The game needs more pressure points – here’s an idea to make it happen
By PAUL MAIN
Best of three? What’s the point? In a doff of my cap to Daryl Selby and Cameron Pilley, I could call this piece Comment from the Balcony as that’s generally where I am at pro events!
Much debate has raged in various places from changing rooms to Twitter and probably Facebook, albeit I am not on there, and in Squash Mad (and I hope readers will comment below on the game’s only truly independent website), about the merits of the best of three format being trialed in the current Canary Wharf Classic tournament.
I will lay my cards on the table at the outset in stating that I was a sceptic. I didn’t have a problem with the experiment; I am all for change and trying new things, very much supporting the view that to grow, change and re-evaluation is necessary. My problem is that I have yet to see anywhere a clear objective.
I won’t patronise readers with what a SMART objective is, but I will invite people to tell me what the objective is if they know, because I haven’t seen one and I don’t know anyone who has – readers feel free to disavow me of my ignorance. I am not alone.
People have said things like, “it makes it more intense”. Really? I was there at the semi-final in 2010 between Nick Matthew and James Willstrop, the very embodiment of intense squash. Readers who have more experience than I can probably relate to others, but how do you measure intensity? So how can you know if something is more intense?
The same argument goes for excitement, another oft-quoted aim (note not objective because again it can’t be measured without attaching heart monitors to everyone and even then, just as with beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder).
I accept that there will be less impact on players and that MAY be a laudable and worthy objective, I would simply question whether or not the impact on the very nature of the game is worth that when the changes in science and sport technology mean that players are extending their careers to the point they are virtually drawing their pension – only joking Nick!
You need only to look at the top 20 and see the numbers who are still competitive well into their mid 30s and realise that in general the lifespan of athletes regardless of sport is extending and there is no evidence to suggest that it will change any time soon.
Personally I am left with one argument that I am aware of and it relates to the Olympics and extending the audience beyond its current viewing catchment, perhaps in much the same way as T20 has done for cricket. I get that, I genuinely do, however, I am not convinced by the argument. One cannot in all seriousness state that the length of matches put people off. Golan v Cuskelly lasted over an hour, which is longer than many best of five matches, similarly compared to say tennis, golf or even T20 cricket matches are over quicker.
My feeling is that actually there are two other things going on here that the squash authorities need to look at. Firstly, an internal one, the number of lets and strokes and interaction with referees and to be fair I think there have been significant improvements in that in recent years – a figurative round of applause probably ought to go to Lee Drew’s work here. The other is relating to the scoring and it’s about creating pressure points.
Contrast with a sport deemed similar, tennis, and one that is definitely not, if it’s even sport, darts, both with significantly higher viewing audiences and associated coverage. In both there are considerably more pressure points.
In squash I am always reminded of Jonah Barrington’s quote, “I never felt that the game really started until after the hour mark”.
Whilst that has undoubtedly changed, the fact is that in aforementioned Golan v Cuskelly match one player was 5-1 up before the other rattled off seven of the next eight to make for an exciting climax, thus rendering previous rallies, whilst not quite irrelevant, certainly less important.
In just about every event I have ever attended it’s the same. Where there is definitely a trend for the intensity of rallies etc to increase is when you get towards the oft quoted “business end”. To be fair, best of three addresses that to some extent in that it’s dangerous to let even a single game drift away, but from my first-hand experience it certainly didn’t increase the intensity of every point – would Pilley’s dive happened at say 3-1 down in the first?
Perhaps, then, the experiment should be best of seven games, playing PAR to seven?
Doing the maths (and I am sure someone with more resource and time could be more accurate on average pro points in matches) if, excluding tie-breaks, which are in themselves exciting, a conventional five-game match went to five-all, and ended 11-9, that’s 100 points, best of seven with all going to 7-5, goes to 84, a 16% reduction in athlete wear potentially, but an exponential increase in “pressure points”.
It’s just a thought and I am sure there are readers who are significantly brighter than me who can come up with better ideas, but my point remains the same. I am unclear what the objective of Best of 3 and how we can objectively measure its success – just because it “feels” better, doesn’t mean it is, even if we can quantify “better”. The mix and match model used by some e.g. use it in lesser tournaments, or qualifying MAY have some merit, but as I see it only some.
I will end with perhaps a more profound thought. By common consent, when PAR was introduced by the WSF it was NEVER meant to be incorporated into the amateur game, yet I can’t recall the last time I played HiHo. I have been playing for 13 years and have rarely played it.
So if Best of three is incorporated into the amateur game, and it will be whether we want it to or not as the pro game is the shop window which is then subsequently mimicked by the majority of player, then what happens in clubs up and down the country where three fifths of the court time is used?
Virtually all sport at amateur level, and squash in particular, is played for the social aspect. How different will that side of it be after a quick game of best of three against a gruelling best of five, when both players feel they need a drink afterwards?
Paul Main aka @Mainser
Readers are invited to comment below
Pictures by PATRICK LAUSON