The Under 17 ICT (or County Challenge)

The Inter County Tournament took place just after Easter.  The following report runs through what was a difficult, but enjoyable, three and a half days in Nottingham.



Team:             Alisha Israni, Annie Karn, Megan Porter, Robyn Luckley & Sarah Wilson

Amit Chaudhari, Garrylee McMullen, Philip Pahatouridis, Ruiao Hu & Zarius Ferozepurwalla

Managers:      Alison & Rob Wetherell, Ken Conway

This year’s Inter-County Tournament, now renamed the County Challenge, took place at the end of Easter week at Nottingham University.  With last year’s girls all available and with a little more strength in depth with the boys, we had felt that a finishing position higher than last year’s 32nd was a reasonable possibility and the mid-20s was a fair aim.  As always, however, the draw would be important, and particularly who we had to play in the crucial second round.

Our first group matched us with Essex, Oxford and Shropshire. Annie won the first girls singles against Essex and Alisha got close at second singles but that was about it: Essex won 9-1.  The effects of that defeat seemed to linger into the next match against Oxford and apart from a fine win by Philip in the second boys singles, the team were pretty flat and succumbed to a second 9-1 loss.  In the last match of the day, a good performance was needed against Shropshire, if only to give the team more heart for the remaining three days.  A general heart-to-heart with Coach Rob seemed to do the trick but they still had to contend with national champion Jess Pugh, who duly won her two matches with little trouble.  But Sarah and Philip put a point on the board in the second mixed and then the boys stirred themselves: Amit and Zarius both had good singles wins, followed by Garrylee & Philip and Zarius & Ruiao winning their level doubles in relative ease.  The score ended at 5-all, with the games won at 10-all … but we just lost, by a mere 4 points.  That was really tough.

Rob reckoned that the second round group was going to be difficult and so it proved.  But we started with a win: a close one but a win nevertheless!  Megan scored the first of several wins in mixed partnership with Garrylee.  Amit and Ruiao both had two-end singles victories and two boys doubles wins took the score to 5-all again.  However, Annie in singles and Robyn & Megan in doubles had both managed to take their matches to three ends: that was crucial and gave us the overall result by 12 ends to 10.  The remaining matches in the group were tough and we lost 8-2 to the Isle of Man, 6-4 to Norfolk and 7-3 to Dorset: the boys managed several wins but the girls were finding it a real struggle.

So, having finished 4th in this group, the draw took us into the bottom group along with Somerset, although we did carry forward our win against them.  Now we could not hope for any better than matching last year’s finishing position of 32nd but we would have to win all remaining matches.  Our next match was against Staffs.  Another very tight one.  There were singles wins for Philip and Annie, doubles wins for Garrylee & Philip, Ruiao & Zarius and Garrylee & Megan and, most importantly, three-ended losses for Annie & Sarah, Robyn & Megan and Ruiao.  That gave us the overall victory by one end.  Next up came our neighbours, Durham, and this brought the first wins for Alisha in singles and for Robyn, partnering Megan in level doubles: our second girls pairing had got so close on three occasions already and it was great to see them chalk up a success.  Boys singles wins for Amit and Garrylee, and doubles wins for Ruiao & Zarius and Sarah & Philip gave us a 6-4 overall win.  The last match on Saturday was against Lincolnshire.  Other matches in this group had indicated that this one might be close but we took it 8-2.  Rather surprisingly, Ruiao and Zarius lost their match, bringing to an end their 7 match unbeaten run.  Illness to Megan robbed her and Robyn of a likely win.  So finally to the last match, on Sunday morning against Gloucestershire.  An emphatic 8-2 win left us undefeated in the group and confirmed our final position at 32nd.

The whole event was won by the team from Buckinghamshire, which just edged home after a 5-all match against Yorkshire which they won by 17 points.  We did have a tenuous connection with the top group, in that our former player and national champion Ira Banerjee led Hampshire into a strong third place.  Well done to her – and of course to Bucks.

Overall, it has to be said that this was a little disappointing, as we had thought mid-20s to be eminently achievable.  Our performance against Shropshire, who finished in 25th place, can justify that.  However, despite the preparation and practice sessions, a number of the players still found the matches on the first couple of days to be a daunting proposition.  That they finished strongly is to their credit but we need our team to be more competitive in the second round matches if we are to match our performances with our aspirations.  The same girls will all be available for next year but we need to develop more strong boys in support of the undoubted potential of our two under 15s (Amit and Philip), who are well capable of playing at national level.

Saturday lunchtime had seen an interesting experience for one of the team when Garrylee was apprehended by an officer of the law for … well, being his usual cheeky self.  Being only a young man who is small in stature, he was not finding it easy to look the officer in the eye: had he done so earlier, he might well have twigged that it was all a put-up job, with Ken getting his own back for an earlier indiscretion by Garrylee.  The rest of the team, looking on from a discreet distance, could not hide their delight.

Many thanks to Ken for managing and driving; to Alison for looking after the girls; to Rob for coaching; to Tom and Dan for general support; to them all for dedicating four days of their time to enable our team to attend this great event; and to the supporters – for their support.

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