‘We’ve lost against Nottingham in the last two seasons’ said Birmingham captain Ed Slot, as he set up the two tables, ‘but we weren’t playing our strongest team. In fact, today is the first day we’ve had our strongest team this season.’
Intriguing; so have Birmingham struggled this season? ‘We’ve played two league games and a cup game.’ Slot replied ‘We won two of them 11-6 and the third 17-0.’ He looked up at the other table, and paused. ‘You need to focus on your own match. You can’t think about the person playing next to you.’ And with that, the contest got underway. The imposing Xioaxin Liu and the brilliantly aggressive Matt Mulley won the first two games in style and paved the way for Slot to take on Nottingham captain James Berry. A defensive masterclass followed from Slot, and Berry became visibly frustrated with the Birmingham captain’s invincibility at returning shots ten yards away. Slot deftly battled through and made it 3-0 to the hosts.
The home side would eventually lead 6-1, although not without a couple of close encounters, principally from Liu who almost let Pritesh Kakad back in the game after losing five match points. ‘Could have played better. You think too much and I didn’t play properly’ he muttered as he sat down, being overly self-critical. The most intense battle was an epic between Berry and Brum’s Scott Lewis. Lewis, whose matches never seemed to lack action, found himself on the brink of defeat before an almighty comeback and an 18-16 victory cued further anguished looks from the Nottingham skipper. ‘I was just concentrating point after point’ said Lewis afterwards. However, Berry took control in the decider and eventually defeated his opponent, whose gritty determination this time didn’t prevail.
The Nottingham captain deserves praise for his performance, and his troops went on the charge, pulling the score back to 6-4. Yet Slot, Lewis and Mulley finished their next three matches in convincing fashion, and Lewis sealed the contest with an almighty forearm smash - the sort usually seen in boxing. Birmingham were now 9-4 up and over the line, eventually making it 12-5. ‘There were some tough matches and some strong performances today’ remarked Lewis, ‘it’s good to keep our undefeated start for the new season.’ A performance, in sum, of guile, grit and grace.