Kiwis finally break MacRobertson Shield drought
There was plenty of emotion among the New Zealand croquet team as they celebrated a first MacRobertson Shield win in 28 years, but Toby Garrison had reason to shed an extra tear or two.
In what could potentially be his final fling in the world's premier croquet teams' event due to family commitments - the 36-year-old and his wife Karen have two children under 3 - Garrison gained some personal redemption on a red-letter day for his team as they broke the drought with a memorable victory on home soil.
It was Garrison who clinched the 11th and winning point against England at Mt Maunganui yesterday, 14 years after he lost the title-deciding match in an 11-10 defeat to Great Britain in 2000.
"That was an emotional moment in 2000 and this was equally as emotional, it was huge for everyone in the team," an almost speechless Garrison said yesterday.
"No-one has won this other than Great Britain since 1986, so this win is about a lot of things for us. It's a big moment in New Zealand croquet."
The Kiwis led 9-6 going into the final six singles matches yesterday and wrapped up the test by winning the first two games of the day, taking an unassailable 11-6 lead.
Following comprehensive wins against the United States in Christchurch and Australia in Hawke's Bay, the hosts were crowned champions for the first time since 1986 and for just the fourth time since 1925.
Great Britain had a stranglehold on the "MacRob" since New Zealand's last triumph but, playing under the England banner for the first time since then, they were outgunned by the Kiwis, who had to be mentally and physically strong during the series of three five-day tests, with only one rest day in between tests.
Skipper Aaron Westerby beat Stephen Mulliner 26-9 26-1 then veteran Garrison beat England captain Samir Patel 26-12 26-15 to wrap up the tie yesterday.
"We're on cloud nine at the moment," Garrison said. "It's been such a long time between drinks."
Garrison predicted a huge night of celebration and he hoped some of the players who last won the MacRob for New Zealand, in 1986, would join them.
"What's also been great is that a lot of the 1986 team members like John Prince, Roger Murfitt and Joe Hogan have been supporting us during the last three weeks; they've treated it as their summer holiday and followed us around the country.
"It's pretty special for us and pretty special for them."
The only member of the Kiwi team who had previously won a MacRobertson Shield was No 1 Chris Clarke, who was a regular winner with Great Britain but played for New Zealand for the first time this year. He lives in Christchurch with his Kiwi-born wife Jenny, who is also in the New Zealand team.
"Chris has won it numerous times but no other current playing New Zealander has ever won the shield so it's huge," Garrison said, praising the contribution of Chris Clarke during the past three weeks.
"Technically Chris is one of, if not the best in the world, he's been there and done it so he's been able to pass on his own experience and thoughts, and obviously he's a brilliant player, too."