Varsity match by year:
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Hurlingham lawns
In play at Hurlingham

Oxford beat Cambridge 8-1

The top echelons of the current World Croquet Rankings include the names of several players who started their croquet careers at either Oxford or Cambridge, so the annual Varsity Match is an interesting event to watch when looking out for the rising stars of the future. As usual it was generously hosted by the Hurlingham Club this year, where the twelve players assembled on a cloudy but dry 12th June.

The match used the traditional format of three doubles games in the morning and six singles games in the afternoon, all played to Level Advanced rules. For many of the players, especially the Cambridge team who don't have any handicaps or regular access to full-size lawns, the impeccably manicured and perfectly flat lawns of Hurlingham introduced playing conditions so much better than the patches of turf they were used to that it took them a while to adapt.

The morning games were played to a 3-hour time-limit. After all, who would want to be late for the excellent Hurlingham lunch? And it was just as well that they did, since early progress was slow. Breaks proved elusive, and after 90 minutes the aggregate score across all three games was only 22 points. But a closer inspection showed that in the top game it was a case of the strongest players from each side, Robert Wilkinson of Oxford and Joel Taylor of Cambridge, holding back while they helped their weaker partners to make progress. As the time ebbed away Taylor eventually took matters into his own hands and progressed to 4-back, at which point Oxford unleashed their secret weapon as Wilkinson promptly executed a first class TPO to remove Taylor from the court. But this only brought the scores level with 5 minutes remaining! Then when Wilkinson's partner Matt Smith stuck in the jaws of 3, the surviving Cambridge player Nick Jenkins had to rush-peel Smith when hitting in from the north boundary. After separating his opponents Jenkins made one more hoop himself as time expired to keep the scores level, leaving Wilkinson a medium-range shot at the peg - which he duly dispatched to make Oxford the winners on time with the rare "teapot" score of 16-15tpo(T). Meanwhile in the other two games the Oxford pairs had both outclassed their opponents, also winning on time by comfortable margins. Score at lunch: 3-0 to Oxford.

In the afternoon the six singles games were played without time limits. Most of the Oxford team appeared to have come to terms more quickly with the superb, easy-paced but unfamiliar lawn conditions, and progress was generally faster than in the morning. The lunchtime bubbly might also have had something to do with it. In the top game between Wilkinson and Taylor, Wilkinson soon made his first break to 4-back and laid up with a text-book diagonal spread. Taylor missed with his lift shot, and Wilkinson embarked on his TP attempt but unexpectedly missed a roquet after hoop 1, allowing Taylor in until he too broke down hampered after hoop 3. Wilkinson then regained the innings, took his 4-back ball to peg with another tidy leave, and after Taylor had missed the ensuing lift shot finished +23 without further drama.

The second and third singles games were even more one-sided, with the Oxford players Harry Fisher and Mark Baker both winning +26 against Richard Fellows and William Eucker respectively. In the fourth and fifth games the Oxford players Yuri Gulla and Oliver Cohen took a little more time but also won comfortably +20 and +14 respectively against Elly Betton and Tom Davenport. The match score was then 8-0 to Oxford, leaving the last Cambridge player Nick Jenkins with the task of rescuing them from a whitewash. Quite a challenge for someone who, it emerged, had only taken up the game two weeks earlier! But he turned out to be Cambridge's secret weapon, and by now he had evidently learned the feel of the lawn. Displaying both the shooting and the touch of a much more experienced player, he kept his opponent Matt Smith at bay and wound up the game with a comfortable +22 win. Final score: 8-1 to Oxford.

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Provided they keep playing and get an opportunity to practise using some decent facilities, it should come as no surprise if a few of the names seen here are later seen near the top of the rankings.

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Scores (Oxford names first, with handicaps)

Photo gallery
(full resolution, 18MB zip-file for download)

Robert Wilkinson (0) & Matt Smith (20) vs. Joel Taylor & Nick Jenkins
Harry Fisher (6) & Oliver Cohen (16) vs. Richard Fellows & Tom Davenport
Mark Baker (16) & Yuri Gulla (16) vs. William Eucker & Elly Betton


Robert Wilkinson (0) vs. Joel Taylor
Harry Fisher (6) vs. Richard Fellows
Mark Baker (16) vs. William Eucker
Yuri Gulla (16) vs. Elly Betton
Oliver Cohen (16) vs. Tom Davenport
Matt Smith (20) vs. Nick Jenkins



See also:

Oxford University Croquet Club
Cambridge University Association Croquet Club

Report and photos by Simon Hathrell