Back to
The Front Page
1997 Archives

by Tony Hall, Australian correspondent

Following South Australia's run-away victory in the Interstate Cup team competition, South Australian Harley Watts brought his state further croquet glory in a narrow victory over Victoria's Alan Cleland in the English Silver Medal event, bringing to a close for another year the croquet world's longest, most elaborate and multi-faceted annual national championships.

The English Silver and Bronze Medals are donated by The Australian Croquet Association. Years ago the UK Association started to donate Gold Medals annually, eventually to all six Australian States, for round robin competition by invitation between eight to ten players in each state. When it was decided to have a competition between the Gold Medalists it was also decided that the winner would receive a silver medal and the runner-up a bronze medal.

The rules stipulate that games are to be untimed. Two days at the end of the Australian Championships are devoted to this competition (22 and 23 March this year) and a number of competitors in the earlier events stay on to watch.


This year the Gold medal winners were: Brett Hewitt (Queensland), Mark Kobelt (New South Wales), Alan Cleland (Victoria), John Davis (Tasmania), Harley Watts (South Australia) and Helene Thurston (Western Australia). Mark Kobelt injured his back the day before the Silver Medal started while playing for NSW in the Interstate Cup, so for the second year in succession was unable to compete. With only five players, there were only two games in progress at once, so many spectators managed to see most of the important plays.

On both mornings of the two-day event, the Croquet Players` Association of New South Wales turned out a champagne breakfast which, together with the untimed games, lent an air of style and leisure to the activities.

The first two games were John Davis v Brett Hewitt and Harley Watts v Helene Thurston. Harley started fluently against Helene and appeared to be in devastating form. He won 26-3 in just over an hour. The other game took a lot longer. Brett Hewitt went ahead at first and it seemed that he would win easily, but John Davis got in and slowly crept around, eventually winning 26-20.

Harley then played John and made the first break with some marvelously arrogant play, running long hoops easily and making return roquets of ten yards look more like ten inches.

Alan Cleland, who had been practicing on and off all morning on the third lawn, then beat Brett 26-9. Harley then played John and made the first break with some marvelously arrogant play, running long hoops easily and making return roquets of ten yards look more like ten inches. John hit in but failed to get going and Harley set up a triple with some adventurous rolls and confident roquets. He bounced the peelee off 4-back, however, and then missed an attempt at a delayed triple when the peelee just failed to roll to the right place. He then rush-peeled 4-back after making 3-back, attempted an Irish peel at penult, hitting the hoop hard and jawsing the striker's ball, put the peelee in the jaws of rover and from only about a foot behind the peelee took it through rover with the striker's ball in a half-jump shot to complete a truly majestic triple, 26TP-1. It looked as though Harley was invincible.

Helene Thurston (WA) then played John Davis in a long game, winning 26-4, and Harley played Alan, winning 26-8. On Saturday evening Harley seemed to have a firm grip on the Silver.


The first game on Sunday morning could have sealed the win for Harley, but Brett Hewitt (Queensland) came out breathing fire. Harley won the toss and put black (N) to the East boundary, eight yards from IV (corner). Brett put red (R) to II and Harley missed the long roquet from B balk at N, going to IV with blue (B). Brett then showed how fired up he was by hitting N with yellow (Y) from A balk, taking off to IV to get a perfect rush on B, right in the corner, to hoop 1. He made the hoop, rushed B to the middle of the South boundary, took off to N, sent N to 3 while pass rolling to R in III but failed to get good position rolling to 2. He went to the North boundary, setting a rush to II.

Harley shot B at N on the South boundary but missed. Brett made his break with Y to 4-back leaving B on the West boundary near 2, N close to 4 shadowed from A balk, and his two balls on the East boundary with a rush for R to B. Harley lifted N and missed the long lift shot, going into IV. Brett took R to the peg, collecting B from IV after making 4. He attempted to set a perpendicular leave, positioning N on the peg side of penult, but he hit B too hard, putting it past rover, temptingly close to A balk. He separated his balls, putting Y on the East boundary and R in II.

