In their sixth consecutive match decided by the scoreline 3-2, The University of Warwick/Kenilworth Squash Team produced their fourth consecutive win. This being the most impressive to date in their short history, taking down Nottingham on their own patch, who were unbeaten in nearly two years home or away, and the defending champions. The most impressive thing of all, being the manner of their victory.
As is the way with these matches, there are results you expect to happen, and others where the result of an individual match is less clear. And so it was, that the evening started with what looked like the crunch match. The string which looked most like it could go either way, with both teams having strong favourites in two of the other rubbers. That extra pressure fell to Mark Fuller, at third string, who went on first against Lewis Walters knowing that this had a strong chance of deciding the outcome of the entire night. Mark did what he does. Chased, harried, scrambled, fought like a dog. There were some sublime touches too. He put every ounce of effort he had into the match, just like every one before, but this time fell agonisingly short losing 3-2, 11-8 in the fifth set.
Grace Gear, who in the absence of World number 8 Sarah-Jane Perry was making her debut, pushed Egyptian Hana Ramadan hard in losing 3-0, but in so doing, acquitted herself admirably, and she won’t be upset by her performance at all. Nick Wall at fourth string came back from 2-0 down to grind out a win when not at his best, maintaining his 100% record. Indian star Mahesh Mangaonkar brushed aside the challenge of Nottingham’s number two Adam Auckland with some ease.
2-2 it was then, with World 26. Dec James from Nottingham taking on The University of Warwick/Kenilworth’s Iker Pajares (World ranked 55) who he had, let’s be honest, given a lesson to at the reverse fixture dispatching him 3-0 in short order.
This was not to go to plan however. In losing the first, Pajares gave James notice of his intentions, with the rallies fast and furious unsettling James just enough to make you think this could be closer contest. In the second, at a game down, you could see his plan starting to bloom. The frenetic rallies were tiring the tall, normally elegant, now becoming slightly ragged, James. Twisting and turning him corner to corner Pajares just gave James no peace and would not let him settle into a rhythm. It looked to be all over in the fourth when Pajares took a lead into the final part of the game. But fitting to the evening, no one wanted to lose at all, and it wasn’t going to script. James dug so deep and managed to stay alive, and then took a 6-2 lead in the fifth set after some brutal rallies.
Another twist in the match, and plenty more for James in each rally, as once more Pajares took control. The players resembling boxers by this stage, staggering around in a 12th round. But the WARKEN was the strongest. His speed of foot and thought, and pace and weight of shot earnt him his best ever career win 11-7 in the fifth set, and with it pole position in the battle for 2nd place in the Northern division for his team.
The University of Warwick/Kenilworth Squash team hold the smallest of leads over Pontefract who they host in the next match, on the 13th March which looks likely to decide who reaches the play-offs. This match hardly needs more to make it appetising, but it throws up the prospect of SJ Perry v Laura Massaro, which would be a battle of the English one and two ranked players, as well as the potential visit of former World no. 1 James Willstrop. I’d get your ticket now if I were you…
Author: Steve Townsend, Squash Coach
Tickets are available from the Sports Centre 02476 523011 and online.