Division Three: Irlam Steel 4 – 5 Lostock
I did not go to the Hilton Centre on Thursday. I went to the Octagon Theatre. Or at least, that is how it felt. From the undulating sarcasm of Lostock’s Arfat Khan (“Yes – go for a winner every time”) to the newfound poise and control of Irlam Steel’s Neville Singh, this was a delight, a pain au chocolat wrapped in almonds.
Each match had its stage, its actors and the grand sweep of opposing styles. And what better way to start than Singh Vs John Nuttall. For a fleeting moment Singh was in the lead (1-0), living with the Lostock bruiser (5-6) and genuinely re-born. Such a state of play could not remain though. Odds exist for a reason and I would put my house, my family and the loose change in my pocket on Nuttall.
It is not that he hates losing. There is nothing Herculean about him either. He is just…good, incredibly in-tune with the vibes of the game. And I cannot see anybody beating him this season – certainly not in the league. The bookies’ dream will march on, as he did here: 11-5, 11-4, 11-2.
Irlam’s 75% man, David Yates – by contrast – has had a worrying start to the season. Beautiful technique, big shots but a little too polite at times – his Driving Miss Daisy backhand loops affording the opponent too many opportunities to smash.
His first match was a formality against the slightly nervous, Khan (11-5, 15-13, 11-4), whose early affinity with the net did not help his cause. What followed was the real test though versus Mike McKend. McKend’s ragged and unorthodox style had already been exposed against the lowly ranked, Singh (a huge coup for the latter: 12-10, 11-6, 11-8) but – as typified the evening – surprises were many.
Yates throws the ball up too much as if in an exhibition match playing ‘keep it in’. McKend, happy to forage on such generosity, edged the first set 12-10. A comprehensive beating in the two sets that followed (11-3, 11-7) gave the impression that McKend, despite his ugly push shots, could play this game with a piece of firewood.
The other five matches, sprinkled with Khan’s self-deprecating humour (“Rotten!”), produced a tightrope victory for Lostock: Matt Hood 3-2 Khan; Hood 3-2 McKend; Yates 0-3 Nuttall; Singh 0-3 Khan; Hood 0-3 Nuttall.