The University of Birmingham Sport (UBSport) Premier Squash League team took on Courtcraft Pontefract on Tuesday, February 28, in the hosts’ final home fixture of the season.
A huge crowd had crammed in to the Munrow Sports Centre Squash Courts to enjoy an evening of entertainment, made even more exciting as the newly crowned world number one James Willstrop was in action for the visitors.
They had to wait to see him though as first up on court was the only ladies match of the evening, which saw Birmingham’s Deon Saffery take on Pontefract’s world number 14 Dipika Pallikal. The game did not begin start well for Saffery however, as she went down in the first 11-5. However Saffery, who began the match unbeaten during her time in the Birmingham side, fought back in the second to take a marathon game 12-10. Despite this show of determination, she was unable to counteract her opponent, who eventually took the last two games to win 11-5, 10-12, 11-5, 11-8.
Whilst this match was taking place, court three saw the first men’s match of the evening, with Birmingham’s Chris Truswell facing up to Pontefract’s Simon Parke. Truswell began the game on the back-foot and made simple errors to let Parke take the first 11-3. Truswell continued to fight though, but was unable to upstage his opponent, and Parke was able to take the final two games comfortably to win 11-3, 11-7, 11-9.
Next up was Birmingham’s Jonny Harford as he took on Pontefract’s former world number one Lee Beachill. After losing the first, Harford began to strike back and pulled off some fantastic shots to win the second comfortably 11-4. The momentum was with Harford, and he went on to win the next two and take the match 9-11, 11-4, 11-3, 11-4 to give Birmingham their first win of the night.
The penultimate match saw Birmingham’s Jaymie Haycocks come up against Indian number one Saurav Ghosal. Nothing could separate the players for much of the opening game but Ghosal showed his class to take it 11-8, before repeating this feat in the second and won it 11-6. Haycocks looked frustrated throughout but had no response to Ghosal, as he impressively took the final game 11-0 to secure the win for the visitors.
Following this match, it was time for the evenings showcase event as Birmingham’s number one Chris Ryder faced Willstrop, who had just come back to the U.K. from winning the North American Open three days before, in what promised to be a feisty affair.
Despite his lower ranking, Ryder began the stronger, pulling out some fantastic shots to leave his opponent flat-footed and won the first 11-5 in surprisingly comfortable fashion. A more even game looked to be on the cards in the second, but once more, Ryder pulled away to win 11-5 and set up a finely poised third game. Ryder continued from where he left off in the second, playing some fantastically placed shots and despite a Willstrop comeback, the world number 38 held out to take a monumental victory by winning the third 11-8, following a phenomenal off-the-wall shot. This win salvaged some pride for the Birmingham side in spite on their 3-2 loss on the night.
Ryder admitted afterwards that he was not confident of a win before match but was delighted with victory saying: ‘I’ve been watching James play in the tournament over in North America last week where he beat Nick Matthew and Ramia Shaw, two of the top four in the world, and he was awesome to be honest. I was going into this match thinking to just try my best and play well. Clearly he wasn’t 100% and I was playing very well and took advantage of him just being off the plane.’