After losing their only match on court in 2018 (a semi-final against Nottingham), four-time champions Ashby were back to their traditional best in beating Letchworth in this wet first round match of the 2019 GC Inter-Club. The two clubs had most recently met in the 2017 final, a close match in which Ashby had completed their fourth straight win against Letchworth.
The Letchworth team must have had a spring in their steps, however, when they realised that Will and Rachel Gee would not be in the Ashby team for this latest encounter. Those two players have a combined record of 11 wins and 2 losses against Letchworth (while non-Gees are 6-8).
Facing the prospect of missing this fire power, non-playing captain Ray Mounfield made an inspired selection by picking Paul Durkin, who went on to beat the higher ranked John Noble in the morning rubbers.
This victory (completed even though the captains offered holding back the deciding third game because the other two rubbers were already completed) was arguably pivotal to the Ashby victory as it gave them a 3-0 lead at lunch time and sent their players into the afternoon session full of confidence.
The other potentially crucial moment in the day was a hoop 6 in the first game of the doubles. Tim King peeled an unlikely opponent ball and this proved to be irretrievable in terms of the result of the game. His reaction, however, was crucial. He showed no flicker of emotion and went on to play solidly for the rest of the rubber.
The other key feature of this rubber were the jump shots.
Ashby started weakly with a couple of misses and then Nick Mounfield played a glorious, long bouncing bomb to win the first game at the eleventh. Ashby responded strongly for the rest of the rubber and, when King nailed a long one to give a 3-0 lead in the deciding game (with Mounfield, next to play, without a clear approach to hoop 4), the home team was on course for a reassuring second point to add to the one won by David Bell against John Skingsley.
After lunch, Ashby went on to offer almost no glimpse of a potential come back to the visitors as the afternoon action proceeded. Mounfield was the only Letchworth player who showed much promise in the first games, although even he went on to lose this game along with all his other teammates.
This left the main uncertainty as being who would score the winning point and, not for the first time in his career for Ashby, this proved to be Mike O'Brian, comfortably beating David Tutt, who was enjoying the steady rain no more than any of the other players.
Bell and Durkin shortly followed by also completing their rubbers in straight games.
Mounfield levelled his rubber and, after weighing up preventing versus enabling a whitewash, he proceeded to secure the consolation point for his team by playing a series of controlled clearances and precision blocks, demonstrating his AC pedigree.
The overall result though was a strong triumph for the Ashby team, with the even better news for them being that they now expect Will and Rachel to be back from Australia in time to play in the next round against Northampton. This is a tie that has never occurred before in the GC Inter-Club although it will resonate with old timers who still remember when Northampton was part of the East Midlands Federation.
Full results on CroquetScores.