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Last Updated: Friday, 13 July 2007, 14:35 GMT 15:35 UK
Anyone for croquet?
By Andrew McKenzie

Marcus Evans takes aim at the Hurlingham Club
Marcus Evans takes aim at the Hurlingham Club

When I was growing up croquet was something we got served up at tea time as an alternative to mashed potato.

The idea of striking a few balls round a manicured lawn with a wooden mallet was as alien as cheesy chips back then.

Needless to say the history of croquet goes back a little further than that but it is an altogether younger crowd who are looking to continue Britain's dominance in the sport, starting on Sunday at the British Open.

Once on the card of the Olympics, it is believed croquet was brought to England in the 1830s, via France and Ireland.

The first recognised organisation was formed in 1868 when the All England Croquet Club was set-up in Wimbledon but it was not long before tennis muscled into the scene and it was renamed the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Last Sunday at the AELTCC headquarters Roger Federer picked up a cheque for 700,000 after being crowned men's champion for a fifth straight year.

This weekend will see the cream of the croquet crop do battle five miles down the road at the Hurlingham Club, with the winner of the Lawpack British Open collecting just 600.

CROQUET FACTS
England's Robert Fulford is the defending British Open champion
Britain has won the last six MacRobertson Shields - croquet's equivalent of golf's Ryder Cup
Croquet was last in the Olympics in 1900. There are not enough countries who play it for it to be accepted for London 2012
Golf croquet is popular in Egypt, who also have the two best players in the world

It is thought to be the highest ever pay out for the most prestigious event in the UK but that matters little to the top stars who are all amateurs.

They also soldier on through the rain. So barring any lightning strikes (the mallets are metal these days) or flooding, there will be no danger of the matches not being completed in time.

Players representing countries as far afield as the USA, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand will compete for a prize fund that would not even cover their air fare.

There will be no television coverage and Croquet Association official Jeff Dawson estimates a crowd of about 50 for the final, despite spectators being allowed in for free at the members only club.

Even John Prescott would be made welcome.

The former Deputy Prime Minister hit the headlines last year when he was photographed playing croquet at Dorneywood while he was acting Prime Minister but Dawson is of the belief that any publicity is good publicity.

And as they try and dispel the notion that croquet is for the retired upper classes, 19-year-old Jack Wicks is a marketing dream.

He looks like any other teenager as he joins a small section of the press at the Hurlingham Club. His hobbies are listed as Colchester United, partying and drinking.

In his baggy shorts and t-shirt with his nickname on the back, a la Jamie Murray, he could be headed for a kickabout with his mates rather than to compete for the continent's top croquet crown.

He is not alone.

Jack Wicks in action
Jack Wicks, or Wixy as he is known, gives it some welly
Marcus Evans is a recent graduate from Nottingham University.

Last Monday he skippered his team to success on BBC's Two University Challenge and then later made it safely through to the knock-out stages of the British Open.

Amongst the rest of the competitors is a farmer, a bingo caller, a neuroscientist, an accountant, a door-to-door brush salesman, a black belt in ju-jitsu and a 61-year-old roller blader.

And not a jug of Pimms or a cucumber sandwich in sight.

This is not a sport that will get you fit or see you work up a sweat but it is a game of immense skill requiring plenty of patience and pinpoint accuracy.

The game is reasonably accessible too - most clubs will provide a mallet and balls.

It might be a while before croquet makes it back into the Olympics again but Wicks and Evans will be doing their best to dispel the stuffy image croquet has been hammered with in the past.



SEE ALSO
Prescott paid for Dorneywood pals
21 Jun 06 |  UK Politics


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