The names of the Nobel Prize nominees are not revealed until 50 years after the event. This adds a certain fascination to the awards given out. Who did the eventual winner beat? Was he or she up against the cream?
Away from the bookies’ chalk and inside the Swedish Academy papers are passed around and eyebrows arched enquiringly. The initial list is cumbersome – it includes around 200 potential laureates selected by professors, society presidents, previous winners and academy members. This is whittled down to a ‘long list’ of 15-20 preliminary candidates in April and then a ‘short list’ of 5 final candidates in May.
Much rigour and due process takes place and that is before the three months of reading and assessment which occurs in order to prepare reports and discuss the merits of each candidate.
It would be nice to think that similar levels of deliberation and brooding happened prior to and on Friday, 27th March at the pre-Finals committee meeting. Present were officers Alan Bradshaw, John and Margaret Scowcroft, George Berry, Jean Smart and head honchos Roy Caswell and Brett Haslam.
On these shoulders rested the fates of the season’s big-name players – most challengingly who was to be engraved on The Albert Howcroft Trophy for Most Improved Player. Not an easy thing to decide. An algorithm can only churn out an unloved number. It does not factor in personal circumstances, the general feeling amongst your peers and the inevitable politics that prevail.
‘It’s a bit like politics and statistics. Which way do you jump?’ General Secretary Caswell admitted with redoubtable insight into the workings of the loyal few that give up their Fridays. Which way indeed when the list is so strong, so full of games revamped?
Six candidates shone across the five Bolton divisions: Robert Shaw (Div4, from 8 to 42%); Keane Mills (74 to 100%); Nathan Rhodes (29 to 70%); Christopher Boys (Div4, 80% to Div3, 51%); Faizan Bhura (Div4, 72% to Div3, 58%); Ray Isherwood (Div2, 27 to 68%). It was Bhura, however, who impressed the old guard. ‘In the end we all just looked at each other and went for Faizan.’
Science perhaps left at the door, but then in the 4’ 11” Bhura they have made a genuine discovery. ‘I always do rubbish in the [pre-match warm-ups]. I make them think my technique is not good at all and then when the match is ready I pull my socks up and turn my brain into gear. That’s what I do.’
‘A proper kidder,’ to quote Scott Brown. Too dry to read at times, but there with his secret weapon – his consistent forehand.
You can get a thousand sentences from Bhura on the game and how he has tracked its idiosyncrasies from the age of 12 – charming, colloquial passages that reach out and shatter any sense of smoothness. All that matters though is his devotion to table tennis, his 1994 Bolton-born (Indian mother/Zambian father) bones that have lifted this trophy once held by Andrea Holt.