CROQUET:  Keith Wylie Dead at 54

25 November 1999
The Times of London

Keith Wylie, croquet player and barrister, died on November 1 aged 54. He was born on March 29, 1945.

With the death of Keith Wylie, croquet has lost its  most innovative thinker - the player who did most to  establish it as a game of intelligence and tactics,  not just a pastime for the vicarage garden. Keith  Wylie played "chess on grass". Keith Francis  Wylie grew up in Cambridge, the eldest son of an  academic family, and was educated at Winchester  and King's College, Cambridge, where he read  mathematics. It was at Cambridge that he began  playing croquet in the mid-1960s, 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 Varsity  matches, 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 all the major titles in British croquet, the  President's Cup, the Men's Championship and the  Open Championship. Defending the last of these  titles in 1971 he completed a sextuple peel in the  final, a manoeuvre never before or since repeated  in such an important game, establishing himself as  one of the game's greats. But by turning down the  possibility of selection for the Great Britain 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 he studied for the Bar in  London, and joined a chambers in Southampton,  where he spent the rest of his life. While  establishing himself as a barrister he played little  during the 1970s. In 1974 he did play in two Test  matches in England; in 1977 he again won the  President's Cup, and then in 1982 he felt able to  join the British team which went to Australia. In this,  his final appearance as a top ranked player, he  produced another performance to rank with his 1971 triumph, winning the final game of the final  match, on which the whole series depended.

 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, he purported 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 little extra he 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 the game for years to come. He  is survived by his wife, Helen, whom he married in  1988, and by their two sons.