Firing the cannons: Robert Fletcher, 22, croquet player
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Sometimes there’s a bit of disbelief when I tell people I’m a croquet champion. I have to do a bit of convincing. I usually just tell them to look it up online if they don’t want to believe me.
My brothers and I were offered free lessons of bowls and croquet at the Lismore Croquet Club. We tried croquet first and really liked it. So we stuck with it.
Both my brothers represented Australia in croquet as well. We sort of came up together. I was playing with other good players, so it was hard to tell if I was a real standout for a while. I wasn’t really concerned about that, I just enjoyed playing the game. It probably took a couple of years until I realised I had a fair bit of natural talent for it.
I live on my parents’ farm. The local community are pretty amazed to have so many good croquet players from the area. I’ve got my two brothers, and another player, Steven Forster, who’s represented the country
People have suggested it might be something in the water. But like a lot of country towns, they’re right into their sport and always very competitive even if it’s just at a local club level.
We did end up making a practice lawn at home. I don’t use it as much now – it was more for when I couldn’t drive into town. When I didn’t have my licence it was pretty handy so I could practice every day on it here.
It’s a funny sport, croquet. You can be quite competitive really – from early teens into your early 60s. But the very elite are generally confined to that 18 to 40 bracket. Similar to golf and snooker.
You can lose it mentally more than physically. It’s common in the sport because there’s a very fine, very fine line between a good shot and a poor shot. And that can play on players’ minds.
There’s a little bit of sledging. But it’s usually not during a match so much. More leading up to it. Particularly Australia versus New Zealand, as you’d expect. But people are usually pretty civil when it comes to the game itself.
Reg Bamford is my arch rival. From South Africa. He’s won the world championships three times himself, and beat me the first time in the semi-finals in 2009 in Florida, and in the final in 2012 as well. So he’d probably be my nemesis, as it were.
It is a slightly unusual dynamic where you can have a guy in his 40s playing a 15-year-old. It presents different challenges – one day you’ll be playing someone who’s 18 and the next day you’ll be playing someone who’s middle-aged or older. It certainly keeps it interesting.
You can never let your guard down. Like all top players in any sport they come at you as hard as they can very early. Try and put the match away quickly. I treat everyone with the same respect. Because sport’s sport, and anyone can beat anyone on a good day.
Croquet is a really good blend, I think. You’ve got the physical skills of snooker, so it’s quite skilful in terms of shot execution and angles. And probably the touch of golf, where you do have to read a lawn. A lawn’s not perfectly flat. And the mental concentration of both. Then you’ve probably got an extra dynamic, the strategy of chess thrown into it. So it’s a very rich game on all sorts of levels.
I’d certainly prefer people to see the competitive side of it. It’s got an interesting history with the sort of garden party type thing, and in America as a backyard sport.
Playing croquet in Egypt was memorable. They play a form called golf croquet, and the Egyptians would be the top country in the world for that. It’s just an odd place to find croquet being played. They’re excellent players – play a very aggressive form of the game and have certainly mastered that. They’re not easy to beat.
I was breeding dwarf rabbits for a while. I thought for a while I must be the only serious croquet player to do that, but no. I’ve found another ex-state rep for croquet who was breeding them, too.
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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Nov 21, 2015 as "Firing the cannons". Subscribe here.