Ideal warm-up for World Teams
By ROD GILMOUR
England beat Rest of the World by a single point in the inaugural Ab Initio Squash International at St George’s Hill Lawn Tennis Club in Weybridge, Surrey, on Friday night.
In the first televised test match since the 1980s, the England quartet of Daryl Selby, Laura Massaro, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew won 122-121 in a riveting contest which came down to a run chase and where every rally and point mattered.
England’s garlanded four were all given severe tests before the men’s trio departed for the World Team Championships on Saturday morning and Massaro fine tunes her game ahead of the World Championships later this month.
Individually, Selby beat Australia’s Cameron Pilley and Massaro overcame Canadian Hollie Naughton, while Paul Coll, of New Zealand, beat Willstrop in a physical duel.
Coll’s victory saw England head into the final match holding a slender nine-point lead over Rest of the World at 97-88 to the good.
That lead was overhauled dramatically when Egypt’s in-form Mohamed Elshorbagy won the opening two games against Matthew.
But England’s three-time world champion held on 11-6 in the last, with Elshorbagy needing just one winner, having won the two bonus points on offer for the match win.
The contest was so tight that the scoreline had to be verified and the numbers crunched for several seconds before England were announced as trophy winners.
Earlier, opera singer Alexander Wall sang Jerusalem and Nessun Dorma before the passion was carried over into the four matches.
The evening was all about points being won, with one and two bonus points on offer for games and matches won in each rubber respectively.
Selby and Pilley opened proceedings in front of a sell-out crowd on the all-glass showcourt.
In a rollercoaster clash between two rival nations, Selby came back from a game down to hand England a 36-29 lead after winning 2-1 in games.
Laura Massaro, England’s women No 1, beat Naughton, the Canadian champion, in the only women’s match of the contest.
Massaro rallied in the first to take it 11-9 and then raced away with the second.
But Naughton came back brilliantly in the final game to give the Rest of the World some important points at the half-way stage of the match, with England holding a 12-point cushion at 68-56.
Willstrop and Coll then played out an energetic encounter as the Kiwi prevailed on the same court where he won the 2016 Channel Vas Championship.
Friday night’s event was broadcast on the BBC Sport website and was showcased for the first time in 360 virtual reality, with viewers able to watch the action unfold on YouTube.
WHAT THEY SAID
“The points are crucial and every point counts in this format. It’s great and I felt nervous.
“It means a lot to be playing in the England shirt again. I love playing the PSA World Tour but when you are with a team it gives you that extra edge.
“I am a team man. We have been through a lot together this team [the men’s World Championship team play in France next week] and I don’t know how much longer we can go on for. But it means so much to play for England.”
“The format is so different dynamically. Even when I was ahead I was trying to get as many points as I could.
“The situation is all about points and to win the match despite losing was weird!
“I really enjoy it with the team dynamics. There is an argument to finding out who is best by combining the best men and women together in a kind of World Cup format.
“It is about finding a way to fit it in the calendar with the World Team Championships, but it would be great.”
“Tonight was about putting on a show. That’s the type of drama you want. Mohamed and I have had too many battles down the years to fix that! It was unbelievably dramatic.
“It was the perfect tune up for the World Team Championships and we’re proud that we’re champions.”
Ab Initio Squash International, St George’s Hill
England bt Rest of the World on points won: 122-121
Daryl Selby beat Cameron Pilley (AUS) 10-12, 11-9, 11-7 (36-29)
Laura Massaro beat Hollie Naughton (CAN) 11-9, 11-6, 6-11 (32-27)
James Willstrop lost to Paul Coll (NZ) 10-12, 11-5, 7-11 (29-32)
Nick Matthew lost to Mohamed Elshorbagy (EGY) 10-12, 3-11, 11-6 (27-30)
Pictures by STEVE CUBBINS (SquashSite)