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Entries in Jeff Soo (92)

Sunday
Apr232017

Clarke: 2017 MacRobertson Review - Round 1

Today, we are pleased to add Chris Clarke to the team of contributors for coverage of the 2017 MacRobertson Shield being held this month (and into May) in Rancho, Mirage, California. This is in addition to the players journals we have running from Jeff Soo and Paddy Chapman. Please enjoy ...

First Tests Review: England v Australia and New Zealand v USA

Day 1

The first day of any MacRobertson Shield is an exciting and nervous experience. Over the past three decades, I have seen many debutants wilt under the pressure. It therefore comes as a pleasant surprise to be able to report on two excellent debuts on day 1 of these tests. Stuart Lawrence completed two triple peels to take his match partnering Jeff Soo against Hogan and Shilling without the Kiwis even taking croquet. Stuart’s only error was failing to get going once in game two which gave away a long bonus shot.

In the other Test, James Hopgood made no errors taking breaks to 4-b on the fourth and third turns of his two games. This was perhaps an even stronger performance since his pairing with Maugham won their match without the world number one Robert Fletcher taking croquet – Robert only struck his ball twice in the match.

At about 11 o’clock, it looked as if England would take a 2-0 lead when Jamie Burch was on a finishing turn against Dumergue and Forster, when already game up. However, a blast at hoop 2 failed to go through (these hoops react better to soft and mid-pace shots) and Stephen Forster played a good finishing turn to turn Death’s tpo into an otp. The players broke for lunch at 1-1. Meanwhile over in lawn 5, Mulliner had completed the peels of a dpo only to completely miss the peg-out leaving a ball at Greg Fletcher’s hoop and conceding contact. Greg made no error and finished the match next turn to level the test 1-1.

When the deciding game resumed in the Death/Burch v Dumergue/Forster match, Burch went round 5th turn, but Forster hit the lift and Dumergue claimed the match on the 7th turn to give Australia the overnight lead. NZ and USA shared the other two doubles for the USA to lead 2-1. How critical will this turn-around be on day 5?

Day 2

England and Australia shared today's singles 3-3 to give Australia a 5-4 lead. One piece of information that may not be widely known is that Robert Fletcher broke his mallet a week ago and is still getting used to his new mallet. In his second game against Mulliner, both players had 2 breaks and both had 3 peels, but it was the player with the better tactics that won.

The USA/NZ match only finished two of their three doubles, both going to the USA to give them a 4-1 lead. The Huneycutt/Morgan v Hogan/Shilling match was pegged down after 10.5 hours. Amazingly, it was still in the second game!!

Day 3

Australia once again won the doubles 2-1 to take a 7-5 lead into day 4. Another losing tpo featured in England’s defeat. I highlighted during the last World Championships that of the 7 tpos completed, 6 of them lost and that this was a weak tactic. No lessons seem to have been learnt by the English players.
USA/NZ shared the singles 3-3 to make it 7-4 and NZ equalised at game all in the unfinished doubles which was once again pegged down after 12.5 hours.

Day 4

NZ won all three doubles and added the unfinished doubles to make it 4-0 on the day to take an 8-7 lead into the final day.

The Aus/Eng match showed an increase in both the number of errors and the strangeness of tactical choices. Whether this was due to the high temperatures, inexperience, pressure, or a combination of these three factors I do not know. To give one example of a baffling set of decisions, Greg Fletcher had completed all the peels of his triple against James Death in their deciding game, but was 1 foot in front of rover with peelee just through the hoop. He had the option to jump over and take a 9 yard return roquet, but decided to run the hoop firmly and flat. I was standing next to Ian Dumergue, the Australian Captain and commented on what a mature sensible decision Greg had made. I assumed he would croquet partner to the peg, possibly getting a long peg out and would then rush James’ balls off the boundaries to take a 25-0 lead and force a hit-in. The spectators were amazed when Greg played a hard peg-out from the south boundary where the front ball zoomed off the lawn. Following this, James, instead of going to 4-b and giving Greg one shot to stay in the match (there were 32 +26tp results in the first Tests), went to 1-b and attempted a sextuple. No-one has achieved more than 3 peels of a sextuple so far in the event and whilst it was a surprise that James didn’t even attempt the 3-b peel, it was little surprise that the turn did not finish.

