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Melbourn 2 vs Comberton 2 (29th January 2024)

Melbourn won 15-8

A heavy defeat against a strong Saffron Walden side the previous Monday meant the 2nds had fallen outside Division 3’s top two places for the first time in ages – all the way down to fourth in fact as Comberton had gone past as well as Walden. However we had a chance to reverse that immediately as we faced Comberton with the same close-to-first-choice 5 as had ultimately been outgunned the week before.

That meant Gareth Jones at #5 again. He took on Ollie Thorne and, after some initial sparring and settling in to things, it became apparent that Gareth had the greater control and shot placement of the two, at least on this evening as Ollie’s game was off. Once Gareth had figured out the his best pattern (push Ollie deep with a drive to the back corner, push high in expectation of a defensive boast in response, jump on this an win the stroke with a simple straight drop) he cruised through the first game, a flurry of points (7-in-a-row) seeing him move from 8-6 to 15-6. There was no particular reason to think this gameplan needed changing for the subsequent games, at least as long as Ollie was struggling to produce clean shots from the deep corners. The challenge was really just a matter of concentration and diligence for Gareth as he looked to maintain consistent pressure and not allow his opponent to get his confidence back up. There was a wobble or two along the way (7-2 in the third becoming 8-6 for instance), because, well there always is, but these were minor as Gareth basically breezed to a 15-6, 15-8, 15-8 win.

Next door it was the first strings in action as Kate Bradshaw (#1) took on Connor Harmer. Connor is a teenager, and as such has some notable strengths such as pace over the deck, agility in tight corners and a seemingly limitless supply of energy. He is a very, very good defensive player. He has his weaknesses as well though in the tightness of his lines when looking to drive the ball (though the ball will be whizzing along as it comes out a bit loosely!). With Kate’s racquet head skills the gameplan seemed obvious for her – grind and grind some more. Long, up-and-down the wall rallies were her friend as the first player to make an error was mostly likely to be Connor. The problem being this is not Kate’s game! Almost the polar opposite in fact. She tends to look to pounce on any half-chance and cut her usually deadly drop volleys in. Usually. Not against Connor – he is rapid enough to get them and that, it turns out, leaves Kate herself out-of-position.
Game one saw Kate attempting to make her style work, without enough success as she fell 1-0 down. Game two went the other way as Kate played the needed gameplan, though it was tight as Kate went 13-10 up, dropped back to 13-14 down, but then won the next three points to level up. Game three started evenly, Connor going 6-5 up… at which point Kate hit a wall physically (the unspoken problem with attempting to grind a teenager into the dust!). Her tracker app showed this quite dramatically. And that meant it was back to the wrong tactics, trying to end rallies rapidly and giving Connor the front wall. This didn’t work and Kate was beaten 11-15, 16-14, 6-15, 6-15.

Whilst Kate’s match was ongoing Jan Brynjolffssen (4) took the court against Jason Lane. Jan and Jason have both been on the Cambs Squash scene for years so there was no surprises for each player over the other’s approach – Jason looking to end rallies at the earliest possible opportunity with boasts and drops, Jan looking to go slightly longer but only by a few more shots as he looked for a front court opportunity to try a kill. An important pattern of the match was first seen on the very first point as Jason lobbed a high serve up to Jan’s backhand, the ball dropping with ice on it. Jan attempted a backhand overhead in response… and put it out on the front wall! The intent of taking it on the volley and not risk it dropping tight was right though, and the willingness to play play backhand overheads would eventually undermine Jason’s key rally construction of high looby serve, loose response at half-court, kill.
It took Jan a while to establish his counter-attack as he trailed through much of the opening game, but from 5-8 he inched it back to 11-12, and then focused hard to keep his serves tight, and therefore Jason deep, which lead to three successive points. Jason saved the first game point but on the next he tried the loopy serve, which Jan returned with a volley cross-court lob (essentially a counter-serve, except done from a dropping ball deep rather than the hand!) that found the perfect width and length, forcing Jason to turn and attempt a forehand defensive boast which went into the tin. Game two started with Jan making mistakes and Jason again looping the ball up. However from 8-3 down Jan found an extremely rich vein of form, playing tight shots to length and getting himself high on the ‘T’ to put together a run of 12 points from 13 rallies to claim the game. Two games up was a huge advantage as Jason was already visibly tiring (and soon had an injury aggravation to add to it), Jan picking up the intensity once again from mid-game to complete a 15-13, 15-9, 15-9 win.

Now 2-1 up Melbourn were looking for one more win to claim the five bonus points. Would Ed Aspeling (3) provide it against Richard Anthony? Erm, no, basically. Rich is a decidedly awkward player to play against at the best of times, with a deeply irritating ability to hold his shot and wait for his opponent to move before adjusting to play it away into a different corner. This is already challenge enough for most, but add in Ed being off his game and feeling off-colour and it was one-way traffic from the outset as Rich built a 10-1 lead in the opening game. Ed dug in somewhat but still lost the opening two games heavily. Game three saw Ed simply looking for some enjoyment out of his dispiriting evening as he attempted to hit out. This produced some nicer looking rallies for the Melbourn player and a move even game score, but even so Rich was always ahead and never really looked majorly concerned as Ed went down 6-15, 5-15, 9-15.

That meant it went down to the 2nd strings, which pitted Liam Murphy against Jez Cotton. In certain ways this appeared a good match up for Liam as Jez likes to break the game up with angles and boasts, which can catch slower players than Liam out. Liam’s height (1m90 ) and his well-coached ability to use all of that length in lateral lunges into the corners meant he was able to counter Jez’s attempts to outmanoeuvre him and claim game one. However Jez is a determined cur and he chose to play somewhat against type from game two on, going for more line and length early in the rally and then pouncing from in front rather than behind. This results in drops tight enough that not even Liam could dig them out. One game all. And then two games to one as Liam got increasingly wound up that he couldn’t dominate things. Game four saw Liam pulling out all the stops – that is in terms of movement, and determination, and also emotion. He was on the crest of the wave from 6-2 down and seemingly in trouble to win the game by a large margin, winning 13 points out of 15.
The deciding game was dramatic, albeit rather to voluble to be a classic. Despite the way game four went Jez still had his teeth into things and to Liam’s intense frustration he found himself trailing 7-2. But Jez wouldn’t give up and built a 7-2 lead at the start of the fifth. Liam pushed himself extra hard in response to try and claw things back, but Jez kept nicking a rally every other point or thereabouts as he got himself 13-9 up – the match was nearly Comberton’s. That became 14-11 to Jez and three straight points that weren’t only for the string but the whole shooting match. However Liam was flying about the court like a man possessed by now and he chased absolutely everything Jez tried down, whilst keeping errors out of his own game. All three saved. And then another in the bag and now it was Melbourn with a point for victory. The highs and lows weren’t done yet though as this time it was Jez who didn’t budge, claiming the next two rallies to give himself his fourth chance at 16-15. That was the second last twist – the final one was Liam gritting his teeth to save another match ball, and then earning himself his own second chance… which he took to complete an explosive and at times unlikely 15-11, 11-15, 13-15, 15-8, 18-16 win.

Liam’s comeback meant the 2nds won the evening 15-8, which was enough to swap the teams position in the table, Melbourn moving back up to third spot. Cambridge 3 suffered a shock defeat as well, which makes the gap between them and us just 12 points, which is potentially a bridgeable gap over the last six rounds of the campaign.