Holders Cold Norton B stormed into the semi-finals of the Burnham & District Table Tennis League Handicap Cup – can anyone wrestle their crown away from them? 

With a break in league action for Christmas, it was down to the serious action of the Handicap Cup quarter-finals. A different format and new players to face as competitors are penalised or awarded points depending on their ability with the aim of levelling the playing field – or in our case 15-year-old wobbly tables!

First up were the holders Cold Norton B. In the opposing corner was a solid Division 3 trio from Blackwater D hoping their head-starts would somehow discombobulate their Division 1 opponents. Alas that hope soon dwindled as the Cold Norton trio of Ian Wall (-18 handicap), Eric Green (-16), and Dan Anderson (-12) got to work with patience and consistency and ate away at the considerable gaps in what can only be described as a professional deconstruction.

The starting positions ranged from -16 points to -26 points each game in favour of Blackwater. Green in particular did well to contend with a 16-point deficit and the attacking play of Noah Sage to squeeze through in 2 close sets.

In fact, Cold Norton only dropped a single set all evening as Jacqui Treacy (+9) edged her first set against Anderson but couldn’t go on to repeat that effort as Anderson literally dug in and wore down his opponent albeit in two more close sets. A fine effort form Cold Norton and one that sees them odds on favourites to repeat last year’s victory. 

Ian Wall and Eric Green

The next quarter-final saw the Cold Norton C and D teams meet in the ‘Battle of Latchingdon Hall’. A much closer affair all round with the handicaps working well such that 4 of the 7 matches went into the final leg, and 2 of those went to 20-20 in those final legs before a winner emerged.

For the C team Tim Cramphorn (-10) and Neil Want (-11) went unbeaten all evening and this provided the bedrock for their 5-2 victory. Cramphorn in particular was in fine fettle as he won both his singles and both his doubles including a tense third set singles deuce encounter with Peter Lucraft (-5).

Want went through similar emotions in his singles encounter with Terry Hylands (-2). At 1-1 and 20-20 it could go anyway and ‘where there’s a will there’s a Want’ – probably finishing with 2 nets if history and reputation are anything to go by. These two early very close victories for the C team were enough to turn the tide heavily in their favour. For the D team Roy Gandy (+1) was able to outlast Dick Wyman (-10) in 3 long sets, and Hylands repeated this scoreline in his later encounter with the unfortunate Wyman.

Maldon C hosted a Woodham B side made up of players from their C team so for this encounter the handicaps were relatively even throughout as both teams are in the top half of Division 2. Another 5-2 victory but a very long and tiring night for all involved as the first 6 matches all went to a deciding third set.

For Woodham Graham Briggs (-9) and Adi Kamma (-4) opened up with a tight 21-17 third set doubles victory over Colin Barrell (-7) and Tony Stonell (-3). Then Barrell and Steve Aspland (-9) both won their next singles again in very tight deciding sets.

But that was the last time Maldon troubled the scoreboard as Woodham got into their stride and won the next 4 straight. Kamma won both his singles and Stonell fell to David Meah (-5). The second round of doubles couldn’t have been any closer as Briggs and Meah held on for a third set 24-22 victory over Aspland and Barrell that probably swung the game. And for all this effort Woodham’s prize is a semi-final against the ‘unbeatables’ from Cold Norton B!

In the final match of the quartet, last year’s runners up Woodham D hosted Blackwater A and very quickly found themselves 3 matches down in a first to 5 knockout. Blackwater’s Denis Balic (-5) and David McHattie (+13) took their time to gel but came back from a first set loss to take the opening point. Balic and Alan Scammell (-5) then won the next 2 matches to extend the lead before Woodham decided to play.

Woodham’s heavily cut Alex Wilson at +2 handicap was 13 points worse off than the previous year – a true reflection of his improvement in that time. Despite this reduced handicap Wilson still managed to get the better of McHattie in two close sets. So on the board and raring to go Woodham’s dynamic duo of Alan Dadswell (-1) and Gus Heath (-7) powered their way to a doubles victory over Balic and Scammell that saw the overall gaps close to 1 point.

Could Woodham kick on and try and go one better than last year and lift the coveted trophy? Well in a word – ‘No’. Their recovery was rudely interrupted by Scammell who took the next singles against Wilson and Blackwater now had 3 attempts to wrap up the victory. The first attempt was a tremendous effort as McHattie used his wholesome head-start against Dadswell to great effect only to be pipped 22-20 in both legs – close but no cigar.

So onto the eighth match and Woodham’s Heath took a comfortable first leg 21-12 against Balic. But Balic is a fighter and he soon began to familiarise himself with the uniqueness of the Heath style of play. So at 20-20 in the important second leg could Heath use his experience and see his team through to a final match winner-takes-all showdown.

Balic held strong and denied Woodham that opportunity and won out 22-20, but then unfortunately Heath was unable to continue given his momentous exertions over the course of the evening and had to concede the frame and the match. Never a great way to finish a match – win or lose – but it had been a very competitive and intense evening of table tennis. So Blackwater edge into the semis.

Semi-Final Draw – to be played week of 19 February
Woodham B v Cold Norton B
Cold Norton C v Blackwater A