Australia took 3 of the first 5 matches to finish which left them on the brink of victory at 10-7. The final match to finish was between Stephen Forster and James Hopgood. This was a tough position for a debutant to find themselves and he played some good turns. However, Forster’s experience and elegant play won through to give Australia the key 11th match win.

I have been asked in the past what Australia needed to do to win a MacRobertson. My two answers have been “select their best players” and “get a team strong enough that Forster can play lower down the order”. They fulfilled both these criteria – many congratulations to them.

Day 5

England took the doubles 2-1 to make the final score Aus 12, Eng 9. Australia selected their best six players for the first time in my memory. They also had three compatible doubles partnerships that had played together before. They came with a pre-determined game plan – and it was a good plan. Supershot openings, no TPOs, no sextuples. Just solid play. Finally, they executed their game plan well, and were worthy winners.

The other test match was a nail-biter, in true MacRobertson Shield spirit. The last two matches finished within 30 seconds of each other at dusk. USA had started the day 8-7 down, but had moved to 10-9 ahead before kiwi debutants Aiken Hakes and Chris Shilling put the final two matches on the scoreboard to allow New Zealand an 11-10 win.

I mentioned on Day 1 two strong debuts by Hopgood and Lawrence. What is perhaps more difficult to do is to get off to a bad start and find fabulous form by the end of a test. Chris Shilling didn’t take croquet on the first day, and today produced a level of performance combined with maturity that I will remember for a long time. It is also probably an opportune moment to thank Toby Garrison for his willingness to play one test match at short notice. His contribution to the team has been immense.

The American team produced a good standard of play for most of the Test. It was a Test that could easily have gone either way and there was little to choose between the two sides. One statistic that may be of surprise to readers is that NZ only won one of the five days of play.

Looking forward to the second tests, New Zealand lose Toby Garrison and gain Harps Tahurangi. USA gain Matthew Essick, but at this stage, it is unknown who he will replace. Despite Danny Huneycutt’s match win against Hogan today, I feel he was the least on-form of the Americans, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he chose to sit out the second test.

The standard of play in the Aus/Eng Test was much higher than the USA/NZ Test and if all the teams continue to play at that level, it wouldn’t surprise me to see 17-4 or 16-5 results in favour of Australia and England in the second Tests. However, croquet is a sport and anything can happen, however unlikely. Sunday is a rest day and the second Tests start on Monday. All the players will welcome a break from the searing heat. Check back to Croquet Network for more next week.

Sunday
Apr232017

Chapman 05: New Zealand Wins 11-10

New Zealand's Toby Garrison on Day Five of Round One versus Team USA

Going into today, we held an 8-7 lead in the race to reach 11 points for victory. As it was a singles day, there were 6 points up for grabs and so we needed a 3-3 result (or better) to take the test.

The match-ups for today were:
Chris Shilling vs Stuart Lawrence
Toby Garrison vs David Maloof
Joe Hogan vs Danny Huneycutt
Paddy Chapman vs Ben Rothman

Jenny and Aiken were our late starts today, so were part of the support crew for the 'morning session'. Jenny was to play Stephen Morgan on the first available lawn, and Aiken to play Jeff Soo on the second available lawn.

The day got off to a fairly even start, with Danny taking the first point for the USA vs Joe. A short time later, I put a point of the board for NZ by beating Ben in a fairly close match. At that point things got a lot more tense...

Toby vs David had a very close game 2, where Toby took a 25-0 lead, only for David to hit in and go to peg, Toby miss, then David have a break to win - only to miss a 3 yarder when in control of the game. Toby eventually won the game to force a decider. In the third game, both players had some play, but eventually David dug out a truly exceptional TP to take victory.

Jenny and Stephen had a fairly high-quality match, with Stephen looking to be in excellent form, completing 2 × 6th turn TPs in his 2-1 victory. Jenny herself looked in pretty good nick, taking the second game with a tidy delayed TP.

Aiken vs Jeff was the very last match to start, at approximately 2pm. After a fast start by Aiken, he came to grief at 4b and penult after some bad luck when trying to obtain a hoop-and-roquet out of 3b on a delayed TP (the nailed-on hoop-and-roquet missed to the North boundary). Jeff had a chance to take the game, but Aiken got one more good chance and took the game with a straight double peel. In the second game, Jeff had first break, but after an error with the second ball it allowed Aiken to make his own equalising break, and then complete a very controlled TP to take the match.

