On 1st December Cambridgeshire Ist team hosted league leaders Leicestershire I in what was inevitably going to be a very tough afternoon. And so it proved...
Having been a long-standing & established Premier Division team only a few seasons ago, it's rather a surprise to see Leicestershire's Ist team competing in Division 2 this season. And with this season's return of their star player Tom Armstrong from coaching in New Zealand, Leicestershire appear to be back to the strength of prior years; which they are emphatically proving so far this season, having won all of their opening 3 matches against Norfolk, Hertfordshire & Warwickshire with convincing 12-3 scorelines.
Cambridgeshire were therefore under no illusions of the size of the task facing them as singles players took to the courts...
Min Dabasinskas produced an excellent performance to take Tom Armstrong to 3 sets, but the opponent was able to show his true pedigree in the 3rd end, taking it 21-9.
At second singles Paul Heads showed early promise in the first end, losing out 21-15 to a meticulous James White. However the resolute steadiness & consistency of the Leicestershire player proved too much as he took the second end 21-9.
Leicestershire completed the clean-sweep of the singles games by also taking both ladies' singles. Natalie Taylor narrowly lost out in 21-15 in a deciding set, despite producing what was arguably her strongest singles performance of the season. And at second singles, Olga Bryant fell to a 21-15, 21-16 defeat.
The first round of level doubles followed in the same vein as Leicestershire enforced their strength, again taking all 4 rubbers despite some very close contests; most notably Natalie & Sara Cunnington at top ladies doubles, losing out 21-17 in a deciding set. There were also fighting performances from Ist team debutant Abu Kaher, and Adele Woodhams.
However, the second round of level doubles saw Cambridgeshire eventually reap rewards for all their efforts. Simon Woodhouse & Min took a fantastic straight-sets victory against the strong twin-brother pairing of James & Simon White. And Natalie & Sara showed they were back to top form with a straight-sets victory over Leicestershire's second ladies pair.
Cambridgeshire were trailing 10-2 going in to the mixed, with a league point out of reach, but needing just one of the three mixed matches to reach the more realistic goal of matching the scoreline achieved by the division's other teams.
Min & Olga faced the arduous task at top mixed of facing Tom Armstrong & Sarita Patel, and were unable to produce an upset despite a strong start, falling 21-16, 21-10.
At third mixed Paul & Sara came flying out of the blocks in the first set, and showed their battling qualities in a tight second set, as they toppled Mark King & Jenny Scarlett 21-8, 23-21; moving Cambridgeshire's tally to 3.
Sadly, the opportunity to make a statement to the rest of the league, and take more games from Leicestershire than any other opponent this season, fell short in unfortunate circumstances.
At second mixed Simon & Natalie appeared to be in control as they lead the opening set 14-9, showing excellent attacking pace. However, an untimely & unwelcomed recurrence of an old back injury cut Simon's afternoon short. Despite bravely attempting to play through the first set, given their considerable lead, they were unable to stagger over the finish line, losing 21-19. Sadly, a second set never made it to court.
So, despite a 12-3 loss, there were plenty of positives to take forward in the campaign. And realistically, the fate of Cambridgeshire's season was never going to be determined on this result. Much more crucial is the visit of Norfolk in two weeks time, where a victory will be essential in the battle to avoid the dreaded threat of relegation.
Congratulations to Natalie Taylor on being voted player of the match.
The team: Mindaugas Dabasinskas, Paul Heads, Simon Woodhouse, Abu Kaher, Natalie Taylor, Olga Bryant, Sara Cunnington (c), Adele Woodhams.
Match report by Simon Woodhouse.
More information about results of the Cambs I team is available on the Team Page.