Varsity match by year:

Thursday 14th June at Hurlingham.

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Oxford beat Cambridge 6-3

In the last couple of years a resurgent Cambridge had been the the winners, breaking a long run of wins for Oxford. But this year two of the stronger Cambridge players had departed while Oxford's best player Mark van Loon had returned after missing the 2017 match. With a team average handicap of 7.2 it looked like Oxford had a small advantage over Cambridge, average 8.5, though since four Cambridge players did not have official handicaps there was an element of guesswork involved in the latter figure. In particular the top players on each team, Mark van Loon and Craig Winfield, were closely matched - both now down to a scratch handicap and only separated by 10 DGrade points in the rankings as well. So a good contest was in prospect.

For a change this year both teams arrived at Hurlingham in good time. The weather was calm with light cloud, and the courts were as usual in excellent condition.

After a brief knock-up the three morning doubles games started shortly after 10am, with Oxford playing red and yellow. Progress was slow on all three courts with a lot of cat-and-mouse play as both sides sought the initiative. On the top court first blood eventually went to Cambridge's Conor Bacon, and with Oxford's Mark van Loon shooting defensively at partner Joshua Bull along the south boundary, Conor made it to hoop 3 before Mark finally hit in. After a further scrap Mark then embarked on a break to 4-back, but his diagonal spread at the end left the peg ball open. Craig took the 15-yard shot at the peg ball without lifting, hit well, and decided to embark on a tpo. The early 4-back peel was despatched, the peelee sent to penult after 4, but then Craig uncharacteristically missed his return roquet after 5. However it was not long before Joshua failed hoop 2 and Craig was able to resume his break. This time there were no further mistakes, Craig completed the remaining two peels efficiently and pegged out Mark's ball to reveal the fatal law in Mark's tactic of making a break to 4-back ahead of his 12-handicap partner. Thereafter although progress was slow on both sides, as expected Craig was able to help his partner Conor round faster than Joshua could progress on his own, and when time was finally called Cambridge emerged ahead to win +2.

On the other two courts Oxford were the first to get going, but all the players were slower to progress. After nearly two hours, in the second game Oxford had made 12 hoops and Cambridge 7, while in the third game Cambridge had made 9 and Oxford 6. In the last hour before lunch a few more hoops were added on both sides, but no-one made a significant break to tip the balance, and when the whistle was blown for lunch the final scores emerged with Oxford 3 ahead in the second game and Cambridge 8 ahead in the third. So 2-1 to Cambridge, and time to adjourn to the excellent lunch generously hosted by several Hurlingham sponsors.

With the players suitably wined and dined to relax their nerves, play resumed in the afternoon with fewer inhibitions, and the sun came out to show its approval. In the first game between Mark (Oxford) and Craig (Cambridge), Mark soon picked up a 3-ball break but failed on his approach to 5. Craig then missed a 10-yarder followed by another long miss, enabling Mark to pick up a 4-ball break with his backward ball which he took to 4-back with a spread. Craig missed the lift shot, and Mark picked up another 4-ball break with his hoop 5 ball which he took to peg with no peels and another spread. Craig lifted the peg ball, hit, and after surviving a hampered shot after 1 was able to pick up a break to 4-back with a tidy NSL. Mark lifted the ball at hoop 2 and missed into corner IV, but Craig failed his approach to 1 and Mark hit in with his corner IV ball. Although Mark then stuck in the jaws of rover at the end of his break, Craig missed the last lift shot and Mark finished with a comfortable +17 win for Oxford.

Meanwhile the second contest between Thomas Peak (Oxford) and Adam Swinton (Cambridge) was taking place on the same court. While Adam was discovering more than once that hoop 1 was not to be bullied into submission, Thomas was able to negotiate his first ball round to 4-back. A couple of breakdowns and misses later by both players, and Thomas picked up his second break which he took to peg with a vertical spread, but with a ball open. Adam hit the open ball from his lift and finally picked up a break, but failed at 6. After some further interaction Adam once again met his nemesis at hoop 1 and soon after Thomas finished +21.

Oxford had now taken the lead at 3-2, and things were going Oxford's way in the other four games as well. In the bottom two games William Nathan and Joshua Bull both kept the upper hand throughout, and both managed to win +20 shortly before the time limit to give Oxford an unassailable 5-2 margin. So it was left to the other two Cambridge players Edward Linscott and Calum Worsley to try and salvage something. Calum was unable to clear his 3-hoop deficit against Kirandeep Saini, but Edward managed a late rally to scrape a +4 margin against John-Francis Martin and bring the final match score-line to 6-3 in favour of Oxford. It was a well-deserved victory for Oxford, but they were denied the honour of brandishing the trophy, which Cambridge had conveniently forgotten to bring back after their 2017 win. Oops!

Thanks once again from all the players and spectators to the Hurlingham club and its members for hosting another splendid contest.

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Photo gallery

Scores (Oxford names first)

all games Level Advanced

Mark van Loon (0) & Joshua Bull (12) vs. Craig Winfield (0) & Conor Bacon
Thomas Peak (5) & Kirandeep Saini (8) vs. Adam Swinton (3) & Jake Tobin
John-Francis Martin (8) & William Nathan (10) vs. Edward Linscott & Calum Worsley

Mark van Loon (0) vs. Craig Winfield (0)
Thomas Peak (5) vs. Adam Swinton (3)
John-Francis Martin (8) vs. Edward Linscott
Kirandeep Saini (8) vs. Calum Worsley
William Nathan (10) vs. Jake Tobin
Joshua Bull (12) vs. Conor Bacon


Report and photos by Simon Hathrell

See also:

Oxford University Association Croquet Club
Cambridge University Association Croquet Club