2012 Kinnaird Final: Cooley and Dunbar untouchable

Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley retained the Kinnaird Cup yesterday at Eton with a convincing 3-0 win (12-5, 12-5, 12-2) over challengers Howard Wiseman and James Toop.

Mark Williams reports:

On a glorious spring afternoon, over 50 spectators gathered to see whether Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley could retain their crown. Their opponents this time were James Toop and Howard Wiseman, who won the 2008 final. This was the 10th consecutive final which has pitted James Toop and Tom Dunbar in opposition. Dunbar and Cooley began as favourites after their demolition of Toop and Matthew Wiseman in the Northern Final six weeks before, but there remained the possibility that if the Olavian pair could win one of the first three games and force an extended match, the aura of confidence of the holders might be broken.

The first game started nervously (in sharp contrast to last year when Seb Cooley took the match by the scruff of the neck so impressively), with both pairs playing a mixture of good shots peppered with uncharacteristic errors, and the Olavian pair sounding chirpy and looking confident. It took some time for the score to reach 5-4 in their favour, before Tom Dunbar returned a succession of cuts, and there followed a period of sustained attacking Fives with no errors so that eight points were scored in a single hand to win the game. The momentum continued at the start of the second game as Dunbar and Cooley quickly established a 4-1 lead. There followed several indecisive hands before another burst to 8-2. Toop and Wiseman never relaxed their determination to keep in the hunt, and stemmed the flow, pulling back to 8-5, when Dunbar once again finished the game with four points in a hand. So to the all important third game where after eight hands Dunbar and Cooley established a 9-0 lead playing with increasing certainty and confidence. The Olavians averted the ultimate indignity of a game to love, but the champions continued their relentless progress to win 12-5, 12-5, 12-2.

The match was played with a level of intensity, skill and good sportsmanship that kept the crowd absorbed and entertained throughout. Toop and Wiseman played with commendable determination and consistency, so that most of the rallies were extended and only won after a prolonged battle of cat and mouse. Their problem was that, such was the holders’ dominance of the set piece; most of the rallies were played when they were serving. Tom Dunbar’s ability to consistently return the cut was decisive, and allowed him to attack with increasingly accurate volleys in a match where the other players struggled to find any length in the buttress. Another feature was the quality of the holders’ defensive play: regularly neutralising their opponents’ attacking positions and preventing volleys. If Seb stood out in last year’s final, this time it was Tom who caught the eye, and together they proved themselves to be the season’s outstanding pair, winning all three major tournaments decisively, and conceding just 26 points in the five rounds of the Kinnaird (surely a unique achievement). If they continue to play together it is hard to see anyone seriously challenging them at present.

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