I was really looking forward to my first visit to Egypt having heard all the stories about their golf croquet brilliance etc from Evan Al-Mighty, aka "Lucky Lucky Evan".
To acclimatise myself to the sunny weather (about 31 degrees in early October), I spent the first week at a remote, paradise-like resort on the Sinai Peninsula, kitesurfing in the warm water of the Red Sea. The 3 hour drive there from Cairo at night-time was hair-raising to say the least. The highway would disappear every now and then due to roadworks and there would be no warning signs - my crazy driver would slam on the brakes, cross over the central reservation and continue at max speed towards oncoming traffic (most of them without their headlights on!). The same drive back to Cairo was far scarier as it was daytime and I could see what was happening.... Egyptian drivers seem to have a death-wish and I thought I was a goner several times.
Despite my concerns, I arrived safely at my destination and was dropped off at my hotel in upmarket Zamalek, on Geziera Island on the Nile, right in the centre of Cairo and a 15 minute walk from the lawns.
At the club I bumped into the other International players (Len Canavan and Sherif Abdelwahab from USA plus Dick Strover and David Openshaw from UK). A short practice session and my mallet began to split along the head due to the harder skin on the Egyptian balls, so I purchased a locally made and much tougher weapon at the club.
The following day a players information meeting took place, just before the championships kicked off and I acquainted myself with the extremely friendly local players, officials and supporters.
There were a total of 16 competitors arranged into 4 blocks, everybody qualified into the knockout stage, seeded according to the block results.
The knockout was best-of-3 games and there was a second-life draw also. Play started at 4.30pm each evening when the air got cooler and went on past midnight under floodlights.
My first (Egyptian) opponent (ever) was Helmi Abdelgayad, ranked no.5 in Egypt and I was pretty psyched-out in this match. Helmi hits the ball hard and is capable of running hoops from all angles and distances. I did not trouble him too much and the score was 7/2, 7/4.
After a half-hour break I played my second match against Moustaffa Essa, currently ranked no.3 I believe. I played well in the first half of this match and won the first easily 7/3. I should have sealed the match in the second game but I missed a very easy hoop 11 to go 6-5 up with the other balls in favourable positions. Tiredness then took over and I lost that game 7/6 and the decider 7/3 also.
The next afternoon, my final match in the block-stage was against Ahmed Yasser, 21 years old and a rising star on the Egyptian scene. I played well for a time in this match, but lost 7/5, 7/4, and so I came last in my block earning me the privilege of playing a block winner in the knockout. This opponent turned out to be Ahmed Nasr (World Champion in 2004 & 2008), who hit the ball incredibly hard and usually accurately. Ahmed fired at one hoop and hit the wire full-on, the force of which opened up a fissure in the ground like an earthquake, about a foot back from the hoop, which the referee had to repair before my shot. The spectators usually get out of way when he's firing in their direction, as the 4 foot steel fence surrounding the lawns is no protection against his hard-hitting! Again I played well for a time against Ahmed, but couldn't keep up the pace and lost something like 7/3, 7/5.
I had one more chance in the knockout, and was drawn against Len Canavan, and this was my only victory in the week. This I won comfortably, despite dropping a game where I rushed him through hoops 3 and 4. Next opponent was Alaa Abdelnour, who won this event the last two years running. I didn't get going in this match until the second game, but went down 7/4, 7/6. I had one shot at hoop 13 but it was not Allah's will that the match would go to a third game. So, except for my first match I played well in the others, but only for a time in each match. For next year I need to work on maintaining focus/concentration for longer.
The final was an all-Egyptian affair as expected. Sherif Nafaa beat Ahmed Yasser in a 5-game thriller 2/7, 7/6, 7/6, 5/7, 7/5 to take the US$ 2,000 first prize.
Away from the courts, I visited the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza and went into the Great Pyramid. These were very interesting. Also remarkable is the fact that the city runs right up to them, as I had always thought that they were miles out in the desert. The Egyptian Museum was awe-inspiring with Tutenkahmoun's treasure and countless other antiquities.
The world-famous Khan El Khalili souq was good fun, haggling with shopkeepers and checking out the spices and other wares. We went early in the morning and unfortunately it wasn't as busy as normal as it was also 6th of October, one of their main holidays commemorating the 1973 war.
We had quite a few 1am dinners on the Marriott Hotel's swanky outdoor terrace. A very nice meal on one of the Nile's floating restaurants and a closing dinner at the Geziera Clubhouse, as guests of the Egyptian Croquet Federation. One highlight was being invited out to Saha's parents house for a fantastic lunch on the final day.
Thanks to Amir Ramses and the Egyptian Croquet Federation for a great tournament and I look forward to visiting Cairo again (Insha'Allah) and renewing friendships with the incredibly warm and hospitable Egyptians.