presents his views and reports
from the world of squash ...
|Recent Words: Raising the Profile ... Looking Ahead ... US Open ... Becky Botwright ... 11-point scoring ... Pontefract's Young Guns ... The England Camp ... League star sings praises of squash ... Soundness ...|
There is no particular reason why world
champions or no 1's can't come from anywhere. All that is needed is
the right circumstances for players to prosper. Peter Nicol
(Aberdeen), David Palmer (outback Australia) and Cassie Jackman
(rural Norfolk) are immediate examples of places that perhaps
wouldn't suggest themselves as ideal for the production of world
Pontefract Celebrates Lee's Success
Malcolm looks at the the US Open and its ramifications at the top of the game ...
Lee Beachill's win in Boston, which
gave him the World no 1 spot, was obviously a great pleasure
personally, since Lee is a model professional, gifted, hard-working
and steadfast. He has been rewarded for consistently applying
himself in the face of difficulties and the lesson is, I suppose,
that endeavour and persistence are often rewarded.
on the European success of a Pontefract favourite
PSA 11-point scoring
In my approval of the new scoring system (see below), I omitted to say how the tie-breaks had added to the excitement. Two points clear produces highly-charged rallies, with match balls and game balls often alternating.
The more distant 15 produced less crucial rallies and took too long to reach.
Another factor which emerged was that players were able to recover against unfavourable scorelines, surprisingly perhaps. But it happened too often to be ignored.
Another undesirable aspect of the 15 point game was the willingness of players to let a game go if they fell well behind. That was not acceptable and I am happy to bid that goodbye.
Charity Night at Pontefract
Malcolm reports on "the night of all nights"
at Pontefract ...
Pontefract Squash Club staged the night of all nights when Peter Nicol, John White, Lee Beachill and James Willstrop provided the squash and Sylvan Richardson directed a star cast of musical talent from the squash world.
A crowd, sold out weeks in advance, saw Peter and Lee challenged by John and James at singles and doubles, with David Campion as master of ceremonies.
The outcome of the matches was of little consequence as the four stars of the squash world shared their skills and humour. John revels in such situations, Lee was high from the birth of his son Ben, and Peter and James were determined to make a night which commemorated their mums, Sigrid and Lesley, an enjoyable one.
Sylvan had left no stone unturned to match the squash and the band consisted of himself on the drums, the brilliant keyboard player Andy Kingslow, Daryl Clarkson guitar, supported by Stafford Murray, who, able performer though he is, confessed that he felt humble in such company, all supported by top class sound systems.
Anne Jones, a classical mezzo-soprano, topped the bill with George Shearing's Lullaby of Birdland and Habanera from Bizet's Carmen. Andy Procter has an outstanding voice and his offerings of Baby Grand and Never Saw a Miracle brought the house down.
Alan Norrish, in full regalia, gave his unique Elvis treatment to
Trouble and The Wonder of You and James Willstrop, despite never having sung live before and confessing to being very nervous, responded with Somewhere only we know and Tender, much to the delight of the crowd.
Martin Sunderland from Queen's Halifax, Dave Walker and stepdaughter Claire, Hayley Nevins and Willis Rushton were the remainder of an outstanding bill and to witness superb performances, much aided by Sylvan and Andy, was a privilege.
The whole cast came together to end the programme with Lou Reed's Perfect Day and deservedly Sylvan, his band and singers were given a tumultuous ovation.
The auction with 4 badges for Timeform's Charity Day at York in June, hairstyling, and therapy massage by the club's resident stars Susan and Sarah, shirts signed by the players as well as signed photographs, taken by Andrew Box, and other items helped towards an outstanding total of £3,500 to go to Cancer Research and Raynaud's Scleroderma.
Peter Lonsdale followed with his disco and there were several left at 6am, including Mick Todd, proprietor, Susan, Sarah and would you believe it the World no 1 Peter Nicol.
Longstanding members of the Pontefract Club said that it was the best night in its history, praise indeed for a club renowned for its
The England Team
A Happy & Successful Camp ...
Nick Matthew, whose dramatic progress up the world rankings has, I am sure, been helped by international recognition, made the point that he would rather have the England team cheering for him than the 2,200 French supporters in the magnificent Le Liberté in Rennes.
