County Senior Division 1B 31st March-1st April

County Championships – Senior Division 1B 31/03/12 – 01/04/12

Warwickshire’s A team combined both youth and experience for their toughest set of senior fixtures in over a decade in an effort to retain their position in Division 1 of the County championships they so valiantly gained last year.

Spearheading the team was Captain Ian Ferguson, who was joined by the Evergreen Adrian Pilgrim, current County champion Amann Ubhi , junior sensation Mathew Outhwaite, and under 21 starlets Charlotte Spencer and Rachel Pilgrim.

With Warwickshire widely tipped by many to go down prior to the weekend, the first game against fellow relegation favourites Worcestershire was to prove crucial in the fate of the bears.

2 wins from Adrian and Amann, allied with a single each from both Charlotte and Rachel, saw Warwickshire gain a vital 6-4 win and set them on their way to Division 1 survival.  Adrian Pilgrim was by far and away the star of Warwickshires opening contest and with an epic 12-10 win in the deciding set against Worcestershire’s number 1 Adam Nutland he secured man of the match.

‘Fergie’ who was on the wrong end of some crucial luck in his 2 games, losing in 5 and 4 sets repectively, duly dropped himself for the next game and gave Junior star Mathew Outhwaite his first ever senior first team cap against a strong Devon side.

Matt was not to disappoint and gained an excellent victory over Mike Hugh and was unlucky to lose his second game in 4 tight sets to Stan Kioufis.  Further singles from Amann and Charlotte saw Warwickshire get to 3 -3 but with Adrian this time being unlucky not to secure a win losing his 2 matches in two incredibly tight 4 and 5 setters, it was up to Warwickshire’s former England under 11 National champion Rachel Pilgrim to show just why she has been a regular in the first team for over 5 years.  In order to rescue a point for the bears, Rachel had to beat the highly rated Naomi Jackson.  She duly obliged and her 11-9 deciding set win, meant Warwickshire had gained a further point in their quest to remain in the division.  Rachel’s performance earned her the ‘man of the match’ award for her two outstanding wins.

This time it was Adrian who felt he should take a breather and so Fergie was recalled to the team to face Middlesex 2.  Having gone 2 -0 up against the highly rated Costas Papantoniou, Fergie could have been forgiven for thinking his first win of the weekend was in the bag, but the vastly experienced Costas was to remind Fergie that there are no ‘gimmies’ in Division 1.  Having clawed it back to 2-2, Fergie then turned on the gas and ran out an 11-4 winner in the deciding set. 

2 fantastic wins from Amann Ubhi against England top 70 player Darek Zurowski and James Sprackling with further doubles from Rachel and Mathew (including an incredible 4 set win over Papantonio) and singles from Fergie and Charlotte saw Warwickshire cruise to an 8-2 win and put them in 3rd position in the league table after 3 matches.  ‘Man of the match’ was closely fought out between Amann, Matthew and Rachel, but it was Amann who was duly awarded the title following his wonderful win over Zurowski.

With his work done for the day and having tweaked a muscle, Mathew decided to sit out for the 4th and final match, allowing Worcestershire’s conquerors to once again combine together in an effort to beat Hertfordshire and with it find themselves possibly top of the table after day 1!

Hertfordshire though had other ideas and in an incredibly topsy turvey match that saw the sides neck and neck all the way, at 4-4 the result could have gone either way.  Up to that point Ian Ferguson had found the form that has served him so well over the years and a fantastic double against father and son duo Jimmy and Luke Walsh. Single wins from from Adrian and Amann had put Warwickshire in prime position, but it wasn’t to be, with Luke Walsh pulling out all the stops to beat an in form Ubhi 12-10 in the decider and with it a 6-4 win for Herts.  Ferguson’s double earned him ‘Man of the match’ and with it, 4 different Warwickshire players had won man of the match for their opening 4 matches, representing the strength in depth and team spirit that Warwickshire now appear to have throughout the County. 

With 2 wins, a draw and a loss to their name, Warwickshire found themselves in 5th place after day one of the competition.

Day 2 and with Ian Ferguson sitting out of the opening match, Warwickshire had the unenviable task of facing current championship leaders Kent, who had included double Olympian Sule Obileye into their line up.  Adrian Pilgrim had to face both Sule and Kazeem Adeleke, another former International player and was unlucky to lose both in 3 sets against world class opposition.  Singles each from all 4 of the youngsters, Amann, Matt, Rachel and Charlotte (who gained a fantastic 13-11 win in the decider against Sharon Clarke, having been 10-7 down!!!), was not enough to earn the Bears a point, but it was certainly enough to put the frighteners up Kent who left the match with a new found respect for Warwickshire’s youngsters.

So, crunch time.  With a few results going against them and the opposition gradually closing the gap, Warwickshire were still not mathematically safe from relegation, requiring at least a point if they were to remain in division 1 for the season 2012/13.  With their destiny in their own hands,  Outhwaite found himself unlucky not to be included in the fixture against fellow strugglers Buckinghamshire, but the decision was made by Ferguson to go with experience and not solely the form book.

