Melbourn won 19-4
The first half of the season had started really well for the 2nds, with a 20-0 win away at Stamford 3rds. It ended on a slightly more downbeat note with a second defeat of the campaign in the final week of fixtures before Christmas but given the rest of the results (and the tone set by the Stamford game) this wasn’t enough to stop Melbourn sitting pretty at the top of the tree over the holidays. But what would the New Year bring? Well, once again a start against Stamford, but at home this time. And an early one as despite the long travel the visitors were at the club and warming up ahead of the scheduled start time, which consequently made for a prompt start.
Things kicked off with the third and fifth strings, Moises Estrelles Navarro taking on Adam Brown in the later and Colm O’Gorman facing Ian Bell in the former. Moises was making his league debut for the side (though he has played for the club in the Herts Summer League previously), with his opponent almost as inexperienced in Cambs League terms. What followed was an exceedingly close and extremely enthusiastic game as both players proved to be fast, highly willing retrievers of seemingly lost causes. There was next to nothing between them in the first two games, but Moises ended them 2-0 down after the second game went against him on a tie-break. It would have been easy for the home player to be disappointed after that, but rather than folding to lose 3-0 Moises dug in impressively to claw it back to 2-2. Now he was in the ascendency… only to start game 5 slowly, falling 8-3 down. Though Moises stabilised after that the early deficit proved unrecoverable and he lost 11-15, 14-16,
Meanwhile Colm and Ian were not only battling each other, but also trying to cope with the walls on Court 1 having gone totally unresponsive as a result of the sub-zero temperatures outside… and one of the two heaters being out of action. Oh, and extra external walls. All told, any balls not absolutely muscled were having the life sucked out of them on contact with a surface, meaning clipped shot became floating ones but also any ball muscled enough to get into a back corner dropped it’s rucksack and set up camp there in a manner that conveyed “Here will do – and I’m never leaving!” Both players found the conditions tough, but for two games Colm had Ian guessing enough to run through them comfortably. The third saw Colm lose his way and allow Ian to start dictating play, which resulted in one against the head but by the fourth Colm was back in the swing, getting the ball deep enough often enough to wrap up a 15-9, 15-7, 9-15, 15-8 success.
Jan (2) followed Colm into the icy wastes of Court 1, ready to take on David Harris who was playing his last game before zooming off to Portugal for the latest leg of the European Masters Series (David would finished 8th of 20 in that). Perhaps David’s game was already in warm weather mode but he never seemed to adapt to the deadness of the court in the same way that Jan managed, the Melbourn player deliberately wildly overhitting the ball to get enough oomph on to fly it past David and deep into the back corners where the ball felt very comfortable and extremely loathe to ever leave. This resulted in David deep in the court whilst Jan was able to hug the service line as his opponents shots had all the bite drawn out of them by the cold walls instead sitting up to be put away. It was essentially one way traffic, Jan winning 15-5, 15-7, 15-9.
Something similar was happening next door where Gareth (4) was taking on Tim Collins. Even though Court 2 was quite as arctic the back corners were still pretty lifeless and Gareth was finding that balls he powered into them were going to stay there. This was manna from heaven for the Melbourn player – tell Gareth to hit the ball *very hard* and that is the strategy and he is a happy man. That is a real “Can do, mate!” moment. Add in Gareth’s recent development of a well disguised jabby little drop shot and you had an overall package brilliantly suited to the court conditions. As the match went on Gareth got more and more confident and Tim further down, resulting in a cruise to a 15-8, 15-9, 15-6 victory.
The numbers 1, Mike for Melbourn and Neal Cooke of Stamford, waited out Gareth’s match so they could go on the
warmer less cold court, no. 2. Mike started well, racing into a 7-1 lead in the opening game with Neal oddly giving up on chasing some balls – one drop shot of Mike’s in particular which wasn’t all that tight became a clean winner it didn’t really deserve to be. At that point there seemed to be a certain amount of the league position and overall match score playing a part in proceedings, with Neal subconsciously expecting to be overwhelmed when the gap between him and Mike was nowhere near as large as that. This could also explain why the games scores got gradually tighter as the match progressed and Neal got more confident that he wasn’t in over his head. But even if Mike wasn’t massively the better player he was still also reasonably obviously the stronger of the two, and his eventual 15-7, 15-7, 15-9 success came as little surprise.