Well, it came round very quickly and was finished all too soon – although all the team and management were very glad to get home for a bit of Sunday relaxation. The result – 25th out of 35: not quite as good as last year’s excellent result but pretty much what we had expected and maintaining the improvement over several of the more recent years. Considering that the team included five players new to the event and that four of them were under 15s, the overall result and many of the individual performances were really encouraging.
This year’s team was
Anna Railton, Ellie Roberts, Emily Harrison, Rachel Bogan and Sarah Wilson; Andrew Hogg, Ashraf Alam, George Moran, Gyan Chadda and Jamie Tinnion. “The Management” were Alison and Rob Wetherell, David Murray, Richard Taylor and Robyn Luckley. As usual the venue was the magnificent campus of Nottingham University, although we have to wait until next year for the wonderful new, 20-court sports hall to be open.
The first round had us in a group with Kent (one of the top seeded teams), Dorset and Staffordshire. Kent were up first and although we lost 1-9 there were some pretty creditable performances. Ashraf pushed one of the country’s top under 15s, Rory Easton, in a tremendous game but lost in three ends. Likewise, Emily at top singles and the second girls’ pairing of Ellie & Rachel took their games into the third end. Sarah & Emily scored our one victory 15-10, 15-11. Our second match was against Dorset and looked like our best chance of a first round win. Ash and Emily both scored good two end wins and these were followed up with victory at top boys’ doubles for Ash and Gyan. Meanwhile, Ellie & Rachel were hitting it off again and fighting back to win their doubles 15-9, 11-15, 15-11. Rachel is still an under 13, so to score a win so soon in an under 17 event was quite something. It was lovely to see her settling in to the team environment so quickly. However, overall, it was not quite enough and the match was lost 4-6. The third match on Day One, against Staffs, was not so close. We managed to squeeze two three-end wins from the boys, although the Sarah/Emily pairing and Jamie at second singles got close in three-enders. Ashraf’s singles’ win (8-15, 15-7, 15-11) over Jack Buckley, a strong player he had never beaten, was particularly satisfying and Gyan then joined him to win their doubles. Ash’s win over Buckley was clearly the outstanding performance on an encouraging first day and this earned him a round of applause at the evening’s team get-together.
Moving into the second round on Friday, we found ourselves in a group of five counties and first up was Notts, with whom we have had several tight matches in recent years. We had been struggling to make positive starts in the mixed doubles to this point – and so it proved again: eight mixed, all lost in two ends. But Ashraf and Sarah got us on the scoresheet with good singles wins, although both second singles were lost. Back came the girls’ doubles pairs with Sarah & Emily and Ellie & Rachel both winning in two ends, 15-13, 15-10 and 15-10, 15-8 respectively. It was now 4-all and the points’ difference was negligible. However, Ashraf & Gyan could not get close in their doubles and, although Andrew & George made it to 12 in their second end, that was not enough and the match was lost 4-6.
But the tide was about to turn as the team swept aside the Isle of Man with a great 9-1 win to boost their confidence: and what is more, all the team had now registered wins – Anna 15-11, 15-9 at second singles and Andrew & George 15-8, 15-9 at second doubles. The late match on Friday evening was against Cornwall, a feisty crew with their black and white St Piran’s flags all over the place, even on their faces, and a right cacophony of drums and similarly noisy instruments. They needed to be silenced! Time to test the team selection and we (that is the manager, exercising his authority) got it right, going strong on the singles and the top doubles. Both mixed were lost, although the pairs got close in their second ends before Sarah, Ash and Gyan scored straightforward wins in their singles. However, Emily was engaged in a titanic battle against a surprisingly strong (!!!) 4th-ranked Melissa Lin. Having taken the first end 19-17, Emily lost the second to 11 and was always behind in the third but fought back to achieve parity in the closing stages, saving a couple of match points before clinching the win 17-15 at her first opportunity. Relief all round! The grand plan was still working. Both second doubles pairs got close but the Cornish noise had abated as Emily & Sarah and Ash & Gyan swept to convincing victories, giving us a 6-4 win. Emily had earned her plaudits for the match of the day – a great fighting effort. This fighting spirit was also demonstrated by Rachel and Jamie in their two matches, when they had both lost to disputed (and dubious) line calls at match point.
Going into our last round 2 match on Saturday morning, there was just a small chance that we could top the group to make the play-off for places 17 to 20. But that would have needed a 7-3 win over Essex, a bit of a tall order. The two mixed were lost, again, but Sarah and Emily pulled off two excellent singles wins (11-15, 15-4, 16-14 and 14-16, 15-11, 15-10 respectively) to make the score 2-all. Andrew made a promising debut at singles but was unable to take the win. Ash then chalked up another great win (15-13, 15-10) over a higher ranked player, Brandon Ngooi, but though he and Gyan scored another doubles victory, the other level doubles were lost and, with them, the match by 4-6. This meant that, although we had got close, we had finished third in our group behind Essex and Notts, meaning that we would now be playing for places 25 to 28.
Suffolk were our first opponents in the final round and the new round brought a change of fortune in the mixed with Ellie & Jamie winning 15-13, 15-4 and then our young pair of Rachel & George winning 15-13, 12-15, 15-10. Another good three-end win by Ash against a boy of similar ranking was followed by more straightforward victories for Gyan and Emily, although Sarah lost a tough three-ender. Andrew & Jamie became embroiled in a long, tough match at second boys’ doubles but went down 14-16 in the third end. However, Ashraf & Gyan won in three ends before the girls’ pairs of Sarah & Emily and Anna & Ellie took us home to a 6-4 win. The last match on Saturday was against Worcester, a county that we have not faced in recent years. Emily had to dig deep to get past her tough opponent at second singles. But apart from that, and with Ellie & Anna just falling short in a close second girls’ doubles, all the other matches were good two end wins to give us a 9-1 victory. The afternoon and evening were spent relaxing – deservedly!
The final match saw as up against Lincs, who were also undefeated in our round 3 group. We reverted to the team format of aiming for the four singles and top level doubles and this seemed to be going to plan as the mixed were lost to stronger pairings and the boys’ singles were won. However, the girls’ singles raised the blood pressure level somewhat! Sarah was struggling against another left-hander: after losing the first end 14-16, she fought back to take the second 15-5 but the third end slipped away 7-15. Emily took a close first end 16-14 before running away with the second end to 4. Surprisingly, we had not yet had a 5-all match: would this be it? The boys’ doubles were shared to make it 4-all. Going into the deciding girls’ doubles, we were carrying a potentially decisive extra end, won by Sarah: but we still needed to win one of these games. In the end, both Sarah & Emily and Anna & Ellie won their matches in three tight ends to give us a 6-4 win and secure 25th place overall.
It had been another excellent ICT and “the management” were delighted with the team performance and especially with the way that the younger members had settled in and coped with what can be a demandingly noisy and occasionally hostile playing environment. Ashraf’s performance over the four days had been fantastic (only 3 games lost out of 20 played) and the other senior players were not far behind him. It will be sad to lose Sarah, Ellie and Gyan next year as they move on to play more at senior level: but the youngsters had made a big impact and will be working hard over the next year to replace them higher up the order. Well done to the whole team – and many thanks to the coaches and supporters.