Men’s Squash Varsity 2019
by Cal Flintoff
The luxurious Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall may not smack as the most obvious setting for a Varsity demolition, but deep in the heart of the imposing chambers, enclosed by grandiose pillars and furnished with vintage motorcars from yesteryear, lies two pristine show-room squash courts – last Saturday home for the day to an elite cadre of Oxbridge racquet artists, each straining every sinew and draining every bead of sweat in lust for their own personal lap of honour.
In the Men’s affair, Oxford captain Joe Sibley was able to name a strong new-look outfit, meshing 5-time Blue Thomas Paine at second string with three first-time Blues; the fresh faces headlined by the introduction of Harvard graduate Mandela Patrick at first string, giving the dark Blues a formidable balance in their bid to avenge an agonising 3-2 defeat the year before.
The squash began on court 1 as fresher Thomas Trott took on Sam Coward, the erstwhile Cambridge reserve promoted to the full squad, in an all-Varsity-debut clash. With the court auditorium doubling up as a balcony to the ornate swimming pool adjacent – the atmosphere shared as a result – the conditions were strikingly humid and sticky. Mid-way through the first game, sweat began to pour from the red-faced Coward, who had exerted early; Trott remained noticeably equanimous and began to turn his match around, grinding out stretches and scoring heavily when in on serve, taking the first game 9-4.
Unable to assuage the momentum shift, Coward continued to tire and Trott took full advantage, unrelenting throughout a 9-1 second game, before clinching the final game and the impressive opening encounter with an 9-5 score-line. The victory was to game the tone for the afternoon, a high barometer for endurance as well as game-management, and Trott was garlanded with the Most Valuable Player award for his breakthrough Varsity performance.
Over on court 2, the action taking place in tandem, separated by the entrance to the long bar, captain Sibley put on a masterclass of defensive squash to defeat his opponent David Roper. A series of disputable let calls appeared to stoke the fires of the combustible Cambridge man, who became galled by a string of unforced errors as he was manoeuvred round the court by the excellent Sibley.
For the seedings 1-3, Cambridge fielded the same triumvirate who last year rescued victory from the jaws of defeat in overturning a 2-1 deficit to triumph 3-2; a tinkering with the order though, elevating incumbent MVP Reuben Morris to first string, ensured there were no repeat fixtures, as Morris’ beaten 2018 opponent Thomas Paine remained at second string for Oxford, whilst debutants Mandela Patrick and Pranav Sharma slotted in at 1 and 3.
As Sharma wrapped up a straightforward 9-5, 9-5, 9-5 victory over Ben Robinson in quick time, the crowd began to migrate to the fourth string encounter, aware that the Oxford captain Sibley would clinch the 88th Squash Varsity by closing out the final game, the 9-3, 9-4, 9-3 thrashing handing Oxford an unassailable 3-0 lead heading into the main event.
Paine then put Cambridge captain Luis North – who had last year defeated Alex Roberts 3-0 as first string – to the sword, summoning the most emphatic aggregate score of the day and running riot in a 9-3, 9-3, 9-2 victory, to drive the lingering possibility of a total whitewash sharply into focus on court 1, where Mandela Patrick had taken the first game 9-0.
After representing Trinidad & Tobago at the 2018 Commonwealth Games and then receiving the prestigious Carribean Rhodes Scholarship, the convivial Patrick rated as the dark Blue trump card heading into the contest, and his all-action style on the court provided a memorable and unmissable contest against Morris despite the prior Oxford dominance.
Calling upon seemingly bottomless tanks of fitness, Morris began to claw himself back into the match as the crowd became increasingly rapturous for both parties. Patrick closed out the second game 9-4 with his superior technique, but the match was turned on its head as Morris took two consecutive games 9-7 9-7 to regenerate at least a modicum of eroded light Blue pride – their first games of the contest – and then forged an early lead in the decider.
Roared on by thundering shouts of “Dela” from the Oxford bevy – dampened only, and transiently, by the referee’s call for fairness – Patrick dug deep through several twenty-plus shot rallies and finally mustered a telling advantage, requiring a game of match balls but eventually triumphing 9-5 in the final game; Morris cut a drained figure in defeat but was exceptional once more and deservedly retained his MVP status.
Oxford captain Joe Sibley lifted the trophy, the fourth Oxford success in the last five years, and was delighted with the endeavour of his team: “It’s been a fantastic year for the men’s Blues that’s seen us establish ourselves in the top four of BUCS. The Varsity win capped off a great season and with a few new players we’ll look to build on this for the next few seasons. Particularly impressive were the new additions Mandela Patrick, Pranav Sharma and especially Tom Trott who showed great maturity for a fresher and got the team off to a great start, deservedly winning the MVP for a composed and complete performance”
1. Mandela Patrick bt Reuben Morris* (MVP) 9-0, 9-4, 7-9, 7-9, 9-5
2. Thomas Paine* bt Luis North* (C) 9-3, 9-3, 9-2
3. Pranav Sharma bt Ben Robinson* 9-5, 9-5, 9-5
4. Joseph Sibley* (C) bt David Roper 9-3, 9-4, 9-3
5. Thomas Trott (MVP) bt Sam Coward 9-4, 9-1, 9-5
Reserve. Rory Giddins bt Thevesh Theva