In the late afternoon of Saturday 16th January, the CUEFC Men’s team found themselves twiddling their thumbs at the Sports Centre courts as they waited for the arrival of the Shrewsbury School fives team, who consistently produce some of the best school players on the fives circuit. It was worth the wait, as the matches proved to be strongly contested at a high standard of play. The Cambridge team was comprised of:
- Tony Barker + Riki Houlden
- Jamie Abbott + Jack Parham
- Nathan Turnbull + Anthony Kane
At 1st pair, the selection of an overly lively ball led to a messy game full of errors for the Shrewsbury side of Tom and George, allowing Tony and Riki to breeze past 12-1. Both sides agreed to a change of ball in want of a proper game of fives, but the Cambridge pair again eased their way through to 10-1. Having not faced much of a challenge yet they began to lose their focus and gave away a few points, but soon brought things back to win the second game 12-4. In the third, it was apparent that the Shrewsbury pair had received a wealth of advice between games from their coach Seb Cooley, the highest ranking fives player in the country, with unforced errors gone and demonstrating more structured play. They took the lead, but Cambridge held on, never letting them get more than a couple of points ahead. Eventually, the importance of experience became apparent as Tony and Riki kept their cool, always aiming to get on the attack and keep the pressure high despite being behind 3-5 or 4-6 – the pressure was too much for Shrewsbury at the mid-stage of this third game and mistakes began creeping back in. The frustration Tom and George directed towards each other led to a vicious cycle and the Cambridge 1st pair had a run of points and finished them off 12-7, giving a dominant 3-0 victory.
At 3rd pair, the start of the match saw a 12-0 whitewash in favour of the opposition, due to a mixture of bad luck and never having experienced the blistering speed of the Shrewsbury style of fives play. Anthony and Nathan aimed in the second to take more time on each shot to slow the rallies down, and switching to going under the wall resulted in more successful returns – these thoughtful tactical changes bought the Cambridge pair a close 12-10 win in the second. However, in both the third and fourth games the Shrewsbury pair had one tearaway hand of six points in a row with a number of unfortunate Cambridge cuts hitting the ledge and flying out of court, allowing the opposition to break away and making it too difficult to salvage the game. Shrewsbury won the games 12-5 and 12-6, resulting in a 3-1 loss.
The 2nd court saw the longest match of the day and the decider – it lasted over 2 hours and unsurprisingly consumed the attention of all others present, the momentum in the match swinging back and forth like a pendulum. The Shrewsbury pair of Jack (Fox) and Luke started strongly, putting together a run of cut returns in the first set, with Jack in particular finding his rhythm early. 12-7 Shrewsbury. Cambridge raced to victory in the second, with Jack (Parham) volleying superbly on back step. 12-3 Cambridge. The third was close from start to finish with neither side able to push ahead. At 10-10 Shrewsbury elected step at 12, clinching it 13-11. The fourth set unfolded in very similar fashion to the second with Cambridge racing into a lead and finishing it off 12-3. Shrewsbury fought back in the fifth with Luke in particular impressing with cut returns. Cambridge fought hard to stay in the match but the Shrewsbury pair were always the slightest margin ahead. Although Cambridge saved several hands on step with some fantastic cutting and Jamie’s strong performance at the front, the Shrewsbury pair eventually converted, winning the game 12-10 and the match 3-2. A nail-biting finish to a nail-biting encounter.
The day ended as a 2-1 loss for Cambridge, but a 6-6 draw in games and a 111-101 win in points shows just how well-matched the fixture was – hopefully one that we will see again and again in years to come.
- 12-1, 12-4, 12-7
- 7-12, 12-3, 11-13, 12-3, 10-12
- 0-12, 12-10, 5-12, 6-12