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Melbourn II vs Cambridge University II (13th November 2023)

Melbourn lost 18-7

A third of the season had gone by and the Seconds were yet to taste defeat. However we knew we would be challenged on that when we saw Cambridge Uni’s team was the strongest they had put out all campaign, with their somewhat irregular top string present and correct and a new player to their squad at second string pushing everyone else down one or two spots.

Individual string summaries below follow the principle "a problem shared is a problem halved"... or in this case fifthed as reporting duties were shared around the team.

Jan writes:
The first match underway was the fifth strings, where Matt Walker took on Patrick Nickols. The first game as a back and forth affair as neither player managed to string runs of points together. Matt was having joy exploiting Patrick’s deep backhand corner whilst Patrick was catching Matt expecting drives and therefore a bit deep, which opened up the front corners for straight drops. In the end it went to a break and ended on a frustrating error from Matt. Game two was much better for the home side as Matt adjusted his position higher up the court, which allowed him to get Patrick’s kills and really work over that deep backhand. A string of forced errors gave Matt the game 15-12, and things were looking rosy. Unfortunately this didn’t last long into the third as Matt relaxed a little and made a few more errors whilst Patrick knuckled down. That meant a lead for the Uni player which he never relinquished to move 2-1 ahead. Game four was fairly similar to game three as Matt was always a little behind. He kept pushing and trying and fighting and generally giving it his all, but the small gap was never levelled up and Matt fell 14-16, 15-12, 9-15, 11-15.

Next door Kate Bradshaw (1) was taking on Calum Harvey who’s warm up did not belie his game - controlled, consistent and economic movement. Kate started at pace which fed into Calum's natural rhythm; Calum’s refusal to make mistakes led him to a quick lead. Kate did try and mix it up but lost out 15-11. Hoping her legs would fire up, Kate tried to disrupt Calum and change up the pace in the second but again Calum won marginally 15-12. The third saw Kate finally find her movement, this time slowing the game down, and also the killer volleys she had been searching for. Calum lost his way a little and Kate forced the errors seeing her take it 15-12. The fourth was a real tactical tussle and saw both players play some beautiful squash, with each in a position to take the game. However, some errors from Kate toward the end gifted Calum a marathon game 19-17 and the match 3-1.

The second match on Court 1 pitted Jan Brynjolffssen (3) against Benjamin Peng Jan took to the court knowing that a win would be essential to maintaining hopes of a team victory, following first-up losses for strings 1 and 5.
The tone for a highly competitive and clean hitting match of lung-busting rallies was set in the first game which ebbed and flowed but ultimately went the way of the visitors as a run of points in the final third of the game proved too much ground to make up for Jan. The second and third games were similarly cat-and-mouse with both players finding lengths and widths to keep points tight and, with a warm court making dead-drops or die-in-the-corner drives hard to come by, outcomes often decided by an error. Jan proved the more consistent in both games, edging ahead 2-1.
It may have been the mental and physical effort of the first three games that saw Benjamin capitalise on a slight dip in Jan’s form in the fourth game. A 5th-game decider felt fitting for the match, and this was as closely fought as any of the preceding games. The spoils went to the Cambridge player who in the closing stages perhaps profited from higher risk tactics in showing more willingness than in previous games to go harder and lower in his shot-making. Regardless of the outcome, it was a great watch and the match of the night. Jan lost 9-15, 15-13, 16-14, 9-15, 12-15.

Liam (stepping in for Kate):
Long before Jan’s match had finished Gareth Jones (4) got underway against Duncan Greenshields. What looked like a blood and thunder contest very much played out that way in game one with both Gareth and Duncan having a repertoire of thunderous drives and cross courts which, on warm courts, meant the rallies just kept on going. Duncan took a fast lead, with Gareth learning very quickly that he would have to slow things down. Into the second and Gareth produced more control and less swashbuckle, and as a result put Duncan under more pressure, translating into a well fought levelling of the match. The next two games saw Gareth continue to exert control and increase pressure on his opponent. Duncan started to make more errors as he didn't intend on changing his game plan, which led him to fade out of the contest, Gareth sailing through the next two games to take the match 3-1. Game scores were 6-15, 16-14, 15-12, 15-9.

As Liam Murphy (2) went on court the match was still in the balance. Yes, we were 2-1 down but there were still 2 matches up for grabs. Liam hit overdrive and played out of his skin. Chasing down seemingly impossible balls, keeping the rally going, playing tight and deep, minimal unforced errors. All the things we normally say should win him the game.  Quite frankly Liam was playing beautiful squash. But.....and it was quite a big but.....his opponent, Chris Miller, was doing the same...but better. Quite a lot better as I am sure Liam won't mind me saying. Great to watch. Easy to mark, but only really going in one direction despite Liam's almost superhuman efforts.  Suffice to say the result was 3-0 but basically we should probably acknowledge that Chris should not really be playing 2 in Div 3! Game scores were… painful (and not to be repeated here!).

Narrator* takes back over:
Jan, skippering Melbourn for the night, observed afterwards “Gareth did the business for us, and Kate, Matt and I were all in our contests; on another night we could have snatched one or two more wins. But equally the results that happened were fair. They were all good contest and high quality for this level. The Uni put out a very strong team in general, and in Chris [their no.2] they have a player who is exceptional at this level. Liam was very unlucky to run into him.”

* - Sometimes reliable. Unreliably reliable, then.
* - Did you know the narrator in Danger Mouse (definitely unreliable!) is called Isambard? The things you learn from reading these reports…