Kinnaird Cup Final 2015: Five(s) Stars - Dunbar and Cooley do it again

T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat M.Wiseman & J.Toop 3-1 (8-12, 12-3, 12-3, 12-10)

Mark Williams reports:

23/03/15: On a sunny, balmy afternoon at Eton a sizeable crowd gathered to witness a potentially intriguing clash between the holders, Tom Dunbar and Seb Cooley, and their closest rivals, James Toop and Matthew Wiseman. Both pairs won their semi-finals 3-0 conceding few points, and clearly established themselves as the two leading pairs in the contemporary game.

They had played each other twice earlier in the season: Dunbar and Cooley winning the London final at Harrow convincingly 3-0, but in the Northern final at Shrewsbury, Toop and Wiseman won the second game, and competed strongly in both third and fourth to narrowly lose 1-3. Thus the spectators sensed a narrowing of the gap between the two pairs, and this final promised to be a titanic clash: it did not disappoint.

Unlike many of the previous matches between these pairs, Toop and Wiseman were fast out of the blocks, hitting hard to the back of the court, playing canny shots from the back of the court, and taking every opportunity to attack. They established a 5-0 lead over a period of 10 hands of hard fought play, and it took a considerable time for Dunbar and Cooley to settle. The latter quickly pulled back to 3-5 which restored some confidence, but Toop and Wiseman continued to dominate and play the more testing shots, and after a long struggle, established an 11-6 lead. Dunbar and Cooley pulled another couple of points back, but the Olavians maintained the pressure to win a crucial first game 12-8. Toop and Wiseman had set the tone for the game, and the holders were always fighting for parity and on the catch up.

Stung by this reversal, Dunbar and Cooley raced into the lead at the start of the second game, going 5-0 ahead in a single hand, changing tactics to become more buttress based, and intercepting their opponents’ shots much more. Toop and Wiseman managed to stem the tide, adjusting to the change in tactics, but had few opportunities to score points themselves, and the holders won the game comfortably 12-3, always in control.

Toop and Wiseman had requested a new ball at the start of the third game, agreed by their opponents, and must have hoped that they could reestablish their first game dominance, however Dunbar and Cooley took a useful lead (3-0) from the first hand. There followed several tight and keenly fought rallies as the score increased to 5-2, but then a burst of outstanding shots from the holders took them to a 9-2 lead in a pair of hands. Toop and Wiseman again steadied the flow for a long time, but the pressure eventually told, as Dunbar and Cooley won the third game 12-3 again.

Dunbar and Cooley maintained their momentum at the start of the fourth game, continuing to play positively and attacking the buttress, and steadily scoring points, so that after eight of their hands the score had reached 9-2 and the match looked to be nearing its conclusion. At this point, a loose cut from Toop which hit the ledge and went round three walls gave Cooley the opportunity to volley from mid-court; sensing the moment he went for the winner and hit it hard 5 yards out of court. There were other unforced errors and missed opportunities, and Toop and Wiseman sensed a chance: with the score at 10-4, Toop called to his partner ‘let’s really go for it, don’t worry about making a mistake!’. There followed an amazing rally, with the Olavians dominant, the holders scraped some unbelievable gets to stay in the game, and Toop finally finished it by killing a volley. One sensed that the challengers were gaining some momentum, and slowly their score mounted, but Dunbar and Cooley reached game-ball at 11-6. Eight hands followed without a change of score with both sides nip and tuck, but then Toop and Wiseman began to make progress, and gradually the score mounted. Dunbar and Cooley returned the game ball cut 8 times without being able to win the rally, and the score reached 11-10, providing unbearable suspense for supporters of both pairs. Then, with the holders having returned the cut, Dunbar moved forward from the back of the court anticipating a volley, which he unusually hit down the line along the right wall. It landed a yard in court with sufficient pace to defeat the chaser, and the game was won 12-10, and with it the match.

It had been an extraordinary final game, and no one could have predicted the result of the fifth if the Olavians had won the fourth. All four players had demonstrated supreme skill and mastery of their craft, and it is hard to imagine that there have ever been two pairs in the history of the game playing the game at this standard at the same time. Ten years ago these players would have killed the ball in the rallies more often, but now the retrieving is exceptional, and there were countless long rallies to marvel at, with all four players maneuvering for position. There were remarkably few lets, and for the vast majority of the time, the game was played in a balanced atmosphere, which was extraordinary considering the sustained competitiveness of the play. Toop and Wiseman played their hearts out, and came so close to taking the game into unchartered waters. They had an excellent plan at the start which worked for a game, and fought back valiantly in the fourth as they threw caution to the wind. They will look back and say ‘what if?’, but also be consoled that they stretched the holders to the limit, and showed that, at their best, they are a potential match for them. Dunbar and Cooley won because they had the wherewithal to change their tactics and respond to the initial Olavian onslaught, so that they could dominate two games and the first part of the fourth so comprehensively. They also kept their nerve (just), and Dunbar produced the defining moment of the match with his final shot. He also returned the highest proportion of cuts, whilst Cooley was the most effective cutter and played telling approach shots around the walls from the back of the court. Tom Dunbar has now equalled John Reynolds’ tally of 11 Kinnaird titles, whilst Seb Cooley is now the most frequent Olavian winner. We all look forward to future battles between these four quite outstanding players.

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