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MacRobertson Shield, January 2000: My picks on who plays and who wins

by Chris Clarke
Posted March 27, 1999
 • New Zealand Team
 • United States Team
 • Australian Team
 • British Team
 • A Courtside Interview with Chris Clarke
 • Brian Storey's MacRobertson Web page

Chris Clarke, 1996 world champion, lives at the top of the world rankings with fellow Brits Robert Fulford, David Maugham, and Stephen Mulliner. Though only 28 years old, he is among the most seasoned veterans of top-level international play and undoubtedly deserves a place, once again, on the team Great Britain and Ireland will send to Christchurch, New Zealand in January 2000. The Brits took the Shield from the Kiwis in New Zealand in 1990 and refused to surrender it in 1993 and 1997. Can the second-ranked New Zealanders get it back in 2000? Clarke backs up his opinions with player profiles and observations on current form.

The MacRobertson Shield (Mac) is the most important event in croquet. It brings together Great Britain, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States - the four strongest croquet nations - in best-of- 21 Test Matches lasting six days each. The six players on each team have the responsibility of representing their country knowing that if they fail, they will have to wait another four years to try again. The pressure on the players over the three-week span makes it unlike any other croquet competition. With only months to go before 24 of the best players - and their alternates - embark for Christchurch, I thought it would be interesting to look at each country's pool of potential players and assess their chances.

Chris Clarke From his sceptered isle, Chris Clarke surveys the croquet world and prognosticates....

The New Zealand Team

The host nation usually has the advantage of being able to select its best possible team. For the Kiwis, it will be a chance to combine massive experience with new talent to try to regain the Shield which they lost in 1990. So, who will make the team?

John Prince

John "retired" from the Mac in 1990 and his play during the early nineties was far from his best. Recent indications are that he has regained some of his old ability, and the only question mark in my mind is: Has he the desire? Playing in a Mac on home turf should give John the focus he needs to produce his sparkling best.

Bob Jackson

In 1996, Bob was an astonishing omission from the NZ team. I do not expect the same mistake to be made again. Playing on his native soil, Bob is without doubt the strongest match player in the country. His record in the NZ Open will probably never be matched, and his presence on the team should give reassurance to any less experienced members.

Richard Baker

An excellent performance in 1996 was followed by a slight loss of form. Reports indicate that he is recovering form, and he has two previous Macs under his belt, despite his youthfulness.

Tony Stephens

There is one overwhelming reason to select Tony - ability. His technique is excellent and he is a born competitor. Without doubt NZ's best player in 1996, he would give NZ both experience and flair.

Shane Davis

Shane would be another debutante, but he has an ideal game for the Mac, being solid in all areas and a determined match player. Major honours have yet eluded him, but he could be a key addition to the New Zealand team.

Toby Garrison

This teenager's youth, his desire to win, and plenty of ability make Toby an attractive choice to the selectors. His play is slightly volatile, with his hooping occasionally failing, but this is more than countered by his potential to destroy opponents with exciting, aggressive croquet.

Steve Jones

The NZ number one in 1996, Steve's form has been variable since. At his best, he is world class, but poor roqueting and hoop running can let him down. The potentially quick lawns in Christchurch will favour his good touch, and he has experience under his belt.

Aaron Westerby

Young Westerby is an automatic choice that would strengthen the NZ team immensely, but unfortunately, he is unlikely to be available.

Paul Skinley

Paul has been an ever-present in the NZ side since 1979, but his play has begun to deteriorate of late. His performance in 1996 was disappointing, but he has both the experience and ability to provide a useful contribution to his country yet again. With Jackson, he has an unbeaten doubles record. Will they be prepared to win again?

Ian Dumergue

A good all-round player, Ian has yet to be given his chance in the Mac. A potential match winner, he is close to making the team.

Brian Wislang

A solid, dependable performer, Brian perhaps lacks the cutting edge that is required nowadays to beat even the numbers 5 and 6 in the opposite team. An automatic choice in a team of ten, he may lose out this time.

My ranked choices for the New Zealand team:

Prince (Captain) (4)
Jackson (1)
Baker (2)
Stephens (3)
Davis (5)
Garrison (6)

The United States Team

A good performance in 1996 showed that this was not a team destined for the eternal wooden spoon. Osborne and Rebuschatis were the difference between last and possibly second place. The USA's chances for 2000 will largely depend on the availability of some key players.

Jerry Stark

A determined competitor, Jerry has more international experience than any of his compatriots. His play is sometimes a little variable, but the good stuff is difficult to beat.

John Taves

John is in my opinion the USA's best player. Victories against Maugham in 1996 and Fulford in the 1997 Solomon Trophy made him one of the top dozen players in the world. Family commitments and a desire to play six games every day may lead to John declaring himself unavailable, but his country desperately needs his talents.

Mik Mehas

It now seems sure that Mik will be given his chance to represent America in the Mac. Political machinations denied him a place in 1996, but since then his play has improved and he is a tough match player. He has sufficient talent to let it rather than him do the talking.

Jacques Fournier

A magnificent 1998 rocketed Jacques to the highest plateau of world croquet. Match wins against Maugham, Avery and Bamford during the British Opens showed that he not only had the ability, but also the temperament. Jacques is an automatic choice who may give the USA the key edge.

