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The out player

by Alison Jones
photography courtesy of Alison Jones or as credited
Posted June 17, 2017

Bert Myer's photography essay on croquet partnerships

Alison witnessed the MacRobertson Shield world teams competition in California in April of 2017 as a self-described "mascot" of the powerful British team. There she saw more Brits off the court witnessing their opponents play breaks than most people had predicted. In the first of three International Test Matches, the winter-weary British finished second to a fired-up Australian team fully conditioned at the end of their summer, with New Zealand coming third and USA fourth in the final tally. Alison's personal report on the "Big Mac" appears in the British Croquet Gazette. Her observations on out players, closely observed at the Mission Hills Club, are reported here as a modest contribution to the literature of croquet anthropology.

When everyone else is watching what is happening on the lawn, I quite like to watch what happens off the lawn. The out player is almost another kind of species, all with their own habits, likes and dislikes, game faces and grumpy faces.

Without naming any names, I shall describe a few of my favourite types of observed out players at the World Team Championship.

Have a guess at who's who if you fancy a challenge.

Despite the serious expression and failure to qualify for the knockout, our author Alison Jones tells us she enjoyed herself in the Women's World Championship.

The transparent out player

These are very obvious: even before the long walk of doom to the edge of the lawn has begun, the shoulders drop, the eyes roll, and a tilt of the head bleats out a silent scream of alarm. This one tends to need a little personal space before being approached, and usually displays some loud murmurs which I can only assume would be an internal conversation which has somewhat escaped into the courtside environment. With a mallet at one side and one leg slightly tucked under the chair, once the muttering has passed, this kind will be seen hiding under a tree shadow or sometimes a hat rim.

The standing out player can signal--in a single pose--ease, confidence and a constant readiness to pounce at the soonest opportunity.

The replay out player

Another easy-to-spot out player, quite different from the TOP as this one will not change stance after the fatal missed shot, instead will show us a perfectly replayed shot through the air. In disbelief, this player will clearly appear bemused as to why the subsequent air shot was perfect yet the previous shot was far from it. As this player walks off the lawn the real fun starts, when as a spectator we are privileged to hear a stroke by stroke commentary of the turn just finished. Lucky us, it's almost as if we were there watching it live....

After a breakdown this partnership appears to speculate on what might happen next before they retire from the court.

The gamer out player

The seated out player may also radiate superb confidence. Here, Derek Wassink's demeanor suggests a relaxed break following a killer leave with a huge lead, before rising for his final and winning peeling turn. Bob Chilton photo.
This one I believe will soon become the most common type of out player. Crosswords and sometimes even card games used to be the popular choice of games for the gamer out player, but they have all been surpassed by the technology of the present age. Smart phones and tablets now allow the out player to play many games whilst awaiting their next turn, and I believe some GOT's even answer a few e-mails for work at the same time, and still manage to keep one eye on the game watching for for that "oops" moment from their opponent.

This behaviour actually displays some interesting multi-tasking skills: playing at least two different kinds of games at the same time and often winning them both. I will also include in this kind the readers of the croquet world. Whether reading from a Kindle or from an actual newspaper or book, I often wonder if they ever really turn the page. That page-turn would give us the final clue as to what their eyes are really fixed upon, but I've never watched them long enough to tell.

The chatter out player

No matter how well or badly the last turn went, this kind of out player just can't help chatting. Far different from the replay out player, this one doesn't feel the need to even talk about croquet: it could be chatter about the weather, last night's dinner, the other out players or perhaps a recent round of golf. As a chatterbox myself, I do like to find a good chatter out player. Whilst watching their opponent on a simple four ball break to the peg, the mood is never dampened because there is always tonight's dinner to contemplate, or tomorrow's weather to look forward to.

Even world champions like Chris Clarke and Robert Fulford are given opportunities by their opponents on the court to rest and contemplate courtside.

The silent out player

You could hear a pin drop when this one walks off the lawn. Often a deathly stare into the distance suggests he's a silent out player and that's the way he would like it to be...silent! Observing a chatter out player approaching a silent out player can be fairly entertaining for the onlooker; it's like a movie unfolding before your eyes when you really don't know what's going to happen next.

The dozy out player

Due to the nature of the game of croquet, players do not necessarily require speed or strength. Like a fine wine, croquet offers itself to people who mature with age. This does however mean that we can safely describe many out players as the dozy out player. Someone once told me that croquet is easy, it's just like going for a stroll in the park. So I can only assume that once one has completed one's leisurely stroll, a nap is surely due.

Instead of going for tea, these partners have decided to hang out on plastic chairs while their opponents grind out a long break.

The most interesting thing about this kind of out player is how amazingly awake and alert they can be to the sound of a missed roquet. All of a sudden, the resting eyelids of the DOP spring to life along with the spring in their step. It's amazing how 80 can become 18 when competition sparkles in a person's eyes.

I am sure there are many more out player types, but these are a few to start with. I welcome suggestions and would be happy to observe and report back if you think I've missed some.

Alison Jones has become a well-know figure on croquet courts in England, and her invitation above is sincere. She is 36 years old, lives is Bristol, and according to her blog , after watching her dad play at Cheltenham for many years she "gave up disco," joined a club and took up the sport herself three years ago. When she's not competing herself or closely observing both players and out players in significant croquet matches, she designs and manages websites for small-scale institutions and businesses. She has become a croquet fanatic who wants to spread the message to everyone--including people under 50--that "croquet is cool." Good luck with that one, Alison!

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