Winchester Veterans came through a thrilling finale to the season against local rivals Wykeham to clinch the Hampshire Premier title by a single point.
Wykeham came into the match as hot favourites to take the title, as any victory or even narrow defeat would have been enough to wrest the crown from the Bereweeke Road side. But Winchester skipper Paul Thomas (pictured) was having none of it, stunning Wykeham no.2 Deklon Moule with a succession of blistering drives and punishing boasts to race into a two game lead. Moule upped his game, volleying and dropping to good effect to take the third 9-4 but, alas for the Wykeham man, his comeback ended abruptly at 2-3 in the fourth game when he twisted his ankle and was forced to concede the match.
At no.3, Winchester’s Craig Mascall was up against his old nemesis Ian Berrill, a man he had never previously beaten. At 0-4 down to Berrill’s drilled drives in the first game it looked like the outcome would be no different this time, but Mascall had been training hard in preparation for this match and battled back with some spectacular volleyed nicks to edge the opener 9-7. There followed a series of brutal rallies in a hard fought second game but again Mascall proved the stronger, taking it 9-4 to build a 2-0 lead. The damage done and with Berrill clearly suffering, Mascall was able to waltz to victory 9-2 in the third, and so clinch an overall win for his team, and indeed, following some quick mental arithmetic, the championship itself.
In the first string match, Winchester O45 champion Phil Ashman was always going to be up against it against county captain Stuart Summers, and indeed Summers soon had him scampering to all corners of the court with an accurate length game interspersed with some delightful drop shots. Ashman had to call on all his renowned reserves of fitness just to stay in the match but eventually succumbed to the pressure, Summers winning in three straight games.
Despite the importance of the occasion the match was played in a terrific spirit by both teams. Winchester will be delighted to have retained their title despite being unable to call on the services of injured British National O50 finalist Jon Foster who, happily, is aiming to be back in action next season.
Report written by George Kousseff