History of the competition
The first parts of this article, through the 1979 Series, are adapted from The History of Croquet by D.M.C. Prichard.
Test Match Croquet began in 1925, when the Victorian Croquet Association sent a team of four players to England to contest an international croquet match. The Australian self-made millionaire Sir MacPherson Robertson (see The man behind the Shield) sponsored the event and presented the trophy, to be known as The MacRobertson Shield. The 1925 Series was something of a mismatch, the visiting team not uniformly representative of Australia’s strongest players, and England won easily.
This pattern of home-field advantage would be repeated throughout the early years of the Shield. In 1927/8 England paid a return visit to Australia. The teams were evenly matched, and Australia eked out a slender victory. New Zealand was invited to participate in the 1930 Series. England was unable to send a team halfway round the world so soon after the previous Series, so 1930 was again a two-way contest. The newcomers were overmatched and the Australians, playing on home soil, won convincingly.
1935 was the first triangular Series. Australia was allowed to host the contest for the third time in a row, in honor of Victoria’s centenary celebrations. Australia edged out England to retain the Shield. More than a thousand spectators were on hand for one of the matches.
The contest was reduced to two countries again in 1937, New Zealand being unable to send a team to England at that time. The Australian team was of a reasonable standard but the home team dominated the Series nonetheless.
After the war
World War II put croquet and the Shield into abeyance, and it was not until 1950/1 that the competition resumed in a two-way contest, with an English team travelling to New Zealand. England’s team was a mixed bunch, and New Zealand won the Shield for the first time, two test matches to one. In 1956 New Zealand travelled to England, where the host team won all three tests.
The Shield resumed as a three-way competition in New Zealand in 1963. England was able to send a first-rate team and won the Shield handily, the first time a visiting team had done so. England repeated the feat in 1969 in Australia. And in 1974, now designated Great Britain, they would win at home for the fourth time in a row.
The modern era
In the 1979 test matches in New Zealand, the standard of play at the “MacRob” reached a new high, exemplified by New Zealand player Paul Skinley’s sextuple peel in the final test match. Also including legendary players Bob Jackson, John Prince and Joe Hogan, the home team dominated the Series to finally break Great Britain’s streak.
The 1982 Series in Australia was remarkably competitive all around. Despite returning four of the six players from their victorious 1979 squad, New Zealand tallied a disappointing 0-6 test match record, four of these losses by a single match. Australia and Great Britain split their first two tests, then in what was ultimately the deciding test Great Britain edged Australia 5-4. A heartbreaking loss for the Australians, this was the closest they have yet come to winning the Shield since their last win in 1935.
With the return of Bob Jackson, the New Zealand team was back to full strength for the 1986 Series in Great Britain. New Zealand won five of their six test matches, four by convincing margins.
Current World #1 Robert Fulford made his MacRobertson Shield debut at the 1990 Series in New Zealand, winning all four of his singles matches as the Great Britain & Ireland team won the series. 1990 also introduced the current format of 21-match tests. Great Britain & Ireland won the deciding test against New Zealand 12-9.
America joins in
The United States was admitted to the competition at the 1993 Series in Australia. While struggling against the top two teams, and failing to win any tests, Team USA scored respectably against the host team. Great Britain & Ireland won all three of their preliminary nine-match tests, and then won the deciding test against New Zealand 17-3.
The Americans were more of a threat in 1996 in Great Britain, charging to a 5-2 lead over New Zealand in the first two days of play. The Kiwis evened the match at 7-all after two more days, and ultimately won the test 12-9. Great Britain then dealt the “Yanks” a dispiriting 20-1 loss, en route to retaining the Shield by comfortable margins in all three of their test matches.
The 2000 Series
Great Britain retained the Shield at Christchurch in 2000, extending their current streak to four consecutive MacRobertson Shield wins. But the win came only after a dramatic final showdown against New Zealand.
That the deciding test match would be so close could not have been predicted from the results of the first two rounds. In the opening week of the Series, Great Britain routed Australia 20-1. Meanwhile the United States stayed close to New Zealand, pulling to within 6-8 after four days of play, before losing the test 8-13. The pattern repeated in week 2. Great Britain easily beat the USA, 19-2, while Australia stayed level with New Zealand through the first three days of the test, before falling behind to lose 7-14.
But New Zealand’s strong start to the final week quickly changed the tenor of the Series. They won the first doubles round 2-1, then split the first singles round to hold a 4-3 lead after two days. The good results, combined with enthusiastic spectator support from the home crowd, seemed to give the New Zealand team a huge psychological boost. And suddenly the Great Britain team were no longer front-runners.
On day 3 Great Britain pulled even at 5 all, finishing the day with a dramatic turn from David Maugham. His partner had been pegged out, and Maugham finished the game with a full-court roquet followed by a huge break pick-up, approaching the sixth hoop from a ball in corner 3.
Great Britain won three of the four singles matches on day 4, building an 8-6 lead. But New Zealand responded by winning two of the three doubles matches on day 5, pulling to 8-9. As on day 3, the last game of the day went to a three-ball end game with a tense finish, and again the match went in favor of Great Britain.
On the final day of the 2000 Series, Stephen Mulliner quickly beat Bob Jackson to put Great Britain “on the hill” at 10-8. Richard Baker handed Robert Fulford his first-ever loss in a MacRobertson Shield singles match to make it 10-9. Then yet another three-game match ended with a tense three-ball finish, as New Zealand’s Steve Jones beat Chris Clarke to tie the test at 10-all.
The only remaining match was Toby Garrison v. David Maugham, tied at one game apiece. The final game had many changes of the innings, with Garrison shooting particularly well, but Maugham making fewer errors. The final turn was a triple peel by Maugham, superbly performed on difficult court conditions, and clinching game, match, test match and Shield for Great Britain.
A few minutes later, the Australia v. United States test match finished in an uncannily similar way. USA had led after each of the first four days of play, but Australia tied the match 9-all on day 5. With the score at 10-all, and the final match at one game apiece, John Taves and Jerry Stark won the deciding game to give the United States its first-ever MacRob Test Match victory, and third place overall in the MacRobertson Shield.