World Croquet Federation
Hall of Fame
Keith Francis Wylie grew up in Cambridge, the eldest son of an academic family, and was educated at Winchester and at King's College, Cambridge, where he read mathematics. It was at Cambridge in the mid-1960s that he began playing croquet, one of a long series of players who took up the game while undergraduates, encouraged by Mrs. Heley, who entertained the university club on her private lawn. Many of the Cambridge players in the annual Varsity matches against Oxford, a fixture revived in 1961, eventually achieved the highest honours in the game, but Wylie stood out as the most brilliant of them all.
Within five years he had won the three major titles in British croquet, the President's Cup in 1967, the Men's Championship in 1968 and the Open Championship in 1970 where he beat Nigel Aspinall in the final. Defending the last of these titles in 1971, again facing the formidable Aspinall, he completed a sextuple peel in the second game of the final to complete his victory. This manoeuvre had never before been achieved in such an important game and it established Wylie as one of the game's greats. But, by turning down the possibility of selection for the Great Britain MacRobertson Shield team which went to Australia in 1969, he had already demonstrated his reluctance to take croquet too seriously – or, as some would say, seriously enough.
After leaving Cambridge as an undergraduate, he decided to become a barrister and returned to Cambridge in 1975-6 to read Law. He represented the University in a match against Colchester and was responsible for inspiring Stephen Mulliner to take up croquet seriously. Keith completed his studies for the Bar in London and joined a set of chambers in Southampton where he spent the rest of his career. While establishing himself as a barrister he played little during the 1970s but, in 1974, he did play in two Test matches in England and then, in 1977, he again won the President's Cup. In 1982 he felt able to join the British MacRobertson Shield team which was due to tour Australia. This was to be his final appearance as a top-ranked player and, in the third Test Match against Australia, he produced another performance to rank with his 1971 triumph.
Australia and Great Britain entered the third and final round of Test Matches with two wins apiece against a New Zealand team weakened by the absence of Bob Jackson and with one victory and one loss to each other. The destiny of the Shield would be therefore decided by the result of their final Test. Having led 4-2 after two days, British prospects turned gloomy when they lost the first two matches on the final day and Keith, who had lost to the formidable Neil Spooner by comfortable margins in their first two encounters, also lost the first game of what soon became the deciding match. However, despite having by now lost five consecutive games to Spooner, Keith lifted his perfomance on a most challenging court and took the next two games to win the match and so achieve victory in the Test and in the Series.
Most of his best performances owed much to his coolness under pressure, which in turn appeared to result from his apparent reluctance to take winning, or the game itself, too earnestly. While others could be overwhelmed by the importance of winning or the occasion, he claimed to be more interested in the intellectual challenge that the game's tactics provide. While this attitude may sometimes have lost him games he might have won, it may also have provided the detachment and calmness needed to prevail on the really big occasions.
What is certain is that at his best he was one of the greatest exponents of the game ever seen, and that the ideas so lucidly and entertainingly expressed in his book "Expert Croquet Tactics" (1985) will remain the basis of intelligent thought and discussion of Association Croquet for years to come.
Wylie died in 1999 aged 54. With his death, croquet lost its then most innovative thinker and the player who did most to confirm it as a game of intelligence and tactics in the latter half of the 20th century. Keith Wylie truly played "chess on grass".