Harley lifted N, rejected the shorter shot at B and hit R in II right in the center. To everyone's surprise Harley jammed in 1. Brett hit N with Y and left N to the West of 1, almost wired from B which was East of 4, setting up in II. Again to our surprise Harley shot at N with B, missing and leaving an easy break for Brett, who finished with some excellent croquet, 26-0.

The other early game was Helene Thurston v Alan Cleland and Alan won 26-10. The next game was Brett v Helene. I was refereeing and did not see Helene beat Brett 26-23, but from the clapping, gasping and general animation of the spectators it was an exciting game of changing fortunes. I think that they must have hit every lift shot as a burst of clapping at a good break was always followed by another burst for the lift shot.

The final game was John Davis v Alan Cleland. Alan had to restrict John to less than two hoops in order to beat Harley for the Silver Medal. This game took nearly three hours and was one of fluctuating fortunes before Alan won 26-13.


An interesting refereeing decision had to be made in the game. Alan shot his yellow ball at John's balls, both for 1, on the East boundary, missing. The red ball was close to 2. John gently roqueted Y with B, walked around the three balls twice, picked up N and took croquet from Y, getting a good rush on B to 1.

He had played the wrong ball, penalty end of turn, balls to be replaced. It could have changed the outcome of the game. I was the assistant referee allocated to the game, waiting to be called, but could not intervene unless called by one of the players. I should not give advice to either player, even by a gesture or look. I had a surreptitious look at Alan, who was watching the action. He obviously had a feeling that something wasn't quite right and looked in my direction but took no action. The playing of the wrong ball would not be condoned until Alan hit the first stroke of his next turn. I thought that could be quite a long time if John went right around. >From a position fairly close to 1, however, John failed to set up well and bounced off to leave an easy break for Alan.

Had Justice been done? Before the limit of claims had expired, a spectator approached me and said he thought that John had taken croquet from the wrong ball, but that by then the error had been condoned. I did not argue as I did not want the conversation to be prolonged. My personal feeling is that I dislike being a referee who sees an infraction but is unable to do anything. No other sport has such a limitation. However, those are the rules at present and I will abide by them. (In New South Wales there is a local rule that allows a referee on call to place him/herself in charge at any time. I have not seen it invoked in the two years that it has been in force, but I suspect that the mere existence of the rule has been sufficient. I have heard of no problems caused by it, and there have been no complaints.)

It seems such a waste that skills honed over sixteen days will not be tested again soon.

So Harley and Alan both won three games out of four, and Harley won the Silver Medal for South Australia with +40 net points to Alan's +28. Alan Cleland of Victoria won the Bronze Medal for the fourth or fifth time. Helene Thurston of Western Australia came third with two games, and John and Brett each won a single game, Brett with +1 net points and John -55. At a short ceremony the medals were presented, everyone thanked everyone, and so we all dispersed for another year.

It seems such a waste that skills honed over sixteen days will not be tested again soon. The form of most players at the end was on a different plane to that shown in the first few days. This is our country's great problem. The tyranny of distance prevents our best players from regularly playing each other.

The weather held...we had little or no rain for the whole sixteen days of the 1997 Australian National Championships. But tonight, there is thunder, lightning and stormy rain.

CROQUET WORLD ONLINE MAGAZINE thanks Australian correspondent Tony Hall for a magnificent maiden effort in reporting the 1997 Australian Nationals to the Cyberworld - at the same time he was playing singles and doubles, refereeing, attending numerous meetings and dinner gatherings, and being drafted to play as an "honorary Tasmanian" for five days in the Interstate Cup. Now that the season is done Down Under, Tony is soon to embark on his annual world travels. If he isn't thoroughly burned out as a journeyman croquet reporter, we hope to cajole him into sending us more stories of his sporting adventures from many countries in the coming months.

Back to Top   Copyright © 1996-2022 Croquet World Online Magazine. All rights reserved.