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.