Sometimes you get lucky. You sit down for a match not expecting much, but are then wowed and taken to a heavenly place. Tonight’s clash between Barcroft and Arabian Nights showcased the exquisite talents of Division Two’s John Scowcroft, the 77% man from ‘across the tracks’ – a lower-tiered player compared to teammate, Steve Barber (Premier – 27%) and ‘Arabian’ opponents Dave Holden and Jim Hewitt (Division One – 50% & 58% respectively).
If I am guilty of concentrating my pen on the exploits of just one player during a typical summer league evening – to the slight detriment of the other three – then I make no apologies. Scowcroft is worth the ink. He is 77-years-old, first played in 1952, yet has the vim and vigour of a man half his age. To see him bobbing and weaving in anticipation of each awkward shot is to be reminded of Mike Tyson at his best in the ring. One could say that Scowcroft is the Benjamin Button of the table tennis circuit. He appears to age backwards.
Resplendent in green polo shirt and blue shorts, he quickly asserts himself against Jim Hewitt. He is furnished with a 2-pt handicap yet the spring, chops, fluid movement and smashes of Scowcroft are worthy of the 11-9 opening win. Hewitt, methodical, serious-looking with a hint of nonchalance has a pimpled bat capable of reversing opponents’ shots or inducing extra swerve on the ball coupled with a Blancmange-like wobble. He preys on the over-anxiousness of Scowcroft in the 2nd (8-11).
The third game both entertains and delights: Scowcroft vociferous following a contentious ‘let’ at 6-4 and the crowd mesmerized by a 50-shot rally (Scowcroft stretching his lead to 9-6, then nailing it 11-7). The combination shots – lift, backhand, forehand – are impressive and despite being behind 2-5 in the 4th, he is too strong for Hewitt and brings the match home 11-7.
Steve Barber can only smile. How can he eclipse that? Sure enough, his match against Dave Holden is achingly tight but it slips away: 11-8, 9-11, 9-11, 11-6, 9-11. Plenty of nerve from the Joola T-shirted Arabian.
Success in the doubles follows (2-3) and we’re at 7-7 on the night.
Barber ‘cracks the safe’ with a beautiful 3-2 win over Hewitt, but it is Scowcroft who compounds the victory – who else? – refusing to bow to Holden’s vexatious ‘push’. 3-1. 13-10 Barcroft. Wonderful.
* This piece was published in The Bolton News on Tues, 18th June 2013