Early on Sunday 6th December, the Cambridge pairing of Alistair Stewart and Sudhir Balaji found themselves bleary-eyed in Harrow. They were to take part in the London Festival Tournament, the more relaxed half of the London Tournament that is usually dominated by good school players and the middle aged.
The standard of their group was typically mixed: without too much difficulty they eased their way past a father and son pair, a couple of year 10 Olavians, and Balaji’s very own brother Sachin! Coming at the top of their group, then, they starting wondering whether Festival victory might just be possible.
Their Last 16 match was against an exceptionally strong women’s pair from Oxford, but superior movement and power ensured a Cantab win without conceding more than a handful of points. The quarters came next: the talented opposition lacked consistency, balance and communication, and the stout-hearted Cambridge lads pushed through.
The semis saw them up against an extremely strong twenty-something pair of Berkhamsted old boys, who on another day could easily have won the whole tournament. But again they didn’t show the typically Cantabrigian discipline and focus that is required to finish, cutting the ball out repeatedly and getting frustrated with themselves, and it was a 15-8 win for Stewart and Balaji.
The best-of-three final had the Cantabs pitted against a young Olavian outfit who clearly have a knack for the game and have had superb coaching – their talent will surely see them winning tournaments like the Festival very soon. Stewart and Balaji started strong, winning their first game 12-9, before losing their way slightly and conceding the next game 6-12. Crucially they didn’t panic: on court Balaji has the temperament of a nicely chilled cucumber, and the experienced Cambridge boys smooshed the decider 12-6.
With photos taken and rewarded with a box of M&S chocs apiece for the Cantabs, Balaji was heard to comment that this was his first tournament victory. A fine end to the Michaelmas Term, then – great things surely await CUEFC come Lent.