Colebridge master and pupil Ferguson and Ubhi were first up for the Bears and with the incredibly gifted Ubhi demolishing chopperAlan Cherry all seemed well.  An inconsistent Ferguson then found himself trailing 2-1 to the talented Stephen Munson, who was some 50 places higher than Ferguson on the current England ranking list.  Some juniors could have been forgiven for sulking, having not been included in such a crucial match, but not Mathew Outhwaite.  With Fergie 2-1 down, in what was going to be a pivotal game, in a complete junior county role reversal, Outhwaite became the coach and gave fergie the advice required.  15 minutes later and a hard earned 5 set win, Warwickshire found themselves 2-0 up.  2-0 soon became 2-2 though as Father and daughter team Adrian and Rachel lost 2 tight matches to Buckinghamshire’s number 1’s respectively.  Warwickshire need not have worried though as the ‘youngsters’ once again showed how they have the maturity and ability to hold their own in this division, as Charlotte, Amann and Rachel then rattled off the next 3 games to make it 5-2 to Warwickshire and with it safety from the dreaded drop.  With the job completed, Ferguson then lost a tight 4 setter to Ian Musk and Charlotte too, lost by the same score line 11-8 in the 4th.  Warwickshire though didn’t want to settle for a draw and it was ‘Evergreen’ Adrian Pilgrim who picked up a single, cruising to a 3-0 victory and securing Warwickshire’s 3rd win of the weekend.

In what was a perfect example of Warwickshire’s team spirit, with every player contributing (even non playing squad member Matt Outhwaite), Warwickshire had secured their highest position in Division one for over a decade.

In a bit of an anti climax, Warwickshire final match was as it turned out against title winners Glamorgan.  With Adrian having a hard earned rest, it was up to the youngsters and Fergie to see if they could cause a shock win and with it help Kent to promotion into the Premier division.

Two of Warwickshire’s shining lights, Ubhi and Outhwaite started off proceedings and with it gained 2 magnificent 5 set wins each and put the cat amongst the pigeons as far as Glamorgan were concerned.  Ubhi delivering the performance of the weekend to beat Polish star Wiktor Dzonkowski and Outhwaite coming back from 2-0 down, to win deuce, deuce and deuce against former Welsh International Neil Wright.  Glamorgan soon levelled at 2-2 with Ferguson comfortably losing 3-0 to Dean Cundy (although Fergie was at this point playing with a broken bat following an ‘incident’ in the previous match) and Charlotte losing by the same margin.  2-2 then became 3-3 with Rachel narrowly losing to Regina Grech and Amann gaining another tremendous win, in beating Wright 3-0.  That was to be Warwickshire’s last win of the match though as Fergie lost in 4 sets to Dzonkowski, Outhwaite in 5 to Cundy and both of the girls losing their final matches in 3 straight sets (though it has to be said, the girls, along with Ubhi, played ALL 7 matches and the obvious strain was there for all to see, especially in lieu of the fact Warwickshire had already achieved their Division 1 status in the previous match).   

Despite suffering their heaviest loss of the weekend 7-3, Warwickshire finished a credible 5th place on 7 points and avoided relegation by some margin.  Worcestershire 3 points and Middlesex 0 points were the unlucky teams to go down, with Glamorgan finishing on a perfect 14 points gained promotion into the premiership.

Amann once again won ’Man of the match’ and along with Mathew Outhwaite was the star for Warwickshire over the weekend.  Ubhi and Outhwaite both recorded some fantastic wins throughout the 2 days play and will be in the County first team for many a year to come.  Rachel Pilgrim was the pick of the girls with some incredible performances and was unlucky not to have won a few more that could have gone either way.  Charlotte Spencer also chipped in with some important wins, and was a vital part of the teams success, as were the old guard Fergie and Adrian, who with what seems like a poor return in 4/10 each, were in fact crucial to the teams survival in putting themselves at 1 & 2 in order for Amann and Mathew to cause such destruction at number 3.

Upon completion of the Championship, Fergie announced his retirement from the County first team after having played for Warwickshire for 25years.  He leaves the team having finished in their highest position for over a decade and thanked everyone for their support over the years.  Fergie has offered his services to Warwickshire as non playing Captain for the senior first team for 2012/13 as it seems likely that Adrian Pilgrim will also take a back seat in order to allow the youth to prosper for the County in years to come.  With Amann Ubhi, Mathew Outhwaite, Loz Sweeney, Rachel Pilgrim and Charlotte Spencer, Warwickshire have the makings of a formidable team.  This allied with the inclusion of Kate Hughes and James Ward, who are both contemplating switching to Warwickshire as both are officially eligible, will put Warwickshire in contention for promotion rather than relegation to the Senior premiership in 2012/13.

Author: via Warwickshire Table Tennis Association
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