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Ely 2 vs Melbourn 2 (18th January 2024)

Melbourn won 18-6

The 2nds were after a less dramatic evening than in the Cup the previous week, when Liam had had to recover from two games down to win a decisive final string of the evening. And they managed it… if you consider Liam fighting back from one game behind to win a winner-takes-all match as a significant variance!

There was a whole evenings Squash to come before we got to Liam’s match though, starting with Matt Walker (5) against Benedict Cross. This string alone packed enough drama in for the whole evening as the match swung this way and that. Matt lost the first, found more consistency to win the second, but then got back into feeding Ben’s speed and dropped the third. He then found himself trailing 9-5 in the fourth (Cambs Division 3 is PAR-15 so this is not as terminal as some may consider it… but it’s still a serious hole to be in) only for Matt to respond by playing a string of focused, clean, low-risk points. And winning 8 rallies in a row as a result to move 13-9 ahead. There was still time for extra drama as Matt dropped off his level allowing things back to 13-12 before closing out game four and then kept edging ahead and being pegged back in the decider. That got nearly the whole way before an error from Ben at 13-14 got a relieved Matt over the line for a 3-2 win.

Things were more straightforward next door for Colm O’Gorman (4) against Martyn Goodger… though Colm did try his best to avoid such a boring match with some odd errors to keep Dave encouraged. Where is the fun in a quietly efficient win, eh? Colm always looked like he had the upper hand in rallies and was generally ahead throughout each game. He finally won 3-0. What’s all the fuss about?

The second match on Court 2 pitted Jan Brynjolffssen (2) against Chris Hornby. The pair had met before, Jan fighting back from 0-2 down to win 3-2 on that occasion. He was determined not to repeat that, pushing up the court high to attempt to take Chris’ drives down into the front backhand corner. This worked really nicely, so Jan repeated and repeated… until, mysteriously, he went for variation, trying to pull a backhand volley drop crosscourt instead. Having found the bottom of the tin with this it was “lesson learned” and back to the usual stuff until one comes back. Well, we are still waiting as the final point of the match was another volley-drop kill on the backhand side as Jan came through a much closer game than the 3-0 final score implies.

That put Melbourn 2-1 up and looking to Gareth Jones (3) to close things out against Dave Mankellow. This didn’t work as people in the depths of the Amazon rainforest can attest from having their ears burned by the “frustration”. Gareth was all discombobulated after a busy day and late arrival and that meant New Good Gareth, the patient sort that moves his feet and waits for his attacking opportunity was still unloading his stuff from the car and we got the older version of Gareth, all-upper-body, death-or-glory, winners-or-bust instead. Bust on this particular evening as more found the tin than zipped just above it, the match point at 13-14 in the fourth a case in point. Despite all the mistakes there was little in it in scores, Gareth losing the third and fourth 15-17, 13-15, but the hinderance of giving Dave a helping hand was too much to overcome.

That sent the night down to Liam Murphy (1) vs Andrew Jones. From the outset it was obvious that Andrew had some really lovely touch play in the front court – he was able to feather the ball beautifully. Liam spent the opening game trying to take him on at his own game, which is the Rod Laver method (‘attack a player’s strength, because if you can beat them on that then they have nowhere else to go!’) – this is why great players don’t necessarily make good coaches because what Rod Laver elides in that is step 1 is “Be Rod Laver”. Liam is good, but he ain’t an all-time great, and playing Andrew’s game just meant Andrew winning the opening game. However a problem is also a solution – game two saw Liam making Andew play his game, longer, more physical rallies, up and down the walls, and that worked well enough to claim a close one to level up. With that the match was turned on it’s head, Liam winning the next two going away as Andrew’s fitness dwindled and  as his breath went his touch followed it, leading to some odd errors as Liam won through 3-1.

The win kept Melbourn second in the Division 3 table, five points behind leaders Cambridge and only two ahead of third-placed side Saffron Walden. Who are the next opponents, as it happens. A lot riding on that one, then…