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Cambridge III vs Melbourn II (24th January)

Melbourn lost 7-16

The 2nds had stayed top of Division 3 after winning our first match of the new year against Stamford the previous week, but staying there was going to be a challenge as a somewhat new look side headed to Churchill College to take on a Cambridge team who sat in upper mid-table.

The first matches on were two of the less familiar faces as Matt Walker (4) played his first team  match since pre-pandemic (the gap being due to injury) when he took on Sanjay Poria and Moises Estrelles Navarro made his second appearance for the Melbourn winter teams against Toni Coppolaro.
In each case the home player had significant experience in the County Leagues, and made use of it well. Particularly Toni against Moises. Moises obviously had a significant edge in fitness and movement, whilst Toni was much more clued up about creating an opening for a winner and accurate with his shots when he had those gaps. As a for instance, one rally in game 1 saw Toni attempt to play four winners, Moises pinballing around the court picking them up until he had the chance to attack himself to win the point. Which was great… but simply made the score 1-7! And that was the issue. The start of rallies was immensely important: if Moises return was loose or an attempt to force a winner out which gifted Toni the front wall, then the outcome was pretty certain – point to Toni. If Moises got his lines right and got Toni into a back corner, then he had a chance. But that didn’t happen anything like often enough, resulting in a heavy 4-15, 7-15, 6-15 defeat an a very frustrated visiting player.

It wasn’t quite the same thing between Matt and Sanjay as Matt was rather cleaner in his approach than Moises. He was just rusty. And Sanjay was not about to let him get away with that. There were flashes of the old Walker with some nice volley drop kills, but there were also some tins and perhaps more importantly Matt wasn’t yet up-to-speed of a team match with his fitness and movement so was caught out repeatedly by Sanjay putting in counter-boasts. This all led to a 7-15, 10-15, 8-15 reverse. Disappointing, but also a stepping stone towards a fully fit and firing Walker some time in the near future.

Next on was Aidan Hird (3) against Neil Middleton. It was quickly apparent that this match was on Aidan’s racquet, as many are. If he could keep his nerves and error rate in some sort of check, he would win. If not, he could allow Neil to snatch it. As is often the case when Aidan is feeling uncomfortable (i.e. he is playing a team match!) the ball took the brunt of it – the hitting was thunderous rather than the more judicious mix of pace with control that Aidan produces in internal matches at Melbourn. He edged game 1 though, and calmed down a bit to show the Squash he is capable of in second. As the finishing line approached however Aidan got tight again and once more the ball was abused, but he got through it to claim a 15-13, 15-6, 15-12 success.

On the other side Jan Brynjolffssen (2) was taking on James Buckley. Jan got off to a good start, moving nicely despite the dodgy footing (the Churchill courts were somewhat slippery) and finding some good early drop shots. This built an initial 6-1 lead that Jan was just about able to hang on to as James got going to win the opening game 15-13. However, the fact that James was closing the gap was indicative of what was to come as from 6-1 on in the first James’ lines and also his knowledge of the walls and traction of his home court were winning around three points to every two Jan picked up. This saw the match level, and then go 2-1 to the Cambridge player. Jan was back in the contest in the fourth, but a couple of key errors with the score at 12-11, and then again on Match Ball (the WORST possible time!) saw him fall 3-1. The game scores (Jan first) were 15-13, 10-15, 9-15, 12-15.

The top string match had started prior to Jan finishing, which meant Mike Herd (1) didn’t know whether his game against Keith Mabey would be decisive or not. This proved important as the encounter was lung-busting, and that extra motivation was crucial to keep Mike pushing through for the short balls. Keith, who came into the match with an impressive record of just one defeat all season, was playing nice Squash, particularly when the ball was up high. Mike was also operating at an extremely high standard. Keith’s play was a bit flashier, with lovely touch on the kills, Mike was steadier and holding the ‘t’ slightly more than half the time as a result. The resulting contest was extremely even, Mike claiming the first on a tie break and then the second narrowly.
Game three saw Keith come back into it as Mike’s steadiness deserted him briefly. He had still lost his way at the start of the fourth, rapidly falling 7-1 down. However Keith was clearly breathing heavily by this stage and importantly Mike did not allow him to cruise through to claim a game he was obviously in complete command of but instead challenged Keith to work his socks off to complete the deal. That was vital for the decider that followed as now Keith’s feet were not moving as accurately, leading to him fishing for the high volleys and missing rather than killing. Mike was still moving well, one impressive chase to the front backhand corner followed by a tight straight drive and that backed up by a volley drop kill showing he was still fresh enough to play superb shots. Such play allow Mike to move steadily away through the game to claim the string 3-2. Game scores were 18-16, 15-13, 11-15, 11-15, 15-8.