By Gavin McKinlay
The 2013 Aegon Winter County Cup saw the Buckinghamshire men travel up to Boston Lincolnshire, to compete against Bedfordshire, West of Scotland and Lincolnshire in their Group 4 encounter. Led by Captain Peter Thorne in the absence of usual leader Aidan Graveson; the Bucks men were fielding one of their youngest teams for many years.
Peter Thorne (Halton), Tom Miller (Great Missenden), Gavin McKinlay (Halton), Barnaby Smith (Great Missenden), Calum McKinlay (Halton), Steve Sumpter (Milton Keynes) and Ed Taylor (Halton).
Day 1- Bedfordshire
Day 1 as ever is vital for a team to gain some momentum and clinch an early win in order to make progress through the remaining days much easier. As such, Bucks were keen to take an early lead in the tie against Bedfordshire and were given the perfect start when Steve Sumpter overcame the loss of a tight first set to run out a convincing winner in three sets at number 6. The Bucks campaign was given a further boost by the nerveless performances of Calum McKinlay and Barnaby Smith who both came through in straight sets to win their first senior rubber singles, giving Bucks an early lead in the tie. Bedfordshire came back into the tie however, when Gavin McKinlay was outplayed by his opponent and went down in straight sets. Pete Thorne then steadied the ship playing his usual brand of flowing tennis from the back of the court meaning Bucks needed only one more rubber to take the tie. Tom Miller was unable to provide a win at one, having flown back from the USA to play the tie he was showing clear signs of jetlag and was unable to enforce his aggressive net play upon his opponent. Going into the doubles at 5-2 the Bucks boys were confident of taking the win and backed this up by taking all three of the available doubles rubbers with some big serving and good movement at the net. Bucks finished the day having ran out convincing 7-2 winners.
Day 2- West of Scotland
Day 2 saw Bucks get off to a quick start once again with Calum McKinlay and Steve Sumpter again providing early wins at 5 and 6. Sumpter having once again lost the opening set battled back well to win another three set encounter by eventually overpowering his opponent. McKinlay who played in what was to be the match of the day, recovered after being dominated by his opponent in the first set, to take the match in a dramatic third set tiebreak. These wins proved pivotal for Bucks as the middle three of Smith, McKinlay and Thorne all went down in straights sets without ever really hurting their opponents. Tom Miller levelled the tie at 3-3 after the singles, displaying some fantastic net play on his way to a three sets win. Going into the doubles with the match tied made it tough for the Swans, given the strength of the doubles pairings available for the Scottish side at first and second pairs. The challenge of taking two of the three matches proved too much in the end, despite McKinlay and Smith taking the first rubber for Bucks. The First and Second pairings of McKinlay/Miller and Thorne/Sumpter struggled to get going against tough opposition and both went down in straight sets. Bucks therefore took a narrow 5-4 loss at the end of the second day.
Day 3- Lincolnshire
Day 3 always sees a rise in tension within the teams as both promotion and relegation are often possible for all teams on the same day. Given the rubbers picked up by Bucks on the first two days, absent captain Aidan Graveson (who kept in touch through use of carrier swan over the whole event) had worked out that the team needed just one rubber to avoid relegation, but promotion would be a tall order. The magic one rubber proved no easy task with the strength of the Lincolnshire singles line up, meaning nothing was guaranteed. As ever the Swans did not make life easy for themselves as they lost the first five singles rubbers, despite determined resistance from all of the team, the Lincolnshire opposition proved to be too strong on the day. Not for the first time in his county career, Peter “The Milkman” Thorne found the fate of the county (and according to him “the hopes and dreams of every member of our fair parish”) in his hands. The Captain did not disappoint and pulled out a gutsy three set win playing some outrageous passing shots and forcing his opponent into the most outrageous of errors in the process. The Milkman delivered a third set tiebreak victory, cementing Buckinghamshire’s place in division 4 again next year.
Overall the 2013 Winter County Cup can be seen as a successful one for the Swans. Coming up against some very stiff opposition from all three counties, the team did well to hold their own over the course of the weekend. Hope can also be taken in the success of the Bucks debutants, Barney and Calum, who both dealt well with the pressures of county cup and came up with the rubbers when required. A special mention must also be made for Edward Taylor, who did not get to play over the weekend but provided valuable support to help the team over the line and will no doubt get his chance in the team over the coming years.