The table-toppers and their leading player both came closer to defeat than they had done so far in division three’s crunch match in the Braintree Table Tennis League.

Rayne E entered their match with second-placed Sudbury Wanderers with 12 straight wins behind them, and for Oliver Hicks it had been 33 straight wins.

When the teams came head-to-head, the match swung both ways before settling for a draw.

The drama started with the doubles when the score stood at 4-2 to the Wanderers. Hicks, who has yet to lose a doubles set as well as singles, lined up with Scott Whiteside and after a seesaw battle they just scraped home at 12-10 in the fifth game.

More was to come in the next game when Hicks faced Ian Shrubsole, a player who has returned to the game this season after a lengthy lay-off and after losing twice in his first match has been beaten since only in his first encounter with Hicks.

Hicks, who has only once been stretched to four games, found his unbeaten record under threat as he lost the first game. He rallied to win the second 11-8 and must have thought all was well when he raced to an 11-0 victory in the third game.

But Shrubsole came back to take the fourth 11-4 to set the stage for the fifth end which, as with the doubles, went all the way to 12-10 before Hicks finally got home.

There was drama at the other end of the table as well where Rayne G picked up their first win of the season, 6-4 against Netts E. Tim Gowers’ three singles, plus the doubles with Tim Townsend, were the foundation of the victory.

Netts D also had a 6-4 win, in their case against Rayne F – three wins for Chris Krelle – while Black Notley’s H and I teams drew with each other.

In division two, leaders Sudbury Nomads marched on with a 9-1 win over Notley D where Ken Lewis gained revenge over Sean Clift, the only player to beat him this season.

Netts C had only two players to face Notley C, but that was enough. Joe Meleschko lost to Neil Freeman but he and Szczepan Ziobro took the rest.

Richard Whiteside was unbeaten as Rayne C beat their own D team 8-2 while Guy McKenzie made a welcome return for Notley F after a lengthy injury lay-off but his two wins could not prevent a 6-4 defeat to Notley E.

In division one, leaders Netts A eased to a 10-0 victory over Rayne B while David Gatheral made an immediate impression on his debut for Liberal B by scoring wins over Adam Buxton and Steve Pennell in Liberal B’s 8-2 defeat by Rayne A.

At the bottom Liberal A continued their revival with an important 7-3 win over fellow relegation candidates Notley A.