Liam Pitchford was the hero for England as the men’s table tennis team took Commonwealth Games silver in Delhi this evening, beaten to gold by a powerful Singaporean side.
The 17-year-old from Chesterfield got England off to a brilliant start with a fighting five-game win in the opening match that seemed like prime inspiration for the team to take an exciting victory.
But defeats for Paul Drinkhall and the experienced Andrew Baggaley meant England had to settle for second.
Losing 3-1 was a disappointing end to a great tournament for the men, but a big step up from fifth in Melbourne four years ago.
“At the moment it feels like a defeat,” said Drinkhall, the 20-year-old from Middlesbrough who was gutted to go home empty handed from his Games debut four years ago.
“It’s a bit of a disappointing feeling now but I’m sure I will wake up tomorrow and realise I’ve won a silver medal,” he said. “Singapore played really well. We’re a little disappointed because there were opportunities for us but silver is still a fairly good return.”
Gold would have better, however, and that seemed distinctly possible after the first game.
Getting off to a good start is always important on such tense occasions and Pitchford gave England the perfect send-off, defying his youth to come back from two games down against Gao Ning to win 4-11, 6-11, 11-8, 11-9, 13-11.
It was a thrilling opener as both players clipped the table edge seemingly at will. Pitchford, looking all of 13, showed the guts of a seasoned pro to drag himself back into the match and hold his nerve in the final game after missing two match points.
Then up strode Drinkhall. Four years ago he was in Pitchford’s shoes, a 16-year-old at his first Games. Now he’s a man who leads from the front.
He took the first game from Yang Zi 11-9, but Yang got into the match in the second, which he won 11-7, and ran away with it from there, taking the third and fourth, 11-9, 11-1.
It needed Andrew Baggaley to get England back on track and he won the first game 11-8. But by now it was beginning to look like this wouldn’t be England’s day.
Singapore’s Ma Liang had too many shots up his sleeve for the Northampton man and he took the match in four games, 8-11, 11-8, 11-8, 11-6.
Drinkhall came out fighting in the fourth tie and roared to the first set 11-9. But increasingly Gao forced him onto the back foot and despite some desperate defence it was the Singapore team who were celebrating at the end.
“It’s a strange feeling to have picked up a silver medal after losing the game,” said Baggaley, who won two Commonwealth titles in Manchester.
“It’s my third Commonwealth Games,” he said. “I’ve still enjoyed the experience of India. There’s still the doubles and singles to come and hopefully plenty more medals.”
Drinkhall was also able to look forward, saying, “This is only the start of the tournament, there’s still the doubles and singles.
“With the women coming fourth and us second, English table tennis is on the map.”