(2nd weekend – report)
Following on from their unbelievable first weekend of the County Championships, Warwickshire could have been forgiven for thinking they were safe from relegation. Little did they know this couldn’t have been further from the truth!
Going into the weekend, Warwickshire were comfortably lying in 3rd place in the table and feeling confident that the dreaded drop was not going to be an issue, in particular after their opening match with Kent who themselves were below Warwickshire after the first 3 rounds of matches.
‘Mr. Reliable’ Matt Outhwaite was first on for Warwickshire and following 2 extremely close sets with England ranked No. 26 Reece Placid found himself on the wrong end of 2 deuces, 12-10 and 14-12. Whilst most other young players would have panicked at this point, Matt once again showed his maturity (as he appears to have done so since he was about 12!!!!) and clawed the next two ends back 10-12 and 9-11, playing as if it was 1-1 in the first game. At 8-8 in the decider, Matt quickly rattled off 3 points in succession, his trademark backhand loop proving decisive and the Bears found themselves 1-0 up!
Matt Kwok Lun making only his 4th appearance ever for the Bears continued his excellent recent local league form despite looking extremely fatigued by beating Tom Windram in 4 sets 11-7, 6-11, 7-11 and 9-11, to put Warwickshire 2-0 up and looking comfortable.
Unfortunately, Warwickshire were once again left in the precarious position of having only 1 girl present throughout the entire weekend and thus the 3rd match was conceded making the score 2-1 in Warwickshire’s favour.
‘Loz’ Sweeney then stepped up to the plate for Warwickshire and was faced with the daunting task of having to play the demonstrative England No. 10 Daniel Lawrence. In what proved to be the game of the match, Loz, like Matt, found himself 2-0 down and facing an uphill battle against one of the best junior sin the country, showed just why he himself is now rightly among the country’s elite. Faced with a match point against him in the 3rd set, Loz demonstrated his newly acquired focus and remained steadfast believing in his match strategy and technique. He somehow managed to scrape the 3rd set 14-12 and repeated the feat in the 4th end winning 13-11! This appeared to have had a huge effect mentally on Danny as Loz powered into a 9-5 lead in the deciding end. But top 10 players are there for a reason and Danny showed just why he is a future England International with some excellent touch play to keep the powerful Sweeney at bay. A time out was required and duly called, for Loz to compose his thoughts and decide on his strategy. It worked and 2 points later Loz recorded the win of the weekend winning 11-98 in the decider.
Once everyone had breathed a huge sigh of relief following on from Warwickshire going 3-1 up, young Holly Thompson then had the unenviable task of playing Emma Tovey, who was some 50 places above her on the England ranking list. Holly never looked like troubling the rising star from Kent and was comfortably beaten 3-0 to make the score line 3-2 to Warwickshire.
Matt Kwok Lun was then back in action and would have been forgiven for thinking he would have struggled against Reece Placid who was 12 places above him on the England ranking list. Matt showed no signs of fear though whatsoever and won a comfortable 4 game match, despite once again losing the first end. Following some harsh words with his coach, Mathew was left in no doubt that he needed to up the tempo after the first end and duly obliged winning the next 3 sets, 5, 7 & 7. Little were Warwickshire to know at this point, but the lethargy that was appearing to creep into the players performances would come back to haunt them!
At 4-2, once again Warwickshire had to conceded their second game of the match and the hard fought 2 game lead was instantly reduced to 1. 4-3 to Warwickshire.
Loz Sweeney’s excellent result against Danny Lawrence was then reinforced when Matt Outhwaite found himself on the wrong end of a 3-1 loss to the talented England star. Matt never really got going and the match was somewhat summed up when Matt lost a 10-6 lead in the second end and finally lost it 13-11. Despite a brave attempt to put the disappointment out of his mind and winning the 3rd end 12-10, Danny Lawrence remained determined to not let another 2-0 lead slip from his grasp and he comfortably won the 4th end 11-5.
4-4 and with Holly having to face the highest ranked girl present over the weekend in the shape of England No. 14 Jas Ould, Warwickshire all of a sudden were looking at the wrong end of a 6-4 loss!
Jas duly obliged by winning an extremely one sided affair against a brave Holly, who despite the 3-0 loss, took the 2nd end to deuce and showed signs of what she can produce when she puts her mind to it.
So, as was often the case last year when Warwickshire won promotion into the premiership with such aplomb, Loz Sweeney was called upon to rescue a point for Warwickshire. On paper it looked like a non contest with England ranked No. 16 Sweeney having to see off England No. 149 Windram. The reality was far different to what was expected. Having lost the first end, Sweeney appeared to gather his thoughts and took the 2nd and 3rd ends respectively. Windram though had other ideas and could see what would be the greatest win of his young career potentially as he took the 4th end 11-6 to take the contest both individually and as a team down to the wire. Similarly to Matt Kwok Lunn, Sweeney appeared somewhat lackadaisical and was in danger of having a maximum loss against him. After some strong words from both Ian Ferguson and Kate Hughes, Sweeney realising the importance of the win, snapped himself out of his apparent dreamlike state (or should I say nightmare!!?!??!) and showed the gulf in class between the 2 players by cruising to an 11-5 win which saw the Bears gain their first point of the weekend following a hard fought 5-5 draw.
The lacklustre attitude that had started to creep into the player’s performance in the first match of the weekend then truly came to fruition against their next opponents Yorkshire. With Yorkshire 2 places below Warwickshire, it looked as though a win was easily attainable and with it mathematical safety from the dreaded drop.