This made the test score 10-10 and it all came down to Chris vs Stuart. Amid a great atmosphere, Chris played some very nice controlled breaks and excellent croquet strokes to take the match 2-1 after dropping the first game.

So NZ wins the first test 11-10! It was a great test to be involved in, and was particularly awesome for our debutantes, Aiken and Chris, who won both their singles matches. Both teams fought hard to the end - the Americans were very gracious in defeat and the Kiwis acknowledged that it could easily have swung the other way (and did multiple times through the day!).

Next on the menu is Australia in two days time :-)

Sunday
Apr232017

Soo 06: New Zealand Holds the Line

Australia's Greg Fletcher, in play yesterday against James Death. Fletcher is the only player to win all five matches so far.

On the final day of round one, New Zealand held the line to win the test; while England finished strong to make their score against Australia more respectable.

It is a truism that the team that wins the doubles wins the test. In the case of NZ vs USA, the truism was exactly right. The two teams split each singles day 3-3. It was NZ's comeback from 1-4 down to 5-4 up in the doubles that made the difference.

Aiken Hakes (Click to Zoom)USA team captain Danny Huneycutt posted the first result of the day, beating NZ's Joe Hogan +16, +24tp, to tie the test match at 8-all. Paddy Chapman (NZ) retook the lead for NZ in a +5tp, -17, +26tp win against Ben Rothman (USA). David Maloof (USA) made it 9-all, beating Toby Garrison +16tp, -4, +16tp. Then Stephen Morgan (USA) gave his team the lead, beating NZ team captain Jenny Clarke +26tp, -15tp, +26tp. Despite USA's needing only one win in the remaining two matches, the Kiwis were not to be denied. The matches finished nearly simultaneously, Aiken Hakes (NZ) beating Jeff Soo (USA) +4, +14tp, and Chris Shilling (NZ) pegging out moments later to finish a 10-hour marathon with Stuart Lawrence (USA), -4tp, +13tp, +9.

It was fitting that Shilling scored the decisive win. He and Paddy Chapman each won both their singles and two of three doubles; this is only expected from Chapman, a consistent world top five player, but is especially notable for a MacRobertson Shield debutant.

England finally had a winning day, winning two of three doubles matches, for a final test-match score of 12-9 Australia. Simon Hockey and Greg Fletcher added another point to Australia's total, making Fletcher 5/5 for the test. Like Shilling, Fletcher is also a MacRob debutant.

There is still all to play for, for all four teams. For England or USA to win the Shield at this point would require some help from one of the opposing teams, but given how close both tests played out it looks quite possible that no team will win all three tests. Were that to happen, the winner would be determined by percentage of matches won. But, no doubt, the winner of next week's New Zealand vs. Australia test will be in the driver's seat going into the final round.

Saturday
Apr222017

Chapman 04: Excellent Day for New Zealand

New Zealand's Joe Hogan on Day 4
An excellent day for New Zealand today! We needed a big result to get back into the test match, and that is exactly what happened.

Jenny and myself had a good win against Stuart Lawrence & Jeff Soo. Although we won in 2 straight games, all the players made some hoops and there was some interactivity.

Aiken and Toby had an excellent strong win against Danny Huneycutt and Stephen Morgan. Aiken did an excellent TP in the first game, getting the first peel before 1b.

The big upset of the day was the huge win by Joe and Chris against Ben Rothman and David Maloof - we had the goal of trying to take 2 matches out of 3 for the day, but to get all 3 was a huge bonus and got us back to level-pegging at 7-7 in the test. Both Chris and Joe played some excellent controlled croquet to take the match, and Joe hit two great 'final' lift shots along the way.

At the conclusion of the scheduled matches, Joe and Chris continued their epic pegged-down match (now in its third day) vs Danny Huneycutt & Stephen Morgan. From yesterday's position of H1 and peg vs 2b alone, Joe managed to finish without the Americans playing any more strokes. He played an immaculate 3-ball break to the peg amidst much applause, including what is perhaps the shot of the tournament: after running H5, he hit his return roquet into the jaws of H5 with a pioneer waiting at H6. He played a half-roll stroke at a pace that would have easily sent the front ball off the lawn (and possibly into the neighbouring houses), but managed to smack the croqueted ball into the peg, ricocheting across to beside 1b in the process and leaving himself a 4-yarder on his H6 pioneer.

Adding this result onto the scores, NZ lead 8-7.