Perfect Ten For Dunbar & Cooley
02/11/20: Defending champions Seb Cooley & Tom Dunbar completed an astonishing tenth consecutive win in the final of the 2020 Kinnaird Cup in association with Advanta Wealth at Eton on Saturday.
Watch the whole match by CLICKING HERE
T.Dunbar & S.Cooley beat J.Toop & M.Wiseman 3-1 (7-12, 12-2, 12-8, 12-8)
The earlier rounds of the competition seemed a long time ago as the 2020 Kinniard finally reached its belated climax; the ominous symmetry of the quarter-finals being played just days before the March lockdown and the Prime Minister preparing to announce a second one soon after the last ball had been hit in the final were lost on no-one. In many ways. though, it was a triumph merely to have succeeded in bringing this year's tournament to a conclusion and the quality of the final was all the more impressive considering the disruptions and limited opportunities for competitive practice for all four players. There was a tinge of disappointment that the eagerly anticipated livestreaming of the final couldn't go ahead, but the appalling Saturday morning weather had left many of the Eton courts damp and the players understandably chose to play on the court they considered the driest and safest. Sadly Eton's WiFi wouldn't stretch as far as Court 11, but the previous week's testing has shown that livestreaming of future matches is very much on the cards, an exciting and most welcome development in the game. A full recording of the final will be available to watch in the next few days.
The Mark Williams view:
It had been three and a half years since these four outstanding players had met on Eton Fives’ grandest stage, and anticipation was high after two relatively one-sided semi-finals. Ryan Perrie and Anthony Theodossi started well, only for Seb Cooley and Tom Dunbar to settle, catch up and then dominate the rest of the match. Young pretenders Johnny Ho and Rikki Houlden fancied their chances, and are the only pair ever to have defeated the reigning champions, but they were overwhelmed by an aggressive, consistent and supremely confident performance from Matt Wiseman and James Toop in the first ever match between the pairs. Matt, in particular, looked fresh, hungry, very determined and fully fit, and it was good to see him restored to this state after serious shoulder surgery, whilst James produced a near-faultless performance in support. So the stage was set for another epic encounter between the two pairs who have dominated the top end of the game for well over a decade.
The Olavians began in top gear, immediately establishing a 3-0 lead in the first two hands, and whilst their opponents levelled the score, they quickly raced to an 8-3 advantage with accurate aggressive volleying and rally play, looking really confident and determined. Their opponents were rattled, slightly shell-shocked and were in unusually uncertain mode, both having ‘lost two’ when cutting. There followed a long period of stalemate as Dunbar and Cooley improved their set-piece, upped their game and eventually clawed back to 5-8, but Toop and Wiseman kept their nerve and continued to play virtually faultless fives, gaining a 10-6 advantage. All four players were now playing at their best and there were several breath-taking extended rallies; the standard of retrieving was quite exceptional, and all four players attacked whenever the opportunity arose. Eventually it was the Olavians who won the day, 12-8, to establish a rare lead in the history of these contests, which promised, at this point, to be crucial.
Stung into action, the response of the holders was immediate and brutal. Suddenly, they were cutting their opponents down, ruthlessly attacking the buttress, and enjoying the ‘rub of the green’ with the edges. Tom Dunbar, in particular, returning most cuts, reaching a significantly higher number of volleys, and finding his length. In no time at all they had won the game 12-2, and it was the challengers’ turn to feel shell-shocked.
In the crucial third game, Toop and Wiseman rediscovered their confidence, aggression and consistency, and briefly led 2-0, hoping to extend the sort of dominance that their opponents had established in the previous game. Their opponents quickly responded, however, to lead 6-2. All four players were now locked in combat and playing near the top of their games. Both pairs struggled to kill the ball from the limited chances to attack, and rallies therefore were extended in an endless game of ‘cat and mouse’ which ebbed and flowed; all but the deadest balls being not just retrieved, but kept the ball out of immediate danger. It was compelling watching, and difficult to tell who would eventually triumph, as the challengers pulled the score back to 5-7. There was one rally, in particular, where Seb Cooley twice dived full length, horizontally, in opposite directions, to achieve remarkable ‘gets’ inches from the floor, and having eventually won the point, emerged flabbergasted, looking white as a sheet. Neither pair would give, but Dunbar and Cooley moved to a 10-5 advantage; in response, their opponents pulled back to 8-10, and the game was anybody’s. It was Dunbar and Cooley who finally pulled through 12-8, after the former managed to find a couple of special shots, but it had been a desperately close-run thing. The pairs were so well matched, playing with remarkable consistency and determination, and the levels of skill in every aspect of the game were exceptionally high.
