Sidmouth Herald published 4 October 2019
The Belmont Cup is Sidmouth Croquet Club’s premier handicap competition, writes Chris Donovan.
It is played for throughout the season and block winners play-off in a final and the 2019 final was a dramatic affair contested Colin Walls, handicap 3.5 and Roger Mills, who has a handicap of 1.5.
In croquet handicap play, the difference between handicaps results in 'bisques' [extra turns] being given to the higher handicapped player. In this case, Walls received two bisques which he could play at any point in the game when his innings would, otherwise, have ended.
Mills won the toss and opted for a conventional start, hitting a long shot on the third turn for a good setup on the East boundary.
Photo: Colin Walls in action
Walls 'shot' at these two balls from the North Boundary, but missed and ended-up in corner four.
Mills got going and took a three-ball break round past hoop three. He then faced a dilemma! There was an easy split shot which would put one ball as a bad pioneer for hoop six while sending the ball actually in play down to corner four.
This would enable the ball in corner four to be brought into the game. Alternatively, there was a difficult over-taking roll shot to roll a good pioneer to hoop five and still get down to the ball in corner four.
Mills chose the difficult shot, but went off near corner four - end of turn. Walls accepted the gift, and was able to setup a four ball break and run his first ball to penult [hoop 10 of 12] without too much trouble. So, at the end of turn six the score stood at: Walls 10, Mills 3.
After a period of cautious play, when neither player gained the upper hand, Walls hit-in and got going again.
He muffed the approach to hoop two, but used a bisque to recover which then enabled him carry on round to penult with his second ball.
At this point things looked bad for Mills, being behind 20-3. However, he hit in with an excellent long shot, played some precision croquet, and ran his first ball round to the peg bringing the score to 20 to 12.
Importantly he had finished the break under control leaving the balls where he had best advantage.
So, although Mills was behind on points, he had the innings and was set up on the East boundary with a rush for his second ball. Walls was, seemingly, left with taking on a very long shot or some safety shot because although his balls were no far apart, they were cross-wired at hoop one (ie either side of a hoop and unable to 'see each other').
The situation looked bad for Walls! However, on closer examination the cross-wire was not perfect; there was a chance of hitting through the hoop.
The difficulty was that any deflection off the hoop's upright would cause a miss. Hoops in a handicap match are set at ball width plus 1/8th inch [3mm] or the thickness of a £1 coin.
A precision shot, hit exactly through the middle of the hoop was essential. Thus, Walls faced a critical next shot which was, effectively, win or lose.
Walls was up to the challenge and made the hit which allowed him to take back control of the match.
Cautious, controlled and accurate play by Walls saw him remain in control for the remaining turns to run the final 4 hoops and peg out.
This was certainly a very close match with excellent play and tactics by both competitors and, at the end of play, the final score was 26-14 in favour of Walls.