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« 2012 Solomon Preview: Keith Aiton Interview | Main | British Team Announces Solomon Line-Up »

2012 Solomon Preview: Jim Bast Interview

The Solomon Trophy test between Great Britain and the United States is just a few weeks away (October 10-13, Bald Head Island, North Carolina). In anticipation of this edition, Jim Bast of the U.S. team was gracious enough to spend some time fielding questions. Bast is a former USCA National Champion in singles and doubles and a two-time Canadian Championship winner. He's also a veteran of 10 USA teams, including the first USA test team that toured and competed against Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. And at the top of the list, he was a member of the first USA MacRobertson Shield team. More info on this year's Solomon is available on the Bald Head Island website. Let's get to the action:

After winning two straight in Solomon play and considering the general advantage for the home team in international team events, has all of the pressure for this one shifted to the U.S. team?

Well — historically, there has never been an advantage for the home team, per se.  The advantage has always been to Great Britain regardless of the location.  If you look at the average grade for this year’s teams, as well as how many players from each side are ranked in the top 25, it is evident that the USA is the underdog in this event, as well.  Also, Great Britain is at the end of their fantastically busy and competitive croquet season.

Jim BastThere is a special, almost indescribable, pressure when you play as part of a team for your flag. It is an incredible privilege and you always want to prove yourself worthy of the honor. But I think this pressure is probably felt by both sides. Although Team USA is comprised of driven players who are used to putting pressure on themselves to win games, I think as team players we tend to feel less pressure about our own play and more intense emotions as we pull for our teammates and doubles partners to do well.  There are four players on this team who have been together for both Solomon wins and the MacRobertson Shield that was sandwiched in between.  Both of the others have been part of at least one of those teams.  We all have strong ideas and opinions about certain issues but this team has tremendous camaraderie and we all put aside our self-interests in an attempt to focus on how we can best interact with each of the other team members in order to help them get the best from themselves.  The one constant is Doug.  Doug’s team chemistry contribution is to insist that you win or he will hit you.  It’s a powerful motivator.  Doug is our secret weapon.

Sort of along those lines, it's still an individual sport inside of a team event. That being said, is there a general approach or strategy that the team rallies around?

We focus a lot on the compatibility of styles in doubles pairings.  The old saw is that “doubles wins Test Matches.”

Sometimes a captain wishes to set a particular mood  — or stress one or two things to watch for.  But it rarely is anything beyond what each of us normally does in a match:  stay focused; play to your strengths; pay attention to the vagaries of the court while you are the out player; always be positive and never give up; etc.  We like to stay at courtside in support of our team, whether we are in a game or not.  Occasionally,  a captain will suggest that we only pay attention to what is happening in our own game and ignore the other games while we are playing.  Sound advice — nearly impossible to pull off.  Besides, everybody is always interested in what Doug is up to — just in case we get to hit him.

Can you describe the typical prep that you or the team will put in during the final weeks leading to a big event like this? Also, who is the U.S. captain this time around?

Danny is the captain, chosen by popular consent of the players.  I don’t think there is any typical prep, other than playing as many highly competitive events as regularly as possible.  One of the disappointing things is that only the AC National Championships provides an opportunity to play tournament doubles at the top level.

Once a team is chosen we do always attempt to find a time and place in advance of a Test Match to gather as many members as possible, along with some other ranked players, to batter each other about in a tournament atmosphere, talk shop, and generally reinforce camaraderie.  Also, this year the Country Boys tournament, a highly competitive event, takes place just a couple of weeks prior to the Solomon and some of the team will be competing there.  Other than that, one just tries to practice as much as possible in the lead-up time to keep the muscle memory fresh.  There is some current discussion about trying to raise funds to rent courts at NCC for two or three days just prior to next year’s Eights so that the MacRobertson Shield team, which should be chosen after the Nationals in April, will be able to get together for intense doubles competition.

Is there a player on the U.S. team that is particularly hot right now?

Everybody is playing well, and confidently.  If you had to pick just one for the answer to this question, it would be worth noting that for 2012 Ben (Rothman) has won 91% of his games.

Okay, final question. What colors do you normally choose and why?

I have no idea how other team members feel about colors.  We never discuss it.  But it is known that many croquet players have superstitions.  There are those who believe that the black ball is the first to swell in the heat and become difficult to run hoops with.  Jerry steadfastly maintained that no matter what the manufacturer or the climatic circumstances, the red ball would always be the largest.  He always used the red ball when setting hoops.  I personally have no preference.  I don’t think you can afford, psychologically, to have a preference.  However, whenever Danny and I are playing doubles and we end up with red and yellow, I always play the yellow ball.  This started in the MacRobertson Shield test against GB in Bowdon in 2010.  There are lots of bees there and they love to hover about and alight on the yellow ball.  They don’t sting, but Danny doesn’t care for bees.  So, now I always play the “bee ball” in doubles.

Follow Croquet Network's coverage of the Solomon Trophy here:

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