The start of the fourth game was initially an anti-climax as the holders built on the surge of adrenalin gained from winning a crucial game; both players playing at their best. They quickly established a 7-1 advantage with some compelling fives, and the match looked as good as over. Toop and Wiseman dug deep and significantly slowed the rate of point scoring as well as slowly managing some success of their own, but after an extended period of play where there seemed no difference between the pairs, Dunbar and Cooley maintained their composure to lead 11-5. However, a slight lack of concentration at the set piece, some brilliant play by the Olavian pair, and three well-earned edges, led to three points in quick succession, and reduced the deficit to 8-11. Once again, the game was there for the taking by either pair. There was no doubt that the holders were rattled as Tom Dunbar’s increasingly desperate calls to his partner to finish the game testified. The match hung in the balance for three or four hands, but the final point was a huge anti-climax, as Matt Wiseman’s ‘game-ball’ cut hit the ledge and soared out, and both pairs and the few spectators sighed and hung their heads in disappointment that such an extraordinary contest should end in this way. The intensity of the second half of the game matched the first and third, and made for compelling viewing, testing the players’ temperaments to the limit.
To the victors the spoils: Tom Dunbar’s 16th Kinnaird (now 5 more than John Reynolds); Seb Cooley’s 10th, and most remarkably, as a pair, they have equalled the longest consecutive run of 10 wins by Brian Matthews and John Reynolds (1981-1990). By contrast, James Toop has won 4 Kinnairds and Matt Wiseman 3, although they have lost more finals (11) than any other pair, and the former more finals (14) than any other player. Tom Dunbar had an excellent match, returning a higher proportion of cuts and volleying more than anyone else; he also attacked the buttress more from the back of the court. Seb Cooley’s retrieving was extraordinarily consistent, as was his overall consistency and variety of shot; he looked the fittest of the four. In the opinion of one very experienced observer, James Toop played better than he has ever done in any other final, and he made very few errors whilst volleying accurately, returning cut consistently and maintaining pressure with his accuracy, variety of shot and all-round game. Matt Wiseman cut consistently well, volleyed with his left hand to very good effect, and whilst never quite reaching the heights of his performance in the semi-final, played with remarkable consistency and determination. He was clearly refreshed and fully fit, and seems to have rediscovered his enthusiasm for the game. Dunbar and Cooley tended to attack the buttress more often, whereas Toop and Cooley tested their opponents more in the back of the court, but were more aggressive on top-step than they have sometimes been in the past. Comparing this final to their first nearly a decade ago, the ball is killed in the buttress significantly less often and the pace of the rallies has inevitably slowed. However, the accuracy of the shots and consistency and length of rallies has increased. It is now extremely rare for any player to be surprised by another’s shot as they are all so accustomed to each other’s games, and they all anticipate and move into position earlier than they used to. Both pairs remain extremely well matched, and currently stand head and shoulders above their nearest challengers.
There was an interesting incident at ‘game-ball’ in the third game: James Toop was clearly obstructed when trying to volley off the top of the buttress from the back of the court, but his partner returned the ball round the walls. As Seb Cooley tried to return it, his route to the front wall was inadvertently blocked by James, but instead he hit the ball up via the side wall, calling that the ball was still in play. As the ball came back round to James he caught the ball and asked for a let. Tom Dunbar agreed without demur, and a vital point was replayed. This is typical of the way in which Seb and Tom would always rather play a point again than be involved in an extended discussion, and is an example to us all.
Tom Dunbar, at 38, is the youngest of the four; how much longer they can keep playing at this standard is anyone’s guess, but this match was a wonderful advertisement for the game, and if we are lucky enough to be allowed a few more matches like this one, then it will be a privilege.
Our thanks go to Bill Norton, Sherisa Gumbs, Ryan Perrie and everyone at Eton for their wonderful support in enabling the match to go ahead, to Advanta Wealth for their sponsorship and to Chris Lumbard for his heroic recording efforts.
The Kinnaird Cup in numbers:
Most Kinnaird Cup wins
16 Tom Dunbar
11 John Reynolds
Most Consecutive Kinnaird Cup wins as a pair
10 Tom Dunbar & Seb Cooley
10 John Reynolds & Brian Matthews
4 Tony Hughes & Gordon Campbell
3 Peter May & John May
3 Robin Moulsdale & Dick Kittermaster
3 Tom Dunbar & Robin Mason
3 Robin Mason & Jonathan Mole
Most Kinnaird Final Appearances
19 Tom Dunbar
19 Tony Hughes
18 James Toop
13 Gordon Campbell
13 Matthew Wiseman
12 Jimmy Biggs
12 John Reynolds
11 Robin Mason
11 Brian Matthews
10 Seb Cooley
8 Denys Firth
8 Jonathan Mole
7 Peter Dunbar
7 Howard Fabian
7 Andy Gibson
7 Martin Shortland-Jones
7 Doug Wainwright
7 Ed Wass
6 Jamie Halstead
6 Dick Kittermaster
6 Robin Moulsdale
5 David Guilford
5 Malcolm Keeling