The peculiarities of the Summer League handicap system were exposed tonight. Based on a team’s ranking across all five winter divisions, rather than an individual’s win percentage, they pitted same-division players’ John Barker and Alan Bradshaw against each other with Barker, the stronger player incredulously getting a 2-point start. There is little reason to believe that this had a significant impact on the final scoreline, but it is probably time for the committee to introduce a fairer, personalised system.
On paper the teams seemed evenly matched – Adele Spibey (Div3 – 71%) and John Barker (Div 2 – 33%) of Me & Partner Vs Barry Walsh (Div2 part-timer) and Alan Bradshaw (Div2 – 27%) of Coffin Dodgers. All had their weapons, their styles, their trademark shots but it was Barker, the structural engineer most effectively analysing the players before him.
First to feel the might of his sweeping, cross-table backhand was Walsh, the T-shirt mad veteran. 11-6 followed by a tense 15-13 firmly put Barker in control. Walsh – Donic’s unpaid ambassador – pawed his way back into the match, however; his blocking and well-positioned shots temporarily bringing a halt to Barker’s bluster and brawn (5-11). As if beaten back by the fullness of Barker’s game though, Walsh – more of an instinctive player rather than technique-induced – bowed (9-2), briefly rallied (10-8) then fell (11-8) just as the evening promised a five-game spectacle.
Spibey, next to appear – her tall frame exhibiting both shrewd potency and an aching humility – gave her usual pre-match drawl of not being the favourite. Bradshaw, recent double hernia operation behind him and heavy strapping down the right side of his body (knee, wrist and elbow), would disagree.
True to appearances, Spibey powered her way through the initial game (11-6); vicious backhands ricocheting off her opponent. Bradshaw, not to be undone – despite his limited manoeuvrability – got back on level terms (11-13) partly due to his teasing, deceptive spin. Perhaps motivated by the symbolic flair of her blue and yellow, Brazilian-like top and the realism of her youthful vigour Spibey regained control: 11-8, 11-8. Another 3-1 win for Me & Partner.
‘How do you stop this girl?’ Unsettle her, play unorthodox shots, get the ball to really kick. Nobody was listening: The doubles is a whitewash (3-0); Spibey destroys Walsh (3-0); Barker tears into Bradshaw (3-0). 15-2 at the close. A laboured evening for some.
* This piece was published in The Bolton News on Tues, 28th May 2013