ICT – Inter-Counties Tournament: for those who haven’t heard of it, the pinnacle of junior badminton in the UK, when 35 counties converge on the University of Nottingham campus for 4 days of intense competition. Each county selects its top 10 junior players, 5 boys and 5 girls and this year, Leicestershire pride rested on the capable shoulders of Team Manager Chris Hall and the 2017 team:-
Martin Beynon, Jai Chandarana, Nikhil Chotai, Tom Cowperthwaite, Ryan King
Eve Dale, Ella Haines, Hritika Modi, Issy Paterson-Watts, Izzy Pike
After settling in to their rooms and having the official team photo taken, it was time to start the campaign. Round 1 saw Leicestershire seeded #2 in a group with Suffolk, Northants and top seeds Cheshire who the team knew would be the biggest hurdle. With each rubber consisting of 2 boys singles, 2 girls singles, 2 boys doubles, 2 girls doubles and 2 mixed doubles, team selections were communicated to the players during each pre-match ‘huddle’, each player knowing what their role was to be and a final chance for visiting supporters to pass on last words of wisdom, including Performance Director Anthony Clark and County Captain Mark King as well as assorted players from previous years!
With the first rubber due to start at 12.30 against Suffolk, the team wanted to make a positive start and the team performed as well as they had hoped for, with only 2 very strong Suffolk girls able to carve out lone wins for a final scoreline of:-
Leicestershire: 8 Suffolk: 2
With no time to rest before the next rubber, the team knew they had a difficult task against a strong Cheshire team slated for a 2.30pm start. The scoreline had the counties neck and neck through both singles and doubles with the pick of the games being a stunning victory for Issy P-W against Annabelle Bellis 9-15 15-5 17-15 that had the already vocal Team Leics supporters cheering themselves hoarse! Unfortunately, Cheshire managed to win the final 2 mixed doubles games of the rubber to just sneak the win:-
Leicestershire: 4 Cheshire: 6
After a break for the evening meal it was time for the final fixture of the day and with a start time of 8.30pm the team knew they had to win this to progress through to Day 2 in the top half of the draw. As expected, Leicestershire managed a straightforward win against a clearly weaker Northants team, finally rounding off a long day at 10.00pm with the players returning gratefully to their rooms for a shower and bed.
Leicestershire: 8 Northamptonshire: 2
After a long day and late night, there were some bleary eyes when the team met for breakfast at 7.15am to discuss the draw which had been made for the day’s play. The team prepared themselves for what they knew would be a very tough day with Leicestershire now in a group with Yorkshire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire and Derbyshire. On paper, it was local rivals Derbyshire in the opening rubber which looked the easiest fixture and so it was to be; winning all the games bar one boys’ doubles, one girls’ doubles and a mixed.
Leicestershire: 7 Derbyshire: 3
Next up it was time for a repeat of the playoff fixture against Lancashire which had seen a very close drawn match end on count back in a victory for Leicestershire by just 2 ends. This time it was even closer!! The teams halved the singles 2 all with Lancashire just edging into the lead after the level doubles 5-3 and Leicestershire pulling back level by taking both the mixed for a final score of 5-5 and another dead heat! However, this time on count back, Leicestershire were on the losing side with Lancashire nicking the win by just 7 points. Proof once again of the importance of every single point!
Leicestershire: 5 Lancashire: 5 (Lancashire win)
With the final 2 rubbers of the day against 2 very strong teams in Yorkshire and Hertfordshire, the team fought hard but were unable to manage a win, despite the scoreline not being reflective of some very close losses which would have brought the teams closer:-
Leicestershire: 3 Yorkshire: 7
Leicestershire: 2 Hertfordshire: 8
After a tough second day, the team were glad of a slightly later start time of 10.45am on Wednesday and with just 2 rubbers slated for the day’s play, the team were (mostly!) looking forward to an early finish in order to prepare for the last night disco, a highlight of the event for many of the players (and team managers perhaps!)
With Dorset up first, the team walked on court with determination, getting off to a flying start by winning both mixed and 3 of the 4 singles. With the counties sharing the level doubles to finish, it was another good win for the team.
Leicestershire: 7 Dorset: 3
The next match was against Avon and the team knew this would be a tougher challenge from a county possessing strength in depth across boys and girls. The team made the start they needed by winning 2 from 2 in the mixed but were unfortunately unable to win any of the 4 singles, putting the team on the back foot and needing to win at least 3 of the 4 level doubles….but it wasn’t to be. With the counties sharing 2 apiece, the final score was:
Leicestershire: 4 Avon: 6
After a late night for some throwing shapes on the dance floor, there were some tired faces around the breakfast table the following morning!! The team knew by this point they were playing off against Sussex in the final rubber for 15th/16th place and while they may not have been competing for the top 4 places, there was no less determination to put 100% effort into a final win for Leicestershire.
The boys made a great start in the singles with both Jai and Martin beating their opponents ; unfortunately the girls were unable to emulate this with both Hritika and Eve losing very close 3 set games to strong Sussex players, Hritika only just being pipped 17-15 in the final end. Again, both boys doubles went Leicestershire’s way with Martin & Ryan and Nikhil & Tom winning straightforward 2 set games. Once again, the girls struggled against the strong Sussex pairs, Ella & Hritika losing in 2 and the Iszy’s just losing out 12-15 in a close 3rd end. With the scores level at 4-4 going into the mixed, could the Leicestershire pairs of Jai & Izzy and Eve & Ryan do it!
With Jai & Izzy on court first, confidence was high, having comfortably won in 2 sets in all their previous games in the tournament so far. The first set was anything but comfortable, with the Sussex pair having much greater success at shutting Jai out of the game and Izzy having to suck up immense pressure at the net. Both pairs faced numerous match points, both for and against; eventually Jai & Izzy managed to finish off their advantage taking the first 21-19! Having worked their opponents out, the second was won more comfortably 15-9.
With the score now at 5-4 to Leicestershire it was left to Eve & Ryan to try to get the outright win for Leicestershire although the number crunchers seemed certain at this point that Leicestershire would win overall either way, once again demonstrating the importance of points on the board, with all the close losses playing a critical role in a countback situation. As it happened, Eve & Ryan were unable to overcome a strong Sussex pair but it didn’t matter; despite a draw in games, the win was awarded to Leicestershire.
Leicestershire: 5 Sussex: 5 (Leicestershire win)
So after an intense 4 days of fantastic team spirit, determination and pride in wearing the team shirt, Leicestershire finished ICT 2017 in a creditable 15th place, bar for a couple of very close losses they could have placed even higher.
Congratulations to all the team who played and fought so hard and supported each other as a team throughout the whole week. Huge thanks go to Chris Hall for his skills as Team Manager and his unfailingly positive attitude, even when the going was really tough, and to Hayley for her usual care for her charges during such a challenging experience. Also thanks go to Anthony and Mark for their input and encouragement from the sidelines through the week. Thanks must also go to the motley crew of Team Leicestershire supporters, parents, assorted family members and Leicestershire ICT team members from years gone by, all of whom showed their amazing (and exceptionally loud!) support for this year’s team and who provided the lift the players needed to win critical points where they were really needed. We may not have won ICT 2017 but the general consensus of all present was that Team Leicestershire definitely won first place for having the loudest group of supporters of all the counties present!
With the supporters’ calls of “Let’s Go Leicester, LET’S GO!” still ringing in their ears, every one of the 10 boys and girls who carried Team Leicestershire’s hopes into ICT 2017 can look back with great pride on their performance; an incredible experience none of them will ever forget!