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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 September, 2003, 11:42 GMT 12:42 UK
Croquet hits back in summer-sport row
By Tom Fordyce

A game of croquet in progress
A game of croquet reaches a nail-biting conclusion
Croquet has struck back in what threatens to become a vicious war of words with cricket.

On Thursday, former ECB chairman Lord MacLaurin warned that, without drastic action, cricket could become like croquet - "a summer sport that was".

Croquet is not the sort of sport to take a slur like that lying down.

"Not to put too fine a point on it, [MacLaurin] shows a total ignorance of the croquet scene," Nigel Graves, secretary of the Croquet Association, told this website.

"There is a stereotyped view of the sport. People are unaware of quite how active the croquet world is."

Croquet, unlike cricket, is content with the state it finds itself in as the 21st century unfolds.

Playing numbers have stayed constant for the last 30 years, meaning there is no need for a Twenty20-style re-branding of the sport as a high-octane game for kids in search of mallet kicks.

In fact, Graves takes umbrage at the mere suggestion that croquet might involve any form of ungentlemanly tactics.

To people who understand [croquet], it can be fascinating to watch
Nigel Graves
Croquet Association
"The image of belting everything away into the shrubbery is nonsense, nothing to do with the game at all," he says.

"Do you say that snooker is a vicious game? Croquet is a game where you seek to build a break, and when you can take your break no further, you try to leave your ball in a defensive position.

"Most of the time you need to keep all four balls on the lawn."

England also enjoys the sort of dominance of the international croquet scene that its cricket team can only dream of.

The current world champion is an Englishman, 40% of the world's top 100 players are British and the GB team goes into a Test series against Australia, New Zealand and the USA in November as clear favourites.

That series promises to be a real humdinger. New Zealand pushed GB all the way in the last series in 2000, a clash described by Graves as "nail-biting".

A lady player goes for the hoop
An experienced player pulls the trigger

Sure, the average age of a player is 60. But the Test team is led by Jersey's 20-something tyro Matt Burrows, croquet's very own James Anderson, and current world champion Robert Fulford is in his 30s.

There are 180 tournaments around Britain this year, with about 1,200 of the 4,000 players taking part regularly in competitions.

Perhaps MacLaurin has made the mistake - as I did - of assuming that croquet at the top level is the same game that some of us might have played in a posh pal's back garden.

"Croquet in a garden is the same as beach cricket," says Graves. "The garden game is great fun, but it's a travesty of the real thing."

Neither should cricket crow about the millions of people tuning in to coverage of the final Test between England and South Africa.

"The point about croquet is that it cannot be made into a spectator sport," says Graves. "Association croquet cannot work on television.

"In croquet, as with snooker, a player can be out of action for much of a the game while his opponent works wonders on the lawn.

"In cricket you have the conflict between batsman and bowler. In croquet you watch one person demonstrate his skill, and then the other person has his turn.

"To people who understand the game, it can be fascinating to watch. But someone coming to it fresh would have no idea of what was going on."




SEE ALSO
MacLaurin calls for cuts
04 Sep 03  |  Cricket


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