2015 Varsity Match: I Never Felt More Like Watching The Blues

Rodney Knight reports:

03/03/15: On a fine day at Eton last Saturday and marking the end of a long tenure as Master-in-charge there by Mark Williams, four teams contested the 2015 Varsity Match with the Light Blues winning the first team matches and the Dark Blues showing their strength in depth by winning both second team matches.

Men's first team Match

Tony Barker and Riki Houlden for Cambridge were already University and Under 21 champions and favourites at first pair. After a good start they allowed some determined play by James Alster and Ollie Sale for Oxford to rattle them and force some mistakes to bring the game to 11-11. A return to full concentration, however, brought the Light Blues the game at 14-11 and they maintained their momentum to take the next two at 12-3 and 12-4 with Barker commanding the step, and Houlden always very effective from the back of the court, both forcing Oxford to make the mistakes.

In the second court what looked like a good Oxford pairing of Fergus Imrie and Felix von Stumm did not reach its best until the third game, by which time it was too late to recover. Jack Parham and Alex Rattan for Cambridge looked the more practiced pair and simply made more winning shots and fewer errors in a spirited performance that brought victory 12-4,12-7, 14-13.

Oxford captain Dan Byam Shaw paired with secretary Sacha Mehta in the third court and they looked the better pair in the first two games with Alistair Stewart and Charlie Moore for Cambridge less sharp on the volley, allowing their opponents too much time to make their shots. They put on a much more determined display to win the third game 12-11 and compete hard for the fourth, but the Dark Blues increased their accuracy as the end of the game approached and they won it 12-9.

Cambridge thus won the Men’s Varsity Match 2-1

Peppers v Penguins

This was always going to be a close match and it was disappointing that the Cambridge captain Sajan Patel was forced to withdraw in the second game of his rubber after a fiercely contested first game which he and Brian Wang narrowly lost to Peppers Stephen Thatcher and Alec Noar 13-15. Meanwhile at first pair for the Penguins, John Crawford and Sudhir Balaji were neck and neck with Max Wintle and Sam Packer of the Peppers, losing the first two games 13-15. The Oxford pair were more incisive and purposeful in their shot-making and this really told in the third game which they pulled off more decisively 12-6 to take the second team match. Dan Paul and Charlie Kershaw for the Peppers proved too strong for Dan Scott and Tom Watson at third pair and won an entertaining rubber 12-3 12-6 12-6.

Ladies first team match

The intital impetus for the ladies match a few years ago came from Cambridge; in recent years, however, Oxford have been dominant in this fixture so it was a pleasure to see a resurgence in the quality and number of players being produced by Cambridge this year. The new courts, the mixing in with the men's team, the coaching of Tim Fletcher (inspirational Ipswichian coaches being this year's must-have Varsity Match accessory) and the leadership of captain Sophie Kelly and senior pro Elana Osen have combined with the arrival of some good new players to produce a far stronger team. Elana Osen and Olivia Prankerd Smith at first pair are both veterans of innumerable Varsity matches and have suffered some heavy defeats in the past. It was fantastic for them that in this their final year, the hard work they have put in and the huge improvements they have made produced a thoroughly deserved victory over the Oxford pair of Izzy Watts and Hannah Pritchard.The Cambridge third pair of Emma Sewart and Becca Hreben are both still relative newcomers to the sport, and although they have made great strides and are both very promising players, they were no match for the more experienced Alicia Walker and particularly Rosie Parr at third pair. The decisive encounter was thus at second pair; Sophie Kelly and Hannah Rapley of Cambridge got off to a great start in the first game and just held off the comeback by Scarlett Maguire and Lucy Rands to win it 14-12. The first game win looked like it might just be the first skirmish in a long battle but in fact turned out to be crucial, as the greater consistency and composure of the Cambridge pair kept them in front in both the second and third games to take the match 2-1 and give Cambridge their first win in this fixture since 2011.

Ladies second team match

There have been times in recent seasons where the enthusiasm and excitement of the ladies second team match have been rather greater than the quality of the Fives. This year's match showed how that is changing rapidly, with some fine players on show and lots of good Fives played. Oxford's fourth pair of Alice Stables and Martha Samano have been great additions to the club this year and are becoming a fine pair. They pushed the more experienced Cambridge pair of Annie Cave and Susanna Xu hard in the first game of their match before going down in three games, mainly thanks to the Cambridge pair's superior cut returning. If you wanted definitive proof of the improving standards in this match, it came in the shape of Cambridge's fifth pair of Emma Shillam and Lizzie Tobin, both much better players than 12 months ago but playing two pairs lower in the order. Not only that, they came up against an Oxford pair in Kate Hodkinson and left-hander Hannah Murdoch who were too strong for them on the day. The final pair was won by Helena Khullar (one of nine Old Westminsters in the match overall) and Clare Jamison of Oxford to give the Dark Blues a 2-1 second team win.

