The second weekend of matches in the O-60's Premier Division of the County Championships took place at Milton Keynes Table Tennis Centre on Sat 12 & Sun 13 March. The Oxfordshire team finished in the runners-up slot. Oxfordshire were represented throughout the competition by Karl Bushell, Nat Richardson, Neil Hurford and Janet Brown.
After the first weekend of matches in October, Oxfordshire were languishing near the foot of the table having only secured one win from the first three matches. However, we took comfort from the fact that we had only lost by the smallest of margins to strong Essex and Sussex teams. Indeed, Essex included the former England International Stuart Gibbs in their line-up as well as other highly ranked players.
So going into the final round of matches, our sole objective was to secure a couple of wins and hope this would be enough to avoid relegation and secure our place in the top flight for another season.
The session got off to a disappointing start with Karl losing to the in-form Ken Jackson from Lancashire. A singles and mixed doubles wins kept us in the match, but as the ladies played their singles game we were still 3-2 down. Janet got us back to 3-3, and from there we didn't look back, reeling off the next 4 games to secure a 7-3 victory and 2 hard-earned points.
Next up were Kent. This was nip and tuck all the way, but with the score at 5-3 in our favour, Karl secured a convincing win over Kent No 1 - the ultra-awkward Roger Pingram. Another win and another 2 points on the road to safety.
So at the end of the first day, we had met our target of 2 wins. But results in other matches indicated that we would need 1 more point to be safe in the Division. However, we also realised that victory in our 2 games on Sunday would mean we would finish second - not something we had even considered.
Sunday's match was against Hampshire - bottom of the Division with no points. But with the highly ranked Derek Holman and Mike Rhodes leading their men's line-up, they had a very capable team. Karl beat Mike Rhodes in a tight 5-setter and Neil beat Rhamesh Bhalla to put us 2-0 up. Nat then produced a tremendous performance combining dogged defense with some great hitting to beat Derek Holman - despite losing the first two games and being 5-1 down in the fifth. Now 3-0 up, Nat had put us in a great position in the match and we ran out winners 9-1.
The final match against Cheshire was a bit of an anti-climax. Cheshire were a player short and so started the match 3-0 down. With the score 5-2 in our favour, Janet beat Doreen Schofield in 5 close games to secure victory. At this point, with the match lost and Cheshire No 1 Phil Biggs carrying an injury, Cheshire conceded the remaining 2 games to give us an 8-2 victory.
So much to our surprise, we had not only done enough to retain our Premier Division status, but had finished in the runners-up slot. Not surprisingly the strong Essex team were clear and worthy winners of the Division. This was an excellent performance by the Oxfordshire team - particularly so as we were competing against much bigger counties (Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, Essex etc) who have a much larger player base on which to call.
As expected Karl and Janet provided the foundations of our success. Karl won 12 out of his 14 singles - including a convincing win over Stuart Gibbs in the first session. Janet won 4 out of her 7 singles, and Karl & Janet were undefeated in all 7 mixed doubles matches. But this was an all round team performance with Nat and Neil contributing vital singles and doubles wins that made the difference between losing 6-4 and winning 6-4.
Oxon vs Yorkshire: Won 6-4
Oxon vs Essex: Lost 6-4
Oxon vs Sussex: Lost 6-4
Oxon vs Lancashire: Won 7-3
Oxon vs Kent: Won 6-4
Oxon vs Hampshire: Won 9-1
Oxon vs Cheshire: Won 8-2
The picture below shows the Oxfordshire quartet with their runners-up medals alongside competition organiser and referee Ted Tydeman.
Oxfordshire TT Association