Wayne Rodoni

The ideal candidate for Mac play, Wayne puts total concentration into every shot and would provide the stability the US have lacked in their lower positions in the past.

Don Fournier, Jr.

Perhaps a little below world level, Don is nevertheless a determined competitor, beating Openshaw in 1997. If he can overcome his nerves, he could be a useful addition to the team at number 6.

Phil Arnold

Phil became known to most of the top players as the bus driver at Sonoma Cutrer, and it came as a surprise to many to see him as a competitor a few years later. On easy lawns, he is excellent, but a question mark still lingers about his ability to deal with imperfections in the lawn and firm hoops.

Johnny Osborn

Rated highly by his fellow countrymen, Johnny has yet to deliver on the international stage. He has ability, though, and a good start could see him settle into his natural rhythm.

There are several other contenders for places, but the good ones like Kiley Jones and Jim Bast don't play enough, and the next tier down all have limitations at this extremely high level of competition.

My ranked choices for the United States team:

Stark (Captain) (3)
Taves (1) *
J Fournier (2)
Mehas (4)
Rodoni (5) *
D Fournier (6)

* substitutes for Taves and Rodoni are Arnold and Osborn

The Australian Team

Given the number of players in Australia, they have been under-performing internationally for several years. It is difficult to envisage a powerful challenge for 2000, but they have what the USA lack - strength in depth.

Colin Pickering

Colin is the most experienced of the Australians, and while his play may lack a little sparkle, he is a hardened match winner. A berth in the middle of the playing order would make his job a lot easier.

Michael Taylor

He is he best Australian player of the nineties by far, but unfortunately he's also an unlikely starter, as his time for croquet has been limited since winning Sonoma and the British Mens. A true number one, his presence would be of enormous benefit to his country.

Bruce Fleming

A genuinely good player, Bruce can compete against the best. His tripling is excellent and he is an automatic choice for the team.

Harley Watts

Watts is a volatile performer, but he makes up for the mental determination needed in Mac play with sheer talent. Again, his recent activities - including marriage - have not concentrated on croquet.

Greg Bury

Greg has plenty of experience and if things go right for him on the day, his best play is excellent.

Ashley Faulkner

Faulkner is a volatile performer, but worthy of a place in the team on his best play.

Jeff Newcombe

A gritty performer, this Western Australian made a good debut in 1996 and is well worth another place in the team. He is still improving and should give his country a solid base to the team.

Max Donati

Max is inexperienced, but has good fighting qualities. He may come close to gaining a place in the lower team order.

Martin Clarke

Admittedly, I've never seen him play, but his recent results suggest that a place in the Mac team will be forthcoming. Perhaps a suggestion to triple peel rather than going to the peg may have benefits?

Again, there are many other players who could fill the bottom places of the team, but few would compete against the NZ and GB bottom pairs.

My ranked choices for the Australia team:

Pickering (Capt.) (4)
Taylor (1) *
Fleming (2)
Watts (3) *
Bury (5)
Faulkner (6)

* Substitutes for Taylor and Watts are Newcombe and Clarke.

The British Team

Firm favourites to retain the Mac, they have talent in depth - which means a large number of world class players will have to miss out on a place in the team.

Chris Clarke

Despite a poor Mac in 1996, Chris still won 13 matches and has continued with good performances since. His shooting is variable and occasionally leaves him vulnerable to an in form adversary.

Robert Fulford

Simply the best player in the world, Robert will be defending an unbeaten singles record in the Mac.

David Maugham

An excellent year in 1998 gave David wins in all four English regional events. When he is on form he is close to unbeatable. His magnificent win in 1993 against Jackson remains in my opinion his best performance to date.

Stephen Mulliner

Unable to play in '93 and '96 due to work and family commitments, Stephen is now looking forward to re-entering the cauldron of Mac competition. His play is better and more precise now than a decade ago, and while he has the odd weak spot, he remains a difficult man to beat.

Mark Avery

Runner-up in the 1989 Worlds, Mark went through a barren spell in the early eighties, but is now close to his best. When he is on form, he is one of the world's best and has a fast yet graceful playing style that makes him popular with spectators

Steve Comish

Steve has less flair than many GB players, but his reliability and sound tactical judgment make him a good player to have in any team

David Openshaw

The ultimate match player, David gives everything when representing his country. Recently his usually good shooting has let him down, but he remains a difficult man to beat.

Keith Aiton

On form, Keith is an automatic pick, but always seems to have the odd lapse at key times. He will need a good season to push his way in a powerful team.

Colin Irwin

A magnificent number six, Colin combines great shooting with reliable break play and was unbeaten in 1990 and 1996.

Debbie Cornelius

The best lady player of all time, Debbie has taken some time away from the game recently and while intending to play more this year, is unlikely to be available for the team

Trimmer, Dawson, Burge, Goacher, Cordingley and Gaunt would all have claims for a place with a series of good performances in 1999.

My ranked choices for the Great Britain team:

Clarke (Capt.) (3)
Fulford (1)
Maugham (2)
Mulliner (4)
Avery (5)
Comish (6)

My predictions on the Test Match results:

GB beat NZ 14-7
GB beat Aus 18-3
GB beat US 18-3

NZ beat Aus 17-4
NZ beat US 16-5

Aus beat US 11-10

[If you'd like to go on record with your own prediction on MacRob 2000, send an E-mail to the Editor, and we'll likely publish it in our Letters page.]

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