Thursday, October 17, 2013
Budleigh’s Club Championship for Association Croquet reached its climax when Tony Bower and Chris Donovan met in the best-of-three final, writes Elaine Marsh.
Bower, (handicap 1.5), started as slight favourite having won the event four times, but Donovan has shown consistently good form this season - reducing his handicap to two and defeating Cliff Jones, the club’s highest-ranked player, in his semi-final.
Spectators were treated to an evenly-poised match in which the players demonstrated all the skills the game demands: accurate strokes, tactical awareness, concentration and precision in running hoops that were just 1/16th of an inch wider than the diameter of the balls.
Bower started well, hitting a 16-yard roquet which allowed him to take his first ball round the expected first nine hoops and make a near-perfect leave. When Donovan missed the long roquet that he had been left with, it looked as though he would lose the first game in less than an hour.
However, it was at this point that the first of many errors occurred, when Bower missed a comparatively easy roquet after making the first hoop with his second ball. This was to be the pattern for the match with both players producing spells of textbook play interspersed with the occasional lapse of focus.
The first game eventually went to Donovan at plus-10 when he pegged both balls out from near to the final hoop after some two and half hours play.
The second game followed a similar pattern with Bower again making the early running. Donovan caught up, threatening to take the second game and with it the match, before Bower made an excellent recovery in taking his second ball round the last nine hoops, peeling his first ball through its last hoop and pegging out in the same turn to win at plus five.
With all to play for the final game ebbed and flowed as first one player then the other gained the upper hand.
After an hour and a half it was Donovan who was in the lead with one ball needing to make three hoops and the other just one.
Bower then created an opportunity to repeat the recovery he’d made in the second game but in the heat of the moment made a fatal tactical error which allowed his opponent to win the game plus 16, and the match two-one.
Throughout the match both players showed their ability to create breaks from difficult situations and in the end it was Donovan’s willingness to take the aggressive option coupled with better concentration and care which won the day.
Known for his ability to play long, powerful croquet strokes, he also showed surprising delicacy of touch in playing the breaks which resulted from successfully taking on the challenging shots Bower presented him with.
He has become a much more complete player this year, and the club championship rounds off an extremely successful season for him.