Judging by the comments I heard, this Finals Night was just as enjoyable as all the others we've seen in recent years. Plenty of hard-fought battles
in the playing arena, and an audience eager for thrills, spills and laughs. The biggest laugh went to a ping-pong ball which whizzed up into the
rafters and then landed cleanly several seconds later in a half-filled wineglass. The wineglass swallowed the ball as neatly as a performing seal.
Last year we wondered whether Ben Cawston would complete a 140-mile drive from Tipton in time for a very late Singles Final; this time it was Ed Slot
who had us wondering, but as he was only coming from the Basingstoke Closed Heats, things weren't too desperate. He went on to win the Singles at
their Finals Night in the following week - you can find that on YouTube, too.
This competition was played through to a conclusion at the Heats on Sunday 17th April, mainly to avoid the problem of players
possibly having to play with two different kinds of bat on the same night, and also to save time at Finals Night.
Martin had astonishingly beaten Paul May in the Semis - that was about as amazing as Leicester City winning the Premier League, if not more so.
Martin, an above-average Division 3 player, had never seen a sandpaper bat until the day of the Heats. In the Final he came up against one of last
year's Finalists, and Paddy demonstrated just what a technically strong and versatile player he is. Martin played well, but he couldn't make any
headway against a man holding all the best cards.
Jared won the Under 18s in straight sets last year, so on the face of it this wasn't going to be much of a challenge for him. As it turned out,
Ed at the other end of the table proved to be a tough proposition, with some very comfortable attacking shots on both wings, and sound defence
against Jared's topspin. Maybe it was Jared's greater experience that told in the end, but Ed did extremely well for someone who's only been playing
for a few months
Barry had a very successful season in Division 3, so he wasn't likely to find Martin posing a serious threat.
Martin's strategy, if that's the word for it, was to try to pat the ball high up in the air and hope Barry
might make a few errors in going for some glory shots; or better still, a lot of errors. It wasn't likely to happen, and it didn't happen.
We know Harry is a good player - he played in almost all of South Wonston B's matches in Division 2, helping them to a 2nd-place
finish and averaging 73%. Unfortunately he never really got going against Jared, who perhaps was feeling more relaxed after his earlier win,
while Harry was probably finding the frenetic Finals Night atmosphere a bit of a shock in his first Final. You don't get much chance to find
your feet in this kind of event!
Anyone who has seen Antony play will have been hoping he'd be able to unleash his famous swinging forehand
now and then. He was, but this was serious stuff and not the time to think too much
about pleasing the crowd. Both players worked hard and there really wasn't a great deal to choose between them.
In the end Antony's overall better playing record this season probably gave him the feeling he only had to keep
going to come out on top, which is what happened.
The night's only 5-setter, and something of a classic. Paul and Patrick nicked the first two sets, with Paul exceptionally strong on
the backhand and Patrick on the forehand. Then Ed and Cameron found a bit more rhythm and coaxed a few more errors. This was
a fascinating contest, but somehow the capturing of the 3rd set seemed to take the match inevitably towards a 5th, with the momentum
favouring Ed and Cameron.
Two opposing Doubles players opposed each other in this event. Paul, making it look easy, was particularly brutal with flat hits
that Cameron found difficult to chop against, even though he's one of the best defenders in the League. Cameron
of course just kept going, trying not to offer anything tempting on the backhand and putting aside any distracting thoughts that
Tournament Organisers may have as the evening unfolds!
Barry's initial lead of 9 in these 21-up Handicap games looked reasonable enough, but it's hard to gauge someone
who only played against top Division 1 teams against a very successful Division 3 player. Barry played
his usual tenacious game, defending and moving quickly as well as ever, but when Patrick spotted an opening he hit
far too hard to give Barry a chance to lay bat on ball.
You can watch the whole of this match here. 10 minutes of pure gold!
Earlier in the evening Paul had been able to thrill us all with his big flat-hit backhands, but you can only hit
a backhand if it's there to be hit, and Ed successfully denied Paul the chance to feel better about himself by
forcing him to use his forehand, which was not quite reliable enough on the night. Very frustrating - and of
course frustration rarely improves performance! Ed was a worthy winner of a match did which didn't quite reach
the heights of last year's Final (Panjun Li against Ben Cawston , who umpired this Final), and Ed against Brian Hayes in 2014.
These were made by Mick Bryant, who has made a big contribution to the League by reviving the Winnall club
and then helping to start up the Kings club, where he's President and still plays on Mondays.
Jill Wilson As League Secretary for the past few years Jill
has applied her exceptional qualities of tact, patience, persuasiveness and reasonableness to the job of
making sure the League has run smoothly and fairly. That's not easy when team captains sometimes feel sore
about injustices and lack of responsivess (real or imagined) from other teams. As an example, this season absolutely all matches
got played, and that hasn't happened for at least 10 years!
Owen Booker Cup (top average in any Division, and played at least 75% of matches)
As ever, the organisation and running of Finals Night was highly polished and efficient, and thanks are due to
Cameron Brealey (the Organiser) and his team of merry helpers - Antony Moore , Barry Ross , Chris Sabourin ,
Andy and Suzanne Prince behind the bar, the umpires, and finally Tim Humphrey for his wonderful