With a spot in the end of season play-offs in sight, things were getting serious at Crackley Lane. The MAD Museum sponsored University of Warwick/Kenilworth Squash Team have been making their mark. Putting a few noses out of joint. Nottingham, reigning Champions dispatched. Pontefract, a northern powerhouse of squash came down to set the order straight.
Their team sheet said everything. James Willstrop, former World number 1, Laura Massaro, former World Champion, current World number 4. Saurav Ghosal, Indian number 1, current World number 14 was at second string. This was the old guard coming to remind the upstarts of their place, with a show of strength, on paper, that the WarKens just can’t match. The difference in ranking between the top three players alone in each team, was a staggering 187. Guy Pearson, making his debut for Kenilworth doesn’t even have a ranking having never played on the PSA World Tour, and has never competed at this level before.
The University of Warwick/Kenilworth team, were lower ranked in each of the five matches, and to win three of them, at least, would be the upset of all upsets.
At 4th string, Guy Pearson, as expected competed above his station pushing his opponent close in the first, before tiring and falling 3-0. Concurrently, Mahesh Mangaonkar was showing why he was the World’s leading junior in the not so distant past, giving his more senior Indian colleague a lesson in precise straight hitting into the front and back corners. Ghosal was worried. Mangaonkar controlled the “T” keeping his smaller compatriot scurrying to each of the four corners. The battle continued for 4 tough games, and in the latter stages of the fourth, and at the start of the fifth, Ghosal was visibly and audibly rattled. He was not happy or comfortable and the first of the triumvirate of upsets looked on the cards at 8-4 to the WARKENS in the fifth. The finishing line in sight, Mangaonkar saw it. His finest ever win there, he grabbed for it, but he wasn’t close enough yet. Going for winning shots too early he let his opponent right back in with a few cheap errors. That was all the terrier Ghosal needed to get some purchase. A flurry of errors saw Pontefract take the second rubber. 2-0 in matches. All over surely?
Mark Fuller, World ranking of 141, was 2-2 with Chris Simpson World Ranking 44. A massive 97 places behind Simpson was a massive favourite for this match. WarKens don’t seem to do favourites though. A monster attritional battle ensued, rally after rally of hard intense squash. Down it came, as with the second string match, to the last handful of points in the last game to separate two spent players. 11-9 in the 5thto the man from Pontefract, and the second impossible dream in two weeks was over in agonising fashion.
Iker Pajares was unable to improve on his exploits of last match, losing a very creditable 3-1 to “The Marksman” James Willstrop. The most accurate of operators on the circuit. His time will come again.
All was not over though. With the World no. 4, Massaro, taking on Kenilworth and Warwick’s Sarah-Jane Perry in the finale, we had the two finest female players in these Isles facing off. Doubles partners in the upcoming Commonwealths, and potential Singles Gold Medal match adversaries. These two are good friends off court. On court is another story, told ably by some of the looks between the pair. They both do great “looks” when they need to, and they so not say “welcome to my court”.
Albeit not as important as either of Perry’s previous wins against Massaro, with the team match already lost, this was performance wise, SJ’s finest hour. Which of the 4 corners would the ball disappear to next? No one knew, least of all Massaro, who kept battling, not wanting to lose any mental edge before the Commonwealth Games, but she had no answers. Perry, on her home court and unbeaten in this competition for a staggering 4 years, was roared to victory 3-1 by the raucous home support. Great mental fuel in the tank for the Gold Coast.
So to the final match at Bristol in 2 weeks, the WarKens will be hoping for a win and a slip up from Pontefract when they face off against Birmingham. The way this season has gone so far, you would not bet against it.