2002/03 County Championships
Jamie Fleming reports:
Like a slow and lumbering Fives player, the momentum of the County Championship is gently gathering. There seemed a more enthusiastic response to this year's call to arms (and gloves) than in previous years. But while there are still difficulties to iron out (notably the League match which takes place at the same time and same place and basically stops Shropshire raising a side), as each year goes by, success will breed success and the Counties will start selling itself. That's the plan anyway.
The 2002/2003 County Championships started off wet (no great surprise there then), but miraculously as the teams turned up in numbers, the rain gave up the ghost and headed off to Slough.
Nine counties entered this year's competition, which would have been an even ten had Cambridgeshire not pulled out at the last minute due to a flu epidemic. As it was, there were still two groups, one of five teams and one of four teams, each playing the best of three games, which promised a positive Fives frenzy.
First Round: Eton 17th November 2002
Reigning champs Warwickshire headed Group A, up against the individual mights of Sussex, Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and Kent. It was fantastic to see Sussex, under Richard Black, making an appearance after failing to raise a side last year and Bucks, who had plenty of hard-fought games on the day.
Warwickshire showed their superiority by vanquishing all before them with an exemplary tournament, not losing a match and only dropping two games over the day. Kent followed closely behind, comfortably making it to the semi-final stage, beating all their opponents (except Warwickshire), despite losing a match at first pair against Oxfordshire, who came from behind to win 2-1 in the final game. Oxfordshire were third, but fail to make it to the next stage.
In Group B, things were a lot closer. With just two teams going through from the four competing, every game counted. Hertfordshire were new to the tournament, but put out a strong team, winning at least one pair in each match. Berkshire, with just two pairs, had to win every pair they played to guarantee a place in the semis, but lost one to Suffolk, giving them five points overall. And with Middlesex and Suffolk also ending the day on five points, semi-final places had to be resolved by adding up individual game points. In the end, after careful consideration and recounts, it was Berkshire's lack of a third pair which proved crucial in points 'for' and 'against', letting Middlesex and Suffolk through to the next round.
The Semi-finals/Final: Eton 19th January 2003
Rain clouds gave way to blue skies as Kent, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Middlesex gathered at Eton for the semi-finals of the County Championship.
The order of play had been decided in a tough open competition in 2002, which meant that Warwickshire faced Middlesex and Suffolk were up against the might of Kent. Each match was the best of five games, promising a glut of fives.
Middlesex v Warwickshire
Both Counties came to Eton with strong teams and a strong desire to win, so a closely fought semi-final seemed inevitable. No one suspected quite how close the end result was actually going to be. Each game in each match proved so evenly poised that pairs found themselves battling for hours to get a result in a single game - and subsequently the semi-final wasn't decided until at least 2pm! The first pair, Middlesex's N.Addy and A.Varma (the London finalists) and Warwickshire's intimidating J.Mole and R.Tyler, promised much, and didn't disappoint. The skirmish lasted 3 hours, with some amazingly skilful Fives being played, with Warwickshire narrowly winning 3-1. At second, Middlesex's R.Bryan and G.Chapman traded R.Mason and C.Friend game for game, the first four games alternating with strict diplomacy - and the fifth game, which was to decide the whole semi-final, going on long after the other games had been decided. At three, E.Buxton and J.Fleming had an evenly matched clash against P. Scholey and the school-boy Neil Curtis, losing the first game to 13 and winning the next three uncomfortably, with some truly epic rallies taking place. Warwickshire beat Middlesex in the end, by virtue of their 2nd pair victory, 12-3 in the fifth game.
Middlesex lost to Warwickshire 1-2
N.Addy & A.Varma lost to J.Mole & R.Tyler 1-3 (7-12, 7-12, 12-8, 6-12)
G.Chapman & R.Bryan lost to R. Mason & C.Friend 2-3 (11-13, 15-11, 8-12, 12-4, 3-12)
J. Fleming & E. Buxton beat P. Scholey & N. Curtis 3-1 (10-13, 15-11, 12-9, 12-7)
Kent beat Suffolk 3-0
Kent fielded a very strong side, with the London Tournament winners James Toop and Matt Wiseman at first pair, playing M.Graves and G.Hoskins, beating them relatively comfortably in three games - the Suffolk pair never really getting to grips with the pace of the match. At second, H.Wiseman and D.Mew always seemed on top against S.Burnell and R.Robinson and won easily. The third pair match was a tighter affair, with the tried and tested experience of S.Woolfries and P.Boughton winning them the first game, before youth, energy and fitness levels denied them any of the other games against E.Sanderson and J.Rees, victorious in four games.
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat M.Graves & G.Hoskins 3-0 (12-3, 12-6, 12-9)
H.Wiseman & D.Mew beat S.Burnell & R.Robinson 3-0 (12-8, 12-5, 12-3)
E.Sanderson & J.Rees beat P.Boughton & S.Woolfries 3-1 (6-12, 12-4, 12-1, 12-6)
An exhausted and broken Warwickshire trudged rather reluctantly onto court to face a relatively fresh Kent in the finals. With unchanged players and pairs, each game on paper looked fairly even, but the final result wasn't to live up to earlier promise.
Kent's J.Toop & M.Wiseman looked lively throughout their clash with J.Mole & R.Tyler, encouraging each other in well-honed familiarity. Despite valiant resistance from the Warwickshire pair, the strength and skill of Kent proved too much and they lost in three straight games. At second, R.Mason and C.Friend's epic match against Middlesex was taking its toll. They looked willing but tired as they fought against H.Wiseman and the powerful D.Mew - eventually the sheer amount of Fives proved too much for R.Mason's right hand, and Warwickshire had to retire from the fray due to bruising. The third pair was the pick of the bunch in the finals, with Kent's E.Sanderson and J.Rees winning the first two games easily (to 1 and 9) and them being pounded back to 2 all with some assertive and powerful Fives - the Warwickshire team holding their nerve to win 13-11 and 14-11. The fifth and final game took place in the pitch black, with the Kent team doing well to put their earlier losses behind them to win 12-9. A truly epic battle!
Kent beat Warwickshire 3-0
J.Toop & M.Wiseman beat J.Mole & R.Tyler 3-0 (12-6, 12-6, 12-4)
H.Wiseman & D.Mew beat R. Mason & C. Friend 3-1 (5-12, 12-5, 12-3 ret)
E.Sanderson & J.Rees) beat P. Scholey & N. Curtis 3-2 (12-1, 12-9, 11-13, 11-14, 12-9)
The third and fourth play-off was cancelled due to injuries on the Suffolk team. Middlesex, therefore go third and Suffolk finished in fourth place.