By CHRIS GILMORE
BYRON Bay's Max Donati could be considered one of Australia's elite athletes, up there with the likes of George Gregan, Darren Lockyer or Adam Gilchrist.
He has represented Australia since 1998, and is heading to England later this year to compete in the world championships in his sport.
But who is Max Donati, you say?
Donati is one of the best croquet players in Australia ? runner-up in the Australian men's singles in Hobart in March, and runner-up in the Australian Open in March 2004.
Aged 46, he first wore the green and gold from 1998 to 2000, and after a hiatus of a few years, he will make his return to the world championships in the singles in England in early August.
But don't think Max will be too worried about training for the event.
"I don't really practise," he said.
"I certainly won't be going for a 60km bike ride.
"A month before I'll start honing out my swing and practise 18-yarders and ball movement."
And while Max says there's some hand-eye co-ordination required, it's as much mental as physical.
"Croquet is the third most scientific game after chess and billiards," he said.
Max first played croquet 12 or 13 years ago.
"I used to play golf, and a friend one day took us along to play a game of croquet.
"I won State and national titles after that.
So for the unenlightened, how do you play croquet?
"If you were to fly down and sit on a fence and watch lawn bowls, I think it would take five minutes to figure out," he said.
"But if you were to sit on a fence and watch croquet for three days, I still don't think you'd have any idea what was going on.
"It's all about trying to get around a set course before the opposition does, but it can be like snooker as well."
Max said Australia was probably the second best croquet nation in the world behind Great Britain.
He said competitors at the world championships were 99 per cent men, and mostly under 50 years old.
He said Robert Fulford, from England, and Reg Banford, from South Africa, were the superstars in the world of croquet.
"They're definitely not pin-up boys though, I'll tell you that," he laughed.
n The cost of national representation is not cheap. Any offers of sponsorship would be appreciated by Max. He can be contacted on 6685 7314.