A Commentary on 2011 Golf Croquet World Championship.

A Commentary on 2011 Golf Croquet World Championship.

2011 Golf Croquet World Championship at Hurlingham
A Commentary on the Commentaries.
Evan Newell.

Two commentaries are to be found on the Web that do not, in my opinion, provide a balanced view of the Hurlingham World Golf Croquet Championship of July 2011. The two to which I refer are:

Chris Clarke’s “opinion” as recorded on the dedicated Championship web site.
Mohammad Kamal’s “post-mortems” of the Championship to be found at “croquetworld.com”.

I certainly take issue with aspects of Chris Clarke’s “opinion”. He begins by observing that it is the nature of Golf Croquet to be random and “we could play this event 50 times and have 10 different winners. I don’t believe the same would apply in AC”. This is nonsense as any analysis of the past winners of the Championship will show. In the 8 prior events, Khalid Younis has won 3, Salah Hassan has won 2, Ahmed Nasr has won 2 and Mohammed Nasr has won 1. Each of those players was either pre-tournament favourite or second favourite.

And what about Mark McInerney and Hisham Aboesbaa? Again to quote Chris Clarke “I certainly don't believe that these two players are the best two in the event and I don't believe that they have played the croquet in the event”. This is also makes very little sense. To begin with and as a matter of fact, Hisham is a prior finalist and of course Mark has already been, not once but twice, a semi-finalist. I would respectfully suggest that few sports over a period of 15 years have shown such admirable consistency and I was not the only person (as described below) who publically nominated both of them as leading contenders.

And to continue analysing the view of Chris that Hisham and Mark were probably not the best players (although the commentary carefully avoids directly stating who these players might be), consider the following. There was a suggestion that the second half of the Draw was easier than the top half (making Hisham’s progress easier?). However I cannot imagine how anybody can argue that a draw that contains - Reg Bamford, Sherif Nafee, Moustafa Nezar (the under 21 champion), Amr Baher and Hamish McIntosh who (as we were to discover) reached the semi after knocking out Sherif Nafee - is an easy draw unless the commentator has not played any of them recently. Hisham came through against all of them and (again as described below by Mohammad Kamal) had Reg in deep trouble long before the controversial refereeing decision. Overall I think it is reasonable to suggest that Hisham (who won his block and dropped no games in the knockout until he met Mark) was only confirming his 2010 form of defeating Stephen Mulliner (one of the most consistent player over many years in both disciplines) at the over 50’s World Championship in Cairo.

Now turning to Mark’s half of the Draw, we discover that the main (and perhaps only) reason that the number one seed and defending World Champion Ahmed Nasr failed to reach the final was that he met Mark on the way. But look at Ahmed’s form up to that moment. He had dropped only two games (not matches) in Block play. One was to Hamish McIntosh (no disgrace as Hamish became an eventual semi-finalist) and the other to (who else?) Mark. In the knockout, Ahmed was untroubled until meeting Mark in the semi-final, conceding no games and never more than 4 hoops in any of those games and this included playing one of the most consistent players on the circuit (and prior semi-finalist) the aforementioned Stephen Mulliner whom he beat 7:4 7:3. All the indications are that Ahmed was playing at the top of his form and was effectively unchallenged except by Mark.

I dare say it is possible to analyse too much. But with regard to this Championship almost no analysis at all is needed to work out that Mark who won 6 out of 7 Block games (the other one being a loss on the 13th hoop of the final game against the top seed) and then defeated both Nasr brothers to reach the final where he overcame the current over 50’s World Champion has done so because he is probably the best current player. It is as simple as that. All the indications are that Mark (and Hisham) thoroughly merited their place in the final. I do not feel it necessary to comment on the speculation of “if we could play this event again” as rampaging elephants might invade the Hurlingham Lawns requiring further replays until a “satisfactory result is obtained.

On the other hand Mohammad Kamal writing for “croquetworld.com” has, perhaps, a more reasoned view. In preliminary observations after the Block Play was completed, he identified Mark McInerney and Hisham Aboesbaa as possible semi-finalists and in his post-mortem of the final, attested to the level of skill exhibited. He further argued that the exit of Reg Bamford from the Championship in the semi-finals was not just because of one unfortunate referring decision but also because, up to that moment, Reg had been quite simply outplayed by Hisham.

Mohammad then analysed that we were observing “a paradigm shift” in golf croquet tactics, (the details of which can be read on the website). The essence of the argument is the demise of the hard hitters (mostly Egyptians) in favour of quiet accuracy around the hoops. This is, however, going too far, much too far. I am quite sure that in the next World Golf Croquet Championship we will see plenty of “Big Hitters” the best of who will be amongst the favourites to win the tournament. For example the junior champion Moustafa Nezar was unbeaten in his block as was Ahmed Nasr (who was observed to hit many quiet shots) and I expect to see both of them at the forefront of battle next time.

For the record, the unbeaten block performance was also matched by some of the so called “soft and accurate” hitters such as Robert Fulford. But then consider the style of Reg Bamford (also unbeaten in his block). Where would you place him in the definition of soft or hard hitters? He is clearly somewhere in between. And that indeed is the answer. The tactics of soft, hard or in between are all valid winning tactics. As to which will be successful for any particular event depends on many variables. First and foremost is the ability of the player. Thereafter such considerations as the smoothness of the lawns, weather conditions or the type of hoops and balls come into play. No doubt the best players will be able to switch from one to the other as required. This is no different to top class golfers who overcome gales and rain in Scotland or the lightning speed and heat of Augusta.

Mohammad Kamal then suggests that Egyptian Lawns need to be improved if they are to remain competitive and learn the “soft and accurate” way. But this of course is not true either. There are several soft hitting tactical top class Egyptian Players brought up on those lawns and of these the best is currently (presumably!) Hisham himself who, it must be remembered, reached the first ever final in Milan in 1996 where he lost to another “reasonably modest” hitter Khalid Younis.

So let me sum up my analysis of the 2011 World Championship. We have not seen the end of Egyptian style Golf Croquet. It is a vindication of the skill of Mark McInerney to survive and triumph over all of the other competitors with their varying styles including the Egyptian challenge. Mark has the ability to play soft or hard and will choose whatever mix he deems to suit the conditions. It is this variety of effective styles that makes Golf Croquet such an interesting challenge. Of particular interest was the clever use of a refined tactic in the final, the “ultra-quiet” take out where, If the striker has two balls close to the hoop as against one of the opponent, then a clearance of just a few metres holding position is more than sufficient to leave the opponent with no obvious riposte. And we also saw the emergence of new young talent from other countries. In particular take note of semi-finalist Hamish McIntosh from New Zealand who defeated two top ranked Egyptians before succumbing to a third in Hisham. Nor should we forget the unfortunate James Goodbun from England: three match points against the eventual winner. Maybe even Mark does not know how he got out of that one.

It is a “paradigm shift”. The old guard had better watch out! Evan Newell.

Watch Evan's video compilation of the event here.