Having been a peripheral part of the England team during the week of the championships, I have been very aware, as I was in Vienna, that the England camp is a very happy one. Everyone knows that a happy team in any sport is likely to produce results, which is what happened in Rennes.
No doubt the semi-final in Vienna had left scars which needed to be healed and the English response was evident to everyone in Rennes.
In truth, on paper, French prospects were negligible. The England youngsters Matthew, Grant and Willstrop have all improved rapidly since Vienna and with Nicol back at world no 1, where he still belongs, and Beachill steady at 4, the team has a balanced look.
From the moment Matthew and Willstrop bestrode the court, French optimism diminished. They both had a focused, “thou shall not pass” look and played accordingly.
Nicol then captured the necessary game with the same approach and proceeded to entertain the crowd with an amazing display of skill and shots. What a remarkable player he is and how England has profited from having him.
With the Australians in disarray from injuries, the England team is arguably as good an international team as currently exists and, being young, it has a future.
It was interesting to hear the views of many experienced squash men outside the England camp recognising the quality of the side and that it is a happy camp.
The World Class Performance strategy will always have its critics, many of whom may have a personal agenda - indeed I have just lost two players, both of whom work very hard, Lauren Siddall and Kirsty McPhee - but in the last analysis results speak for themselves and England’s World Class Performance players are achieving results.
The selection policies have become more aware of future needs and the choices of Vicky Botwright, Jenny Duncalf and Adrian Grant are to be applauded. They all performed well and fitted in readily - they are classy players who work hard and will benefit from the Rennes experience.
League Star sings the
Praises of Squash
Rugby League legend, Ellery Hanley, who, since last year’s English Open has been present on many squash occasions, is proving to be a major asset.
His friendship with John White is well-founded and John – the world number 1 – was quick to acknowledge Ellery’s contribution at the British Closed. Being around Ellery is most definitely a learning experience, since his knowledge of world class sport, coupled with his philosophical outlook, makes him compulsive listening.
He is quick to acknowledge the top professionals in squash and, as a player, he knows what it takes to become top-class. What is more he misses no opportunity to tell people what a demanding game squash is and how good the players are.
Recently he took John White and James Willstrop as his guests to Headingley for the Leeds v Bradford match. Speaking at the pre-match dinner and then again at half-time in an on the field interview he was quick to sing the praises of his guests.
Charity Night at Pontefract
Canary Wharf Classic
Great crowds all week were topped by a sell-out on finals night and Peter Nicol and world no 1 John White, which sounds like a final, played the third/fourth play-off.
They were determined to entertain, which is a part of what these players need to do, and that was no problem to two of the most popular players in the world. They swapped shirts, ran like demented dervishes, talked to anyone who would listen and gave the crowd, freed from their City Labours, an hour's worth of pure skill and comedy.
The serious stuff was about to happen however, since Thierry Lincou, rediscovering some form through the event, and ambitious James Willstrop were not too concerned with the lighter side ...
Willstrop on the Wharf - Malcolm reports from Canary Wharf
Malcolm prefaced his final report with "sorry to have to write about James".
RAISING THE GAME
by Malcolm Willstrop
I doubt if anyone with the welfare of squash at heart would disagree with me when I say that raising the game's profile is of paramount importance.
After those seemingly heady days over twenty years ago, when the game became public property, we are probably at our lowest ebb in terms of newspaper and television coverage, despite the efforts of such journalists as Colin McQuillan, Dicky Rutnagur and Richard Eaton. Nor am I undermining Sky's splendid offerings, but in the days of the Hi-Tec British Open we had terrestrial television coverage.
The quality of the world's leading players, the positive way in which the game is played these days and the glamorous settings in which the glass court can be placed are surely assets, which could earn more recognition.
Do not pretend, either, that publicity is unnecessary, since the financial lot of the professional player is not always a happy one. I am amazed how little players in some major events earn even when they have reached the later stages. They deserve more and publicity is the main way of achieving that.
The National Bodies who represent squash have not always, if ever, seemed cognisant of the need to attract publicity and few employ the necessary specialists for that purpose. That should be a first requirement.
It is never enough to offer criticism without suggesting how matters may be improved.
My own experience is that coverage, even at advanced levels can be achieved but not without persistence, and as with all things, it is the glamour aspects of the sport which will appeal to a more general public.