The champagne Reception and Dinner following the match was held as usual in the Masters Common Room to the huge enjoyment of competitors and guests . As our host for the event, Mark Williams reminded players of the two clubs’ debt to our sponsors Pol Roger and called for the winning pairs to receive their plaudits and shake the hand of chief guest Richard Black, the EFA Chairman, who expressed his delight at both the quality of Fives and the wide variety of schools (many of them without their own courts!) represented by the men and women players.This showed that Fives in both universities was being well promoted and he thanked Tim Fletcher and especially Gareth Hoskins for their coaching contribution, as he urged players to continue with the game after university when other clubs round the country would welcome them as playing members. Both club presidents were in fine form throughout, although only one managed to keep his trousers on for the entirety of proceedings.

A big thankyou was given to Mark Williams for some 16 years service to this event and Cambridge Vice-President Dale Vargas presented copies of his and Peter Knowles’ History of Eton Fives to the team captains with his good wishes for the future of this long-lived encounter.

Blues Match:

Cambridge won 2-1

T.Barker (St.Olave’s & Pembroke) & R.Houlden (Westminster & Christ’s) beat J.Alster (Westminster & St.John’s) & O.Sale (Eton & Wadham) 3-0 (14-11, 12-3, 12-4)

J.Parham (Eton & Clare) & A.Rattan (Berkhamsted & King’s) beat F.Imrie (Charterhouse & Lady Margaret Hall) & F.von Stumm (Eton & Brasenose) 3-0 (12-4, 12-7, 14-13)

A.Stewart (Westminster & Jesus) & C.Moore (Clifton College & Corpus Christi) lost to S.Mehta (Westminster & St.Peter’s) & D.Byam Shaw (Eton & Magdalen) 1-3 (5-12, 7-12, 12-11, 9-12)

Penguins vs Peppers:

Oxford won 3-0

J.Crawford (Reading & Jesus) & S.Balaji (St.Olave’s & Queens’) lost to M.Wintle (Highgate & Lady Margaret Hall) & S.Packer (City of London & Somerville) 0-3 (13-15, 13-15, 6-12)

S.Patel (Westminster & Sidney Sussex) & B.Wang (St.Olave’s & Robinson) lost to S.Thatcher (King Edward’s, Birmingham & Merton) & A.Noar (Highgate & St.John’s) 0-3 (13-15, ret)

D.Scott (Heart of England & St.John’s) & T.Watson (St.Olave’s & St.John’s) lost to D.Paul (Haberdasher’s Askes & Brasenose) & C.Kershaw (St.Olave’s & Lady Margaret Hall) 0-3 (3-12, 6-12, 6-12)

Ladies Match:

Cambridge won 2-1

E.Osen (Westminster & Magdalene) & O.Prankerd-Smith (Westminster & Peterhouse) beat I.Watts (Woodbridge & St.Cross) & H.Pritchard (Shrewsbury & Queen’s) 3-0 (12-7, 12-5, 12-7)

H.Rapley (Highgate & Newnham) & S.Kelly (Benenden & Magdalene) beat S.Maguire (Brighton College & Wadham) & L.Rands (Shrewsbury & Trinity) 3-0 (14-12, 12-8, 12-5)

E.Sewart (The Latymer, Edmonton & King’s) & R.Hreben (Eastbourne College & Sidney Sussex) lost to R.Parr (Shrewsbury & Christ Church) & A.Walker (Rugby & New) 0-3 (6-12, 5-12, 6-12)

Ladies Second Team Match:

Oxford won 2-1

S.Xu (Wallington High Schoolfor Girls & Caius) & A.Cave (St.Bartholomew’s, Newbury & Magdalene) beat A.Stables (Bristol Grammar & St.Peter’s) & M.Samano (Twyford CE High School & St.Peter’s) 3-0 (12-10, 12-3, 12-0)

E.Shillam (Westminster & St.John’s) & L.Tobin (Tunbridge Wells Girls’ Grammar School & St.John’s) lost to K.Hodkinson (Berkhamsted & Jesus) & H.Murdoch (Godolphin and Latymer & Wadham) 0-3 (8-12, 2-12, 7-12)

M.Skipsey (South Hunsley & Magdalene) & C.Fisher (Cherwell & Magdalene) lost to H.Khullar (Westminster & ChristChurch) and C.Jamison (Parkstone Grammar, Poole & Brasenose) 0-3 (8-12, 6-12, 7-12)

Alumni Match:

Oxford won 5-0

P.Stewart & R.Worth beat G.Hoskins & H.de Quetteville 3-1 (8-12, 12-2, 12-7, 12-2)

S.Ranasinghe & W.Betts beat G.Pulsford & W.Illingworth 3-1 (14-11, 12-7, 9-12, 12-7)

W.Howard & M.Fiennes beat J.Knight & K.Turnbull 3-0 (13-12, 12-6, 12-6)

F.Krespi & H.Mostyn beat K.Hird & C.Cooley 3-1 (9-12, 12-5, 12-6, 13-10)

N.Cox & S.Nowinski beat A.O’Malley & I.Mitchell 3-0 (12-9, 12-2, 12-3)

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