Players taken by surprise by referees’ get-tough policy
By ALAN THATCHER, Squash Mad Editor
NICK MATTHEW has joined the debate that has sprung up over a sudden “get-tough” refereeing policy at the Commonwealth Games.
Officials have clearly been instructed to clamp down on lets, but the result has led to a chorus of confusion among players, coaches, fans and commentators.
One case that has led to considerable debate arose when Welsh number one Joel Makin was denied a let on match ball down against Paul Coll in today’s semi-finals.
The decision mystified many onlookers with Coll’s soft forehand landing in the service box.
As Makin attempted to move from the T to the ball, he found Coll in his way.
The position of the ball, and Coll’s position on the court, would normally have led to a simple “Yes, let” decision.
There was no deliberate blocking – Coll is not that type of player – and Makin felt hard done by (understatement of the year) as his valiant bid for a place in the final was denied by what many felt was a dodgy decision.
Presciently, former world champion Nick Matthew had earlier issued a statement on Twitter saying: “Common feeling amongst the players is that the referees have been over-strict in their awarding of No Lets. Would have been nice to have got a directive before the event if this was the route we were taking.”
There are, as always, several ways to look at this issue.
Of course we want fewer soft lets, especially when the sport is under the microscope and bidding for a deserved place in the Olympic Games.
Large parts of the world are tuning in to the Commonwealth Games and, as the biggest event to showcase our Olympic credentials, it is of paramount importance that the sport is displayed in all its gladiatorial grandeur to show the IOC what they are missing.
However, with the frequent stoppages and debates caused by many of the decisions, it may well have had the opposite effect.
Bear with me while I take a little trip down memory lane.
In the great heyday of squash, when the game boasted close to three million players in the UK, London had two major rivals, Lambs and Cannons Club, competing in the American Express Premier League, the forerunner of today’s PSL.
Lambs owner Mike Corby, a former England international and one-time president of the former SRA, always delivered the same pep talk to his star players.
Whether he was talking to Jahangir Khan, Jansher Khan, Stuart Davenport, Hiddy Jahan or any of his expensively gathered squad members, Corby would always deliver this one piece of stoic advice:
“The game, dear boy, is won and lost in the four corners.”
Not any more, it’s not!
When young players are taught the basics, the need for good length and tight drops are among the first things they learn.
However, what we have seen in the Gold Coast this week has, on many occasions, been exactly the opposite.
Play a loose drive, with the ball bouncing in the service box, fail to move off the ball, thereby blocking your opponent’s path to the ball, and the referee will give you the point by saying “No Let” to your opponent.
Play a loose drop shot that lands four or five feet from the front corner, impede your opponent’s path to the ball, and once again you are likely to win the point in similar fashion.
It goes against everything we thought we knew about the game.
No wonder Nick Matthew and several fellow professionals admitted to being confused.
Perhaps these following questions need to be answered. Where was this decided? And by whom? Who thought this was a good idea? Why was it not discussed with the players in advance?
The crowds in Gold Coast, as in Glasgow in 2014, have created a wonderful, carnival atmosphere which has clearly inspired the squash players to produce fabulous, breathtaking performances on court every single day.
They are going the extra mile in showcasing all the dynamic attributes that the sport has to offer as occasions like this fire up the bid for Olympic inclusion.
This is not about referees, rules, or committees. This is about giving our very best players the opportunity to play at the highest level, in the Olympic Games.
They are the ones feeling the most pain at our continued exclusion.
Nicol David, as we all know, spoke for the whole sport when she stated that she would happily trade in her eight world titles for a single Olympic gold medal.
For the players to be treated like this seems a bit shabby.
During a post-match media interview Tesni Evans was asked: “Tesni, how does it feel to be the most famous person from Bangor?”
She replied: “I don’t know. I’m from Rhyl.”
Matthew Pinsent talked to James Willstrop for the BBC after his semi-final win and then announced on Twitter that the highlights would be shown on BBC2. Pity the whole brilliant match wasn’t shown live.
After watching hours and hours of gymnastics the previous night, the “live” show hosted by Clare Balding squeezed an amazing day of squash drama into a three-minute round-up.
Official verdict on proceedings from Andrew Shelley, the CEO of the WSF: “Squash was one of the real sports-successes in Glasgow. The presentation, broadcast, spectator levels, atmosphere and the matches themselves were superb…….. and Gold Coast is matching that.
“Great crowds from day one have turned into full houses from singles quarter finals onwards; and they have been treated to an array of matches of the highest standard, with sheer athleticism, upsets, comebacks and tight finishes bringing the audience first to the edge of their seats then up off them!
“As befitting a sport vying for an Olympic Games place the spectacle has been very well received by the international sports visitors who have come to view the matches taking place in the largest sound stage in the Southern hemisphere at Oxenford Film Studios.”
After competing in the final, and then the doubles, and then gearing up for the British Open, James Willstrop is ready to swap the wooden floor of the glass court in the Gold Coast to tread the boards on stage in Harrogate.
The Times wrote: “James is not accustomed to the limelight. He is the greatest English athlete you’ve never heard of; a one-time world No 1, he has medals from every tournament in his sport, including three world titles. Today he will play in the semi-finals of his fourth and, he says, final Commonwealth Games.
“But after two decades on the international circuit, the champion squash player is learning how to be in the spotlight not on the court but on stage at a small theatre in Harrogate where he will be starring in a play about democracy and torture by a South American human rights activist at the end of the month.”
He told the Sunday Times: “I’ve started acting a lot,” says the 34-year-old. “I’ve got my script and I will be trying to learn my lines between the matches.”
Pictures courtesy of TONI VAN DER KREEK