Some of the world's leading players are not too good at promoting the game themselves, but there are several that are. Peter Nicol is a prime example and he and those like him must be maximised.
At the considerable risk of being branded sexist, there is a host of attractive girls playing the game at high levels. Not only could they raise the profile, but they would appeal to younger girls who may be attracted to the sport.
Whatever people think most younger girls want to play a sport that makes them feel comfortable and look good. Squash fits that bill.
I may be appearing to talk about top players, but they are the means by which the game can attract publicity, from which everyone can benefit: youngsters and new players will be made more aware of the sport and more inclined to give it a try.
Local coverage is much less of a problem, I believe, and certainly in the area I live Fred Willis has done over the years, and still does, a marvellous job for squash in the Yorkshire Evening Post, and the local Pontefract paper is very receptive. My experience of other areas is similar.
But useful and worthwhile though that is, it is not sufficient on its own and national coverage is what is required.
The other factor which would influence profile is betting. Look in the Racing Post and you can bet on any sport you care to name, except squash. The misguided notion that it would lead to fixed matches is bound to be raised, but if tennis and snooker can handle it, as they have done with not much trouble, then there is no reason to suppose squash cannot do so.
Certainly with the men's game as it is, any bookmakers would be happy to be involved. They could hardly have lost this year.
If we had nothing to shout about, there would be no point in these thoughts, but I think the game is as good or better than it has ever been.
We can all welcome the Canary Wharf Invitation Eight, staged by Eventis which begins tonight.
Set amongst London's wealth, in glamorous surroundings, here is an event guaranteed to raise the profile.
Well done Peter, Tim and Angus and everyone connected. I hope it is a great success.
[Malcolm will be reporting daily from this week's
Canary Wharf Classic]
Men's World Scene
Nobody would dispute that the Men's World Tour is the most fascinating it has ever been. 2003's results proved that and what has since happened in Kuwait, Sweden and New York has done nothing to change that view.
Thierry Lincou's hold on the no. 1 spot did not appear to be a secure one and we now know just how short-lived, since John White goes to no. 1 in March, having squandered previous opportunities. Everyone, except maybe Lincou, will be pleased for the popular Aussie.
Peter Nicol, who loves being knocked down so he can get up again - a bit like British Heavyweight boxers of yesteryear - seemed to have recovered from his pre-Christmas virus when he won in Kuwait. But worryingly he had to concede to Lee Beachill in the British Closed, feeling breathless.
Defying the Doctor, he went to New York and what did he do? He won again, beating the in-form White, who won the British Championship, in the glamorous Tournament of Champions.
Lee Beachill lost to White in a splendid British final and then lost again, more easily, in the semi-final in New York, where the draw gave him every chance.
Amr Shabana's win in the World Championship looked suspect form, despite his undoubted talent, and he has been shot down in Kuwait and Sweden. He is not going to find life easy.
David Palmer is a big time operator: a World Title and two British Opens to his credit, but he had a seriously troubled 2003, and, back and apparently firing on all cylinders, he suffered a reverse in New York. He is definitely not to be written off though, since he is strong and bloody-mindedly determined.
Jonathon Power, one of the great players, is not finding consistency too easy. He can still compete with the best, but doing it day after day seems another matter. He may become a less frequent winner at the highest level, but will remain a major attraction.
Anthony Ricketts has had a knee operation and his surge has been halted, presumable only temporarily. Stewart Boswell, sadly, seems to have been beaten by his back.
Injuries have certainly played a part. Nicol, Palmer, Power, Lincou and Ricketts have all had problems of various sorts, some minor others major.
Oddly enough Beachill, who had a chequered career in his early twenties, seems now to be sounder than most, though that's where White is scoring heavily at the moment. We have all seen him do the splits!
I doubt if any of these main players have lost their desire, but some are over 30 and others are close to it, when the motivation may wane.
None of them are going to dominate as Nicol and Power have done, which makes every event full of interest.
Bermuda is next and then the very significant Qatar Masters when the world's top 32 will be in action playing for big points.
2004 So Far ...
British Closed: Men's Final
John White, whose form is becoming enigmatic and who had not impressed in his matches with Alex Gough and Adrian Grant, put those behind him with a convincing display in the final.
