Last year Cambridge had finally ended Oxford's long run of wins since 2003, so perhaps it was no surprise that this year it was the Oxford team which fought through the London traffic to arrive at Hurlingham first, keen to regain their hold on the trophy. By the time everyone had changed - Cambridge for the first time all sporting matching team whites - and familiarised themselves with the immaculate Hurlingham courts, it was 10:40am when play actually started.
The courts were measured at about 10 Plummers, a procedure which was, naturally, supervised by Ian Plummer himself as the match referee standing in for the usual referee Richard Hilditch who could not make it this year. The regular 6-a-side match format was used, comprising 3 doubles in the morning and 6 singles in the afternoon, all played Level Advanced. In order to ensure that everyone would get lunch, a time-limit of about 2½ hours was therefore imposed on the morning doubles.
On the top court the two top players in the respective teams, Adam Swinton of Cambridge and Jordan Waters of Oxford, were paired with relative beginners. Cautious tactics on both sides led to much cat-and-mouse play, and so it was a full 50 minutes before either side made the first hoop! The slow pace continued, and after 90 minutes Cambridge had still only made it as far as 2 and 1-back, while the Oxford pair were still both stuck on hoop 1. But then things started to liven up in the last hour. Jordan gained the innings and started a break, ambitiously peeling partner through hoop 1 on a death-roll to 6, but then missed the return roquet after 6 to leave Cambridge 1 up. It was not long before Jordan was back in again, this time continuing round to penult with a contact leave and by now a 3-hoop advantage. Then Adam levelled the score with 5 minutes remaining, and finally managed to eke out a close +1 win on time for Cambridge.
On the second court Alex Bishop of Oxford made the first break, but failed to capitalise on it with a miss after hoop 3. A while later Craig Winfield of Cambridge made a tidy break to 3-back, by which time his partner was on 4 and the Oxford pair were behind on 2 and 6. Cambridge hung on to their lead, making one more hoop and denying Oxford any more progress to win +4 when time was called.
On the third court the first break of a few hoops went to Louis McBride of Cambridge, followed later by his partner James Brind on a break to rover with a contact leave. With the Cambridge pair on 5 and rover the Oxford pair Joshua Bull and Will Nathan were unable to make much progress, and only reached 2 and 5 when time was called to leave Cambridge a comfortable +10 win on time.
So 3-0 to Cambridge at lunchtime, the first time in many years that Cambridge had secured a lead after the morning doubles. The prospects for Oxford looked rather grim. Fortunately though the kind hospitality of Hurlingham at lunch was more than enough to ensure that everyone emerged well fed and in good spirits for the afternoon singles.
Indeed the lunch effect was quite noticeable, as the afternoon singles proceeded with some lively play in marked contrast to the slow morning struggle.
On the second court Craig Winfield of Cambridge made a good start, soon getting his pink ball to 4-back with a diagonal spread. But with a lapse of concentration he left his pink ball with the rush into court. So when his opponent Alex missed the lift shot, Craig proceeded to approach 1 and run it a second time with pink! End of turn. Fortunately for Craig, however, Alex was unable to capitalise on the mistake and it was not long afterwards that Craig was back in again, this time playing white and embarking on a standard tp. Hoop 2 was made off the peelee, and the difficult roll to 3 was spot on to leave pink in good peeling position. The 4-back peel succeeded and the standard tp stayed on track, with the penult peel completed after 6 and the early rover peel done on the way to 3-back. By this time the audience had grown. Craig survived the last few nervous hoops to complete his win +26tp, his first competitive tp. Other members of the Cambridge team were heard to mutter "He'll be insufferable on the way home!" between their congratulations. Now 4-0 to Cambridge.
On the far court, and at some distance from the tp action, Louis McBride of Cambridge was also making strong progress at a similar pace against Joshua Bull. It was not long afterwards that Louis too finished +26 with a straight rover peel, and 5-0 to clinch the match for Cambridge for the second consecutive year.
Meanwhile on the top court Adam Swinton (3) of Cambridge was up against Jordan Waters (4½), potentially a close contest. Adam gained the first innings, but mis-approached 1 a couple of times. Once let in Jordan needed no second chances and made the first break to 4-back. Adam hit with his lift shot but then missed a short roquet, after which Jordan made his second break to peg, with no peels. Adam missed with his second lift shot, Jordan then failed 4-back off partner, and Adam missed again to the north boundary leaving Jordan a fairly simple finish to win +26. It was the third 26-0 score of the afternoon and the first win for Oxford, but at 5-1 it was too late for them to save the match.
Not long after that, the Cambridge captain James Brind too sealed a convincing +24 win to bring the score to 6-1 and leave just two games in play during the last hour. Sam Trueman (Cambridge) was up against Jasper Theodor Kauth, and Douglas Buisson (Cambridge) against Mo KaramNejadRanjbar. Sam chose some rather odd tactics, but proved to be unerringly accurate at running long hoops (your reporter wishes he could bottle some of that for himself) and in due course finished with a comfortable +19 win. That just left Douglas and Mo fighting out a close contest which Mo eventually scraped home to win +1 on time and salvage a second win for Oxford.
Final score: 7-2 to Cambridge, and much satisfaction for them knowing that all of their winning players would still be around for the 2018 Varsity match as well.
Thanks too to the Hurlingham club and its members for once again hosting this memorable and very enjoyable event in fine style.
The Oxford team
The Cambridge team
|Scores (Cambridge names first)|
all games Level Advanced