It occurred to me this month that I am slowly becoming Neville Singh. In table tennis terms at least, the metamorphosis has begun. The parlous state of my game – although not littered by 3-set destruction – is in a firm downward spiral.
I blame this, of course, entirely on journalistic commitments and the ungracious decision of opponents to practise in between matches. That players should want to better themselves is inconsiderate and truly disgraceful.
Side by side, my stats this season compared to the real Neville Singh, are frighteningly similar. Neville has played 45 matches and won only two. I have played 33 matches and, likewise, won a mere two.
We could argue that I am the bigger man with a ‘whopping’ 6% win percentage compared to Neville’s ‘pitiful’ 4% and that I play in the alligator-infested waters of Division Two whereas Neville is comfortably seated on an airboat zipping its way across the Everglades of Division Three, but such a thesis would suffer at the hands of a sports’ professor.
Singh is a classic, slightly beaten-up old car still tooting his horn in the Bolton League. I am a novice by comparison – yet to feel true hardship. Singh has curated his way to an impeccable single-digit percentage every other season (2011/12 – 2.22%, 2013/14 – 2.22%, 2015/16 – 4.44%), but I have simply experienced the odd crash (2013/14 – 20.83%, 2015/16 – 6.06%).
Becoming a table tennis banana skin has its advantages – opponents get complacent, it is presumed that you hold the bat like you would a bottle of HP Sauce and the wry smiles soon disintegrate upon realising that you have seven different serves – but there is no escaping the new landscape with its dead weeds and gallons of Roundup Ready.
I am in the habit of closely following Neville Singh’s results. Ever since writing a piece on him three years ago I have felt it my duty to celebrate minor improvements in his game. When I see that he has gone to four sets and not simply been whitewashed, I silently applaud. When I stumble upon results like in October – a 3-1 win over Geoff Rushton (9-11, 12-10, 11-5, 11-9) – I cheer.
Perhaps that is my problem though. Perhaps by ‘underwriting’ a gallant and intrepid loser my own game has shadowed his and been re-rated to ‘Junk’. Perhaps it is time I untethered myself from the great Neville Singh warship and supported the unbeaten Max Brooks and Agata Sankiewicz instead.