Attacking from the outset, hitting the ball low and hard, which is what he does best, he was clearly in a different frame of mind than he was in the semi-final, when he did none of that.
Beachill, having had less to do prior to the final, had looked in good form and he was up to what White was offering. White edged the first game on merit, but Beachill had the better of the second until inexplicably and wantonly he hit four successive shots down to go behind 2-0.
It was White who regained a narrow initiative in the third and at 14-12, the title looked to be his. But no, Beachill, reluctant to leave his favourite setting prematurely, saved three match balls and took it 15-14.
Resistance continued until midway through the fourth when White drew clear to win his first British title. 15/8 after over 80 minutes.
White has formed a close friendship with rugby league legend Ellery Hanley and he was quick to acknowledge the benefits of the guru's advice. He had stayed throughout the week with the Hanley family at their house in Manchester.
The championships were a great success thanks to Jim Quigley and his merry men. The venue is fantastic, the large crowds were knowledgeable and appreciative.
For what Manchester does for squash those of us involved in the game would like to thank them.
James Willstrop in Kuwait
Risking the wrath of those who think I only write about James and English players, I feel sure there are some who will be interested in his thoughts about the sensational performances he managed in Kuwait City.
After a much-needed break during the holiday period, it was clear that James was in good shape for Kuwait. I particularly enjoyed his match with Simon Parke in the National League, when I could see his racket was working and he was thoroughly enjoying himself. The fact that the match was extended was very helpful.
I was therefore confident that James would play well in Kuwait, though with such a quality field and a qualifier to get through there was no point in expecting too much.
In the final qualifying round he faced the gentlemanly Omar Borolossy, whose recent form had been good and a 3-0 win in 40 minutes augured well, especially as James told me he had played well, something he rarely says.
One qualifying slot in the main draw looked appealing: Ong Beng Hee, who has been out of form, to play John White, and fortunately that's what he got.
After a very tough first game which James sneaked 17/16 he beat Ong 3-0 to give him a quarter-final against John, already exceeding expectations.
We have both long felt that of the top six players in the world, John was the one he might have a chance against, if things went well. This is no disrespect to John, but a matter of styles. Obviously if John was at his very best James could forget it.
From what he says he didn't see the ball in the first game, but as the storm abated he gradually eased his way into the match, won a crucial third narrowly and the fourth convincingly. He was euphoric when he rang Pontefract as were his fans there, but I reminded him that the tournament wasn't over and if he wanted to give himself a chance in the semi-final he needed to refocus quickly.
Jonathon Power has been, and still is, a player who has influenced James with his immense racket skills, and Jonathon has always been ready to acknowledge James's promise.
They played a wonderfully watchable match at Nottingham in the British Open, but James is much stronger physically now.
He decided to take the game to Jonathon and felt that he played exceptionally for him to lead 2-0. He was close to a 3-0 win at 11-all, but Jonathon has done it all before countless times and took the next two, both 15/12.
Odds on the Canadian now, but from 5-all James took control and won 15/9 for more euphoria. Observers reckoned the match had just about everything - fluctuations in score, stroke-making of the highest order, Jonathon's sense of theatre and ultimate sporting acknowledgement of his young pretender.
The final of the Kuwait Open with Lincou, Palmer, Beachill, Shabana and Power all departed - scarcely believable - pinch yourself and wake up in the night to see if it's true.
Come the morning of the final and yes, it definitely is true. Another flight to rearrange, sore feet to repair, head to sort out to make sure the final suits the occasion.
James began well against Peter, led 12/8, couldn't capitalise, lost it to 13 but attacked forthrightly to win the second to feel he was back in the match.
In the third weariness set in and Peter was quick to seize the initiative, but in the fourth James staged an acceptable recovery before bowing out after 63 minutes, hardly a decision for the officials to make and the capacity crowd of six to seven hundred well satisfied, as was James.
He thought that had he been fresher, he could have got a little closer, but was quick to acknowledge Peter's superiority and marvelled at the champion's ability to come back again. As he stated after the match his success in Kuwait doesn't mean he's there, but he will gain in confidence and hope to consolidate.
The Swedish Open next week, after several domestic engagements, will be a test and he will hope he has recovered in time.