Some 120 minutes later and Warwickshire had suffered their biggest defeat of the entire Championships so far, being taught a lesson in how talent alone only gets you so far and that mental aptitude and hard work is equally as important. 9-1 to Yorkshire, Loz Sweeney winning the single game for the bears. This was Warwickshire’s heaviest defeat for the 3 years since team Captain Ian Ferguson had taken over running the team and as a result, he, along with the players had some serious reflecting to do if they were to avoid the drop on the final days play. With their tails firmly between their legs and having been left in no uncertainty as to how poor their attitude was (Holly being the exception who had won her first end of the weekend and was unlucky not to have gained her first victor), Warwickshire left the venue having gained only a single point from their opening 2 matches and following a number of results going against them with between their opponents, now found themselves in the precarious position of 5th place, only 2 above the drop zone.
Sunday morning and with a new day ahead of them and a team talk between all concerned, Warwickshire juniors showed Fergie just why he has come to heap such praise and admiration for his team over the past few seasons. Warwickshire were like a breath of fresh air following on from the previous days disaster and despite going down 6-4 to Championship leaders Middlesex, the performance and attitude was as Fergie had come to expect in recent years. Warwickshire were incredibly unlucky not to get the single point that they still required to assure safety, but with 2 from Loz and one a piece from the ‘Matts’, Warwickshire appeared to have turned the corner were ready for the fight of their Table Tennis lives to secure their Premiership status.
As it happened, Warwickshire’s final opponents Cleveland, who were bottom following the first weekend with three straight losses, had turned things around themselves and had managed 2 wins out of 3 and were the ‘in form’ team. By including current junior No. 15 Alec Ward into their team, the draw that was required by Warwickshire was going to prove even tougher than first thought and Cleveland with their own incentive of knowing that a 6-4 win would keep them amongst the countries elite, all was set for a moth watering encounter.
First up for Warwickshire was Loz Sweeney, who knew that despite his epic win over Danny Lawrence the previous day, his loss against Yorkshire had somewhat tainted his performance. Loz was intent on setting the record straight and with only one place separating himself and ‘man of the moment’ Alec Ward, he set about his task with the power play that has becomehis trademark in recent years. Loz was ‘on fire’ and nothing Alec could throw at him was going to prevent Loz taking his second win of the weekend against opposition ranked higher than him. In what turned out to be an incredibly one sided affair, Loz stormed to a 3-1 win, 11-6, 7-11, 11-4, 11-4 and set theball rolling for the Bears.
In another crucial match Matt Kwok Lunn was next up for Warwickshire and with Kate Hughes taking to his corner, nobody could have expected such a reversal in terms of attitude and energy that Matt displayed. Having won 2 tight first ends 14-12 and 12-10, following some excellent coaching and advice from Kate, Matt went on to take the match 3-1, playing far more aggressively than he had done on the previous day and showing just why he is one of the top ten senior players in Leamington and a top 30 junior in the country. Kate appeared to have reasserted Matt’s self belief and in doing so had managed to get the best out of him at the most crucial stage of the weekend so far.
2 -0 then became 2-1 as Holly was unfortunate to be beaten in 3 straight games against Eleanor Davidson. Holly once again showing that when on song, she can compete with the best, losing 3 tight ends.
With the score at 2-1, perhaps the most crucial game of the match was up next. Matt Outhwaite had been quietly preparing himself mentally for his match against the talented Billy Foster how important did his excellent preparation turn out. The first four games were equally shared, in what can only be described as a neck and neck contest, with the scores coming in at 11-9, 12-10, 10-12, 9-11 (a numerical palindrome for those geeky enough to be interested!!!!). Matt had let a 2-0 lead slip, but both he and his coach knew there was only ever going to be one winner. Despite the momentum appearing to switch over the 3rd and 4th games, Matt stuck to his game plan that he had gone over in his head prior to the match and showed incredible self belief. At 8-2 in the decider, Matt could have been forgiven for thinking it was all over. However, Billy didn’t quite see it like that and he rallied to make it 9-7 and be only 2 points adrift. If ever a time out was needed it was now and the understanding that has developed between Ferguson and Outhwaite over the past few seasons was there for all to see as they both called a time out within a split second of each other. Some calming words between coach and player and reinforcing what he had done so far throughout the match so successfully, Matt rolled off the next two points, securing a 3-1 lead and putting Warwickshire within touching distance of survival.
As had been throughout the entire championship, Warwickshire’s 2 game cushion was yet again surrendered as they had to concede a girls match; 3-2.
Loz Sweeney, who appeared to still be annoyed at his solitary loss, then showed why he is fast becoming one of Warwickshire’s brightest stars and a real threat to the current junior England squad, by completely demolishing young Sam Hitchin 9,6 and 7, to put Warwickshire a single game away from safety.
Fittingly it was Warwickshire’s current number 1 junior Matt Outhwaite, who despite recently dropping below loz for the first time on the National junior ranking list, but above him on the senior list, proved that there is not a lot, if anything between himself and his team mate. In what was to be his best performance of the weekend, if not the entire championship, Matt beat Alec ward (5 places above him on the ETTA ranking list) in 3 straight sets, 8.7 & 4, gaining his best win of the weekend and more importantly securing the precious point that Warwickshire needed to remain in the Premiership for the year 2012/13!
Job done and the Bears would eventually settle for a 5-5 draw with Cleveland who themselves were desperately unlucky to go down, missing out on survival by a single point. Ironically Warwickshire’s draw saw them finish in 5th spot, their highest placing in the Premiership for over 25 years!!!
Congratulations must go to all 4 of the players for once again not only their performances on the table, but the spirit and camaraderie that Warwickshire never fail to demonstrate year after year.
Special thanks must also go to Kate Hughes for her invaluable coaching input and support of the players, as should the parents present also. Their support and commitment to each and every player and not just their own, ensures Warwickshire have a wonderful team spirit that is second to none throughout the country.