England got off to a losing start at the World Team Championships in Chengdu as they were defeated 3-2 to Poland despite two wins for Liam Pitchford.
With their top-ranked player Jakub Dyjas not present in China, Poland still had the threat of Maciej Kubik (WR 90), the second-ranked player in the match, as well as Samuel Kulczycki, fresh from becoming European Under-21 champion this month.
It was Kulczycki (WR 123) who opened up against David McBeath (WR 390) and the Englishman struck first in a tight first game, coming back from 6-9 down and saving two game points before taking his own second chance with a decisive forehand flick to win it 14-12.
But Kulczycki, who also reached the under-19 final at the World Junior Championships last year, found his range and the next three games saw him open up early leads which he never let slip.
Pitchford (WR 22) levelled for England with a 3-0 victory over Milosz Redzimski (WR 232). Pitchford was momentarily distracted near the beginning of the match by a late umpiring signal as he received serve, and he found himself 4-1 down.
That was pretty much as good as it got for the Pole, however, as Pitchford won the first two games 11-7, 11-4 and then saved two game points in taking the third 12-10.
Sam Walker (WR 105) versus Kubik was the closest match on paper and so it proved in reality. Walker took the first 11-6 and led the second 10-9, at which point the Polish timeout was taken. It worked as Kubik took the next three points.
The third saw Walker always slightly behind, and he showed his frustration at missing a very makeable forehand at 8-10, earning a yellow card for the manner in which he put his bat down on the table at the end.
The next saw Walker fight back from 4-7 and 6-9 down to stand at 9-9 as he looked to put England in front. But Kubik won the next two points.
Pitchford again hauled England level as he beat Kulczycki in three straight, saving a game point at 10-11 to win the first 13-11, having led 10-8, and then cantering through the next two.
All of which meant it was a winner-take-all clash between McBeath and Redzimski. And it was the Pole who seized the moment with a 3-0 victory to put the pressure on England for their next match against the group’s top seeds Sweden tomorrow.
That match is at 6am UK time – watch via the WTT website.
Poland 3 England 2
Samuel Kulczycki bt David McBeath 3-1 (12-14, 11-5, 11-5, 11-4)
Liam Pitchford bt Milosz Redzimski 3-0 (11-7, 11-4, 12-10)
Maciej Kubik bt Sam Walker 3-1 (6-11, 12-10, 11-8, 11-9)
Pitchford bt Kulczycki 3-0 (13-11, 11-6, 11-6)
Redzimski bt McBeath 3-0 (11-7, 11-9, 11-8)