Croquet: The sport where Britain rules the lawns

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What sport was invented in Ireland and held its first Open championship in Evesham in 1867? The answer is croquet. The following year it was held at that other nearby sporting hot spot, Moreton-in-Marsh, before ending up at Wimbledon, where it became part of the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

Britain may not dominate the sporting world in the way it once did, but at croquet it is still the best. Last weekend in Bunbury, Western Australia, Robert Fulford beat his fellow Briton, Steve Mulliner, 3-1 to win his fourth World title.

The World Championship is a relative newcomer compared to the Open Championship and has only been held since 1989.

The official World croquet web site contains results of all the matches with the scores, which remain a complete mystery to me, and daily reports from Wendy Davidson, editor of Croquet Australia. "The audience were entertained by world-class croquet, both Fulford and Mulliner playing to a standard rarely seen in Australia," she said. In the fourth game of the final "again Mulliner muffed, missing the roquet, and Fulford finished the game."

With most newspapers ignoring the event, the only way true croquet lovers could follow the championship was via the internet. The site contained profiles and photos of all the participants.

If you think that you do not have to be fit to play croquet, then think again. The site contains notes on how beneficial croquet is as an exercise and "some stretches and rolls to prepare your body for play".

There is the shoulder backstretch and the finger stretch. For the latter one must "hold the mallet with both hands near the head. Release the lower hand, stretch fingers out and re-grasp above the other hand. Repeat with alternative hands climbing up the shaft". There are also shoulder rolls and the spinal roll-up.

There is no let-up in the close season with players advised to continue the exercises to prevent any early season stiffness.

Croquet is one of the few sports where women compete as equals with men (the Open Championship has been won by three women in its history) and where age is no barrier.

So go to your attics and garden sheds, search out those mouldy half-broken Jacques croquet sets, straighten those hoops, repaint those balls, repair those mallets and start knocking balls around the lawn to continue Britain's world domination.

- Edward Abelson


World Croquet Championship Official Site: wcc97/

Croquet World Online Magazine: http://www. home.html

World Croquet Federation: http://www.personal.

The Croquet Association: croquet/cahtml.html

Croquet World Rankings: croquet/worldrnk.html

UK Croquet Clubs Directory: johng/ukclubs.htm