Last week no league games were played as the Handicap Cup quarter finals took place. The handicap format allows for a level playing field between teams despite potential differences in their usual local league divisions or even between individuals of different gradings. Players facing higher-graded opponents will be afforded a certain number of points’ head-start and each match takes the format of first to 21 points in the best of 3 games.
The first quarter final saw Cramlington Reivers travel to Ouston to face their B team consisting of Neil Wilkinson, Tom Fowle and Jeff Mckenna. The Reivers’ usual line-up of Paul Jamieson and Alex Hinchliffe required a third player so they drafted in the Premier division Cramlington Casuals player Steve Penman whose team didn’t enter the cup and is therefore eligible to play. Neil Wilkinson got the home team off to a flying start as he beat Hinchliffe 2-0 with only a 6 point start. Penman’s first game was tough as he gave Mckenna a challenging 14 point start, but he dug in to win the first end 22-20. Mckenna comfortably won the next end to take it to a decider but Penman was just about too strong, taking the third end 21-19 and securing the match for the Reivers. Tom Fowle proved to be Player of the Match, playing well above his grading as he beat all three Cramlington players in just 2 ends each. In the end it was only Jeff Mckenna who lost any matches and Ouston ran out comfortable 6-3 victors.
North East Chinese Association’s A team hosted Newton B in our second quarter final. A lineup of Adam Webster, Robin Francis and Kit Robinson saw their star player Chun Yin Yu missing, probably because the handicap format often sees his very high grade giving away 18 or even 19 points to his opponents. NECA got off to a flying start as Webster beat Ian Armstrong and Robinson beat both David Lucas and Ian Armstrong – a 5 point start against the former and a 2 point disadvantage against the latter. The defining moment in the game appeared to be when veteran long pimples player Chas Robertson beat Adam Webster 2-1. Robertson took the first end comfortably but Webster clawed the second back in a similar fashion. Robertson knuckled down and romped the deciding end 21-14 with only a 7 point start, potentially proving that this division 2 player could give Webster a solid run for his money off scratch. From here NECA lost the next three matches, giving Newton a 5-3 victory and allowing them to forfeit their final match for an early finish.
Perhaps the closest quarter final of the four was Byker B against Cramlington Corinthians. The Byker lineup had division 2 players David Craddock and Mark Patterson supported by division 3 player Tom Manuel against the Corinthians’ usual division 3 lineup of Phil Smith, Jamie Hall and Steve Ralph. Craddock’s combination of low division 2 grade and above-grade serves means he’s a very tough opponent in this format where players have five consecutive serves instead of the usual two and he proved this by winning all three of his matches, only being taken to a third end by Smith. Manuel found it harder despite having a 1 point start against Smith but he was able to beat Ralph with a 4 point advantage. In the end game went down to the wire but the Byker team won 5-4.
Mount’s Jamie Dent could prove to be a real bandit in this year’s Handicap Cup as a change in shifts has allowed him to dedicate more time to the sport, improving rapidly and noticeably. As the handicaps are changed at the start of the season this means players with such quick progression can often have advantages that they likely won’t need. He was the team’s star player as he won all of his matches in 2 swift ends. The Mount’s other players Rod Roberts and Alan Livingstone also chipped in with one win each as they beat Billy Edwards and Eddie Kennedy respectively, leading to an overall 5-3 win.
The draw for the semi-finals has already taken place and will see Byker B hosting Ouston B and Mount visiting Newton B, potentially leading to two very high quality semi-finals.