haul of index points.  Fergus had the biggest gain on his card (+56) and had got his handicap down to 3 and nearly to 2.5; Brian had gained 28 points, and James had gained 20 and got down to 0.  With Bruce, Bill and Alan losing 12 points each, the net movement of points was 68 from CA to SCA, but 80 points crossed the Border since Bruce lives south of it.  An effective raid!  We look forward to the CA's return visit in 2009.

Fergus McInnes


(CA names first)

Day 1, 23 August 2008

Paul Rigge & Mark Miller beat Bruce Rannie & Bill Spalding +7
Klim Seabright & Peter McDermott beat James Hopgood & Alan Wilson +3
Ray Lowe & Keith Roberts lost to Brian Murdoch & Fergus McInnes -6T (14-20)

Ray Lowe lost to James Hopgood -4T (18-22), -22
Paul Rigge lost to Bruce Rannie -26, -22
Klim Seabright lost to Fergus McInnes -19, -6T (15-21)
Peter McDermott drew with Brian Murdoch +5T, -7T (13-20)
Mark Miller beat Alan Wilson +6T, +26
Keith Roberts drew with Bill Spalding +3T (16-13), -1T (21-22)

Day 2, 24 August 2008

Ray Lowe & Paul Rigge beat Bruce Rannie & James Hopgood +1T (24-23)
Klim Seabright & Peter McDermott beat Brian Murdoch & Fergus McInnes +2T (20-18)
Mark Miller & Keith Roberts lost to Bill Spalding & Alan Wilson -2T (15-17)

Ray Lowe beat Bruce Rannie +1T (20-19), +17
Paul Rigge drew with James Hopgood +4T, -1T (22-23)
Klim Seabright lost to Brian Murdoch -18, -8T (14-22)
Peter McDermott lost to Fergus McInnes -24, -16
Mark Miller beat Bill Spalding +17, +16
Keith Roberts drew with Alan Wilson +9T (19-10), -2T (14-16)

Match Result

CA 14, SCA 16


(by Fergus McInnes and James Hopgood)

Players in action on Saturday:

Keith Roberts and Ray Lowe

Peter McDermott

Brian Murdoch

Sunday morning doubles:

Bill Spalding, Mark Miller, Keith Roberts, James Hopgood, Paul Rigge, Bob Burnett and Ray Lowe watch the green ball speed across lawn 1 ...

... propelled by the mallet of Alan Wilson.

Sunday afternoon:

An unusual coin toss outcome for Alan and Keith.

The field of battle with flags flying.

The finish!

James in his last break with yellow.

Alan at 2-back.

Paul's last lift shot ...

... and James's.

Fergus receives the Quaich.