The stand out, plum fixture of the table tennis calendar’s opening week is Hilton ‘E’ versus Hilton ‘D’. The latter, captained by Andrew Morey, cleaned up Division Two last season yet worries now permeate the camp that ex-player Craig Duncan’s new team will make a mockery of the Hilton ranking system.
Win percentages mostly do not lie. Minh Le (73%), Stephen Hunt (48%) and Morey (81%) can expect the usual dilution of their stats now they are a division higher, however more worrisome is the imminent match on September 3rd versus Division One foes Wilson Parker (93%), Duncan (87%) and Josh Sandford (50%).
If Sandford raises his game and shouts a little less (or more), then this first fixture could be discomfiting for Hilton ‘D’ – a psychological hammerblow just days into the 2014/15 winter season.
Hilton ‘E’ is a team whose combined personalities have not tread the circuit for some time. Rich in horseplay, humour, intensity and steel, its three amigos ask you to indulge them, stand back while the fireworks go off – respect not their antics but the grounded sorcery which they bring to the table.
Duncan, a southpaw, schooled in the French sassiness of Lads’ Club import and coach, Roger Bertrand believes the time is right for an assault. His fleeting appearances in the league – a mere 9 in 2011/12, zero in 2012/13 and 15 in 2013/14 – conceal a wider truth. Although not ‘match fit’, he is hungry, slavering in anticipation of a full season.
The record book shows that his pithy efforts for the soon-to-be enemy were timely and repartee-like. Dispatching Division Two’s finest, Alan Lansdale, Krishna Chauhan and new compatriot, Wilson Parker, Duncan’s form was almost too impressive, ‘rigged’ and ridiculous (symptomatic of a secret training camp). The only black marks were against Ramsbottom ringer, Neil Booth and Meadow Ben’s hard-hitting bull, Philip Calvert.
Duncan last played Morey, Le and Hunt competitively on 10th February 2012 – beating Hunt only. Two and a half years on, his awkward style is expected to pick off all three players – avenging two four-set defeats in the process.
Parker, the youngest member of Hilton ‘E’ at seventeen, yet probably their most serious player is a fine example of how to fast-track a rough diamond. With only two seasons under his belt, his stats are incomparable in the middle divisions: 96% (Div3:2012/13); 93% (Div2:2013/14). Ready now to climb even further, Parker is the face, the consequence of good coaching.
And then there is Sandford – the third wheel in the operation. He reminds you a little of Cassius Clay, the Louisville Lip pre-Sonny Liston half a century ago. He talks a big game, disses the opposition, yet the more you witness such behaviour, the more you realise it is an act of affection.
Sandford cannot for one second drop his guard, his facial gizmos, his play-acting. Even at work you get the feeling his horsing around keeps him sane. He is centre stage – Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth – yet a different clock ticks inside him when alone.
In his mind he is writing his next wacky script. Sure – most of his words are arbitrary, off the cuff, impromptu, but the core are constructed. He is constructed. Like a clown inside the big top; a painted sneer instead of a smile.
Will he guide Hilton ‘E’ to glory? If the bat is working – yes.