#34 – Try Croquet
Croquet made it on to The List because, again, it’s something new and different. A quintessentially English game (although it sounds French), the origins of which are unclear. There are two different versions of the game; Association Croquet, which is played by the very top players and is a very complicated game to learn and Golf Croquet, which is simpler for beginners to pick up. Although the rules for each game are very different, the techniques and tactics used are similar. Internationally, Association Croquet is mostly played by former British colonies (such as Australia, New Zealand, South Africa) although apparently the Egyptians are demons at Golf Croquet and have had World Champions in the past. For a synopsis of the games and a diagram of how a croquet lawn is played, see this excellent website:
Association Croquet – http://www.croquet.org.uk/association/
Golf Croquet – https://www.croquet.org.uk/?p=golf/gcsynopsis.html
I tried Golf Croquet as it is the simpler and more social version of the game, spending a very pleasant Sunday afternoon in the sunshine on the croquet lawn at Winchester Croquet Club. Predictably, I was very bad at croquet, as I am with any ball game, but it was great fun to try something new. I was surprised at the level of skill and tactics required. It isn’t simply a matter of whacking a ball with a lead weighted mallet! You play either doubles (with one ball each) or singles (with two balls each) and in Golf Croquet, the balls must always be played in the same order. Both versions of the game are played on the same size lawn, with six hoops which must be played in a particular formation. It’s not just a case of attacking the hoop, you also have to play defensively to protect your partner’s ball if it’s in a better position than yours, which may include blocking your opponents’ or taking out their balls altogether. With golf croquet, once one of the four balls has gone through the hoop that hoop is won so you all move on to the next hoop, playing from your last position. So in some cases that means that if the hoop is about to be won and there’s nothing you can do either to win it quicker or (if in opposition) to prevent it from being won, the best thing to do is to send your ball off towards the next hoop to get you in a better position for that one. But beware the offside rule – when a hoop is won you can’t be more than halfway to the next hoop, otherwise you’re offside and have to start from the most awkward position possible on the lawn – cunningly chosen by your opponents! The game is won once one team gets to 7, so if you’ve played all 6 hoops both ways (see above links for diagrams) you play a final ‘sudden death’ hoop to take the game.
It was a highly entertaining afternoon, spent in the company of my fellow Spicers, listening to the therapeutic thwack of the mallets on the balls and trying not to let the side down too badly. As mentioned, I was pretty hopeless. It turns out that I wasn’t great at the swing – apparently you’re supposed to swing from the shoulders, not from the wrist – so I didn’t get much power on most of my shots. That’s to say when I actually managed to hit the ball at all, a couple of times I swung right over the top of it! Or I managed not to hit it square so it either didn’t go very far at all or shot off in completely the wrong direction. Needless to say, I didn’t try any of the more technical shots. I understand that more experienced players are able to do a stop shot (hitting another ball to move it out of the way whilst stopping yours close to the hoop) and a jump shot (literally making your ball jump over another one to put it nearer the hoop) but since I struggled to even make mine go in the correct direction I thought I’d focus on the basics… To play the game well, you need to be able to control the direction of the shot and the power you put on it – so that you can vary the distance it travels. My attempt was more hit and hope, although out of the 17 hoops I played on the day, I did manage to win three – more by luck than judgement!
My doubles game was won 6-3, largely due to the fact that my partner was a lot better than me and I lost my singles game 7-1. Ooops!
It was good to see those who were more skilled at the game enjoying it, getting really into the tactics and behaving in typical British fashion: congratulating an opponent on a good shot and then hammering their ball out of the way to prevent them getting a hoop, apologising at the same time!
The afternoon was finished off very genteelly with a very civilised cup of Earl Grey and a slice of cake in the clubhouse. Even though I was fairly useless, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon and I’d happily play again.