‘So near, yet so far-again!’ The Stage 2 ICC took place at Bishops Stortford as once again Hertfordshire were the host County, with the Men’s 035 team hoping for a place in the Finals weekend in Pontefract. Another encounter with Surrey and another loss, though this time a fairly convincing one, meant we fell at the first hurdle!
Good news at the outset: Stacey Ross is in NY, bad news: we lose our #4 Simon Evans through injury the Thursday beforehand. Never-the-less the usual combatants are at hand and with newly signed ‘youngster’ Keith Timms at #1 I feel optimistic. However, its short lived, very short lived in fact, as we lose at 5, and 3 and then 4 in quick succession, and have effectively lost before Ali at #2 and the greyhound at #1 really get going!
The quality of the Surrey lower order has caught us out and we really struggle. Newcomer Oli Latham at #5 looks promising and plays very well in patches winning a tight second game, though ultimately too many errors and first time nerves get the better of him, and he loses 4-1. However, he is young, DOB in the 80’s-which is a novelty-and will be a strong addition to the team in years to come.
James Clyne at #4, as the late replacement for Simon, starts well albeit losing a tight opening game 10-12. However, the next two games are one-way traffic. We aren’t sure what was said to the Surrey player after the opener, but he didn’t make a mistake in the 2nd and 3rd and quicker than a cross-court kill from a return of serve, we are 2 nil down.
Meanwhile, both Geoff at #3 and Ali at #2 start off well and quickly go one-up. However, this renaissance is short lived and from then on they both struggle to read their opponents game, and a number of loose shots and uncharacteristic errors mean they are both dispatched rather limply 3-1! (no offence lads!)
We are now 17-3 down and it’s looking pretty dire! Undeterred, Keith takes to the court and puts on a gritty and determined display against a slightly ‘larger’ and rather ‘shabbier’ looking Neil Frankland, and a sole victory suddenly becomes a possibility. Alas, the Surrey #1 may look like a washed up father Christmas but he still has the shots, and his almost telepathic reading of the game means the Herts man struggles to exert his superior fitness and movement. Ultimately, Keith loses in five, though I have no doubt the outcome would have been different if it weren’t a dead rubber. Result: Herts 0 v Surrey 5 (5-20). So, barring a miracle our challenge has been thwarted.
Next match up, Surrey v Kent. Having spoken to the Kent Captain beforehand we agree that second place is probably the best either County can hope for. However, the Surrey #2 can’t play this match and so their team moves up the order, and they bring in a new #5. Will this have a negative impact? It’s not evident from the outset as the new Surrey man ‘bagels’ his opponent in the first, and goes on to win 3-0 in about 9 mins! 1 nil Surrey.
However, complacency is a funny thing, whether they knew Herts were the bigger threat, and having beaten us so convincingly took their foot of the gas, who knows, but the middle order now start to struggle, and what appeared at the outset to be a ‘foregone’ conclusion now becomes a bit of an arm wrestle.
On court 1 the ‘Surrey Santa Claus’ starts off at a pace and wins the opening game 11-1. However, the Kent 3 and 4 are making it hard work for a Surrey team who look in disarray. 1-0, 1-1, 1-2, 2-2, its nail biting stuff!! J Meanwhile, back on court 1, Neil’s constant dialogue and witty banter is taking its toll on the Kent #1 who eventually succumbs 3-1. 2 nil Surrey.
Kent then take the 3rd string in 5 tight games, as does the #3, so it’s now 2-2. I can hardly contain myself, Is everyone keeping up? The Kent #2 loses a tight third game to go 2-1 down and the ‘writing is on the wall’. Or is it…. The Surrey player then experiences what can only be described in squash terms as an ’absolute shocker’, and almost forgets how to play the game, losing the 4th 11-0 and the fifth 11-4. It was sad to witness, he was last seen dribbling in the carpark talking to himself, and whether he ever plays again is debatable… L Kent, against the odds, beat Surrey 3-2. (15-12)
So, its all to play for, and with certain permutations theoretically all three Counties can now win… Well, in reality, they can’t, as those who are good with figures will already have noticed unless we beat Kent and secure a points haul of 28, Surrey are almost certain to win the group! NB: For those of limited intellect, we can’t now win, as the maximum points haul is 20, so we are playing for pride.
This match sees the arrival of yet more Stortford superstars, Fred Cook at #4 and Vince Lawrence making his debut at #5. The new boy set off like an old dray horse, rather cumbersome and possibly lame in the right leg, a bit tentative as if he has never ventured onto these home courts before, yet still managing to secure the opening game in a 19-17 marathon. Unfortunately, that really was as good as it got, as the initial exertions took their toll and his Kent opponent ran away with the next 3 games. 1 nil Kent.
However, over on court 1 we were witnessing a resurgence, whether it was the pint(s) of beer at lunch or the ‘nothing to lose’ attitude, Geoff was quite literally blowing his opponent off court. Though we did have to open the windows for a period in the second game. Wielding his racket like a wand, this northern magician was causing all sorts of problems, with his rabbit up the sleeve and pigeon under the T shirt trickery, the crowd were treated to a right old exhibition of squash I can tell thee… 3-0, and its 1 all.
Next up, the cheeky cock-er-ny, never one to take things too seriously, always playing with a light and relaxed manner, Fred Cooke. His opponent, Antonio Sloppyguisseppio, off the back of a hard fought 3-2 victory was not going down easily, and would take some licking if he was to be put back in his box, and the lid closed on him once and for all! 11-9, 9-11, 7-11, 11-7, 2-2, the match was a thing of beauty, back and forth, like two 15 stone Nureyev’s they glided around the court, displaying a style of squash that is almost unwritedownable… Fred finally stuck in the the fork winning 11-7 in the fifth, 2-1 Herts.
Meanwhile, back on court 1 a totally different form of squash was on display, as Keith ‘Running Man’ Timms was teaching his slightly lighter opponent the subtle arts of ‘retrieval’. Never keen to win 3-0, and more than happy to spend 2 or 3 hours on court, the Herts Harrier was slowly grinding out a victory, and, like the indomitable sands of time, there really was ever going to be one winner. That’s actually a disservice as every 80 or 90 shots Keith does play a drop shot…. A clinical straight sets victory. 3-1 Herts.
Finally, Ali Coker enters the fray deciding to play on the slightly warmer court 2, and hoping to deliver the ‘coup de gras’. NB/ This comment has been included for its literary impact rather than its physical accuracy, as clearly at this juncture it is impossible to lose!
Never the less, anyone who has watched Ali toil on court knows only too well that Victory and Loss are never too far apart, even when one seems a certainty! Taking the first 12-10 he then settled into some controlled and thoughtful squash before convincingly losing the second 11-6….. J A blot on the copybook as he won the next two easily, 12-10, 11-9 and gave Herts a 4-1 victory. (18-6)
So, ultimately not quite good enough, with Surrey topping the table on 32pts and Herts and Kent trailing on 23 and 21pts respectively. However, I cannot fault the desire and commitment of my team and as Captain, albeit non-playing, I must congratulate the squad in general for consistently punching well above its weight. A squad strong in depth and strengthened by the sum of its parts. “On, on, you noblest English” See you all in October.
The timings, names and factual accuracy of this report may have been altered, embellished or refined to protect the integrity of my squad, and my lawyers have therefore assured me I cannot be held accountable for any libellous action that may be forthcoming.