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by Tony Hall, Australian correspondent

For many the Interstate team play is the heart and soul of the 16-day Australian National Championships. Each of the six states is asked to field a team consisting of five men and five women - allowing for one alternate of each sex, and the teams have one day to compete against each of the other teams, which makes a five-day competition. Our correspondent Tony Hall, drafted to play as a Tasmanian when that team came up short of male members, has so far failed to win a match for this southermost Australian state.

The Interstate Cup was originally contested by teams of four players from each of the six Australian states. In the 1920s and 1930s they were almost completely women, and then gradually changed over time until few women qualified to play for their state. It was then changed so that teams consisted of four men and four women, with two doubles and four singles of each sex played each day.

During the past year it was decided to allow each team to have five members of each sex but to still play only two doubles and four singles each day. It was hoped this would allow new players to be blooded and to solve the problem of reserves for injured players. With six states, all playing all, the competition lasts from Monday to Friday.

South Australia, last year's winners, and Queensland, last year's runners-up, were joint favourites.

Coming into the competition this year, South Australia, last year`s winners, and Queensland, last year`s runners-up, were joint favourites. The South Australian team, led by Creina Dawson and Colin Pickering, had been playing well and the Queensland players were also in good form. Victoria lost a number of strong players last year and the replacements seemed to be still inexperienced. A new addition to their team is Trevor Bassett, aged 16, a fluent and straight roqueter. The New South Wales team is stable and has been in third or fourth place for some years. Western Australia has some stars, Jeff Newcombe and Helene Thurston, but also has a few players new to this level of competition.

Perennial cellar-dwellers, Tasmania had been unable to field a full team of men and had asked the Australian Croquet Association what to do. All states agreed that the host state should be asked to provide "reserves" to enable a full team to be fielded. So Greg Burnes, dropped from the NSW team, and Tony Hall were invited to become honorary Tasmanians for the duration of the contest.

Sydney has a problem in staging the Interstate Cup, as three four- court venues are needed, and there are none. It is not as exciting if the women and men play at different places. This year for one venue we are using the three courts at Chatswood and have borrowed two adjacent tennis courts to make a fourth court.

The other two greens are needed for bowls and cannot be allowed to grow. We therefore have two of the tastest courts I have seen.

The second venue is at the Cheltenham club, where we have borrowed three bowling greens to go with the single croquet court. Luckily they were able to let one of the greens grow so that it is reasonably well matched to the croquet court for speed. But the other two greens are needed for bowls and can not be allowed to grow. We therefore have two of the fastest courts I have seen.

The third venue is the three courts at our headquarters, Tempe (near Sydney international airport), and one rather slow court at Marrickville, about two miles away. We have a Mazda "people-mover" emblazoned with "1997 Australian Croquet Championships - sponsored by Mazda" to shuttle players to and from the two venues.

On Monday, the first day, Victoria beat New South Wales 9 matches to 3. All the men won and the women split 3 - 3. This was a surprisingly bad defeat for NSW, although points were 253 to 246, so it was really quite close. South Australia and Queensland fought out a close one, SA prevailing 7 to 5. Points were 210 to 209. Harley Watts and Dean Paterson both completed triple peels. Western Australia thrashed Tasmania 11 to 1, the real Tasmanians John Davis and Peter Worsley winning their doubles against Martin Clarke and Alan Sands (who had won the Australian Doubles Championship only a few days earlier) 26-10.

On the first day, there were no big surprises.

The second day saw an upset when NSW got up to beat Qld 6 matches all, 225 points to 223 points. Both men and women split 3 - 3. The outstanding match was Barrie Chambers against Greg Bury. Greg made the first break to 4-back, Barrie peeled Greg`s forward ball through the last three hoops while going around and pegged it and his own ball out with the remaining two clips both on hoop 1. Barrie finally won the two ball game 26TPO-24.

WA beat Vic 7 to 5, their women winning 5 and men 2. Ashley Faulkner (Vic) trippled in both the doubles and singles. SA beat Tas 9 to 3 with Colin Pickering doing an excellent triple on one of the very fast bowling greens, while John Davis beat Harley Watts 19-15 after three hours on the other.

So after two days, South Australia and Western Australia are the only two undefeated teams, and Tasmania the only one beaten twice. Wednesday sees Queensland v Western Austrlia, South Australia v New South Wales, and Victoria v Tasmania. South Australia and Western Australia will play on Day Thursday, the fourth day of the Interstates.

Our next report from the Autralian National Championships will be Tony Hall's story on the conclusion of Australia's Interstate Cup play.

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