Close encounters of the Premiership kind for county teams

Norfolk had their first taste of Premiership action at the weekend, when they came face to face with Surrey, Lancashire and Derbyshire in the first round of Premier B, played at the National Badminton Centre in Milton Keynes.

The first tie, against the Surrey second string, gave Norfolk a taste of what life would be like in the noisy and emotionally charged atmosphere of the hall, with play taking place simultaneously on all eight courts. But Norfolk got off to a great start with Daryl Jacobs winning a hard-fought singles match 20-22,21-19, 22-20. The other mens singles went to Surrey but Jacobs, partnered by Jonny Cooper, won their doubles in another close encounter 24-22, 18-21,19-21, while Ian Murphy and Justin Gerrard came close in a tough two-setter. The women were also battling hard with Julie Pike just missing out in three sets and Louise Culyer going down in two 19-21,20-22. The womens doubles saw Katherine Cooper and Toni Sturgeon winning their match in three and Pike and Culyer going down 21-23 in the third. The mixed doubles went to Surrey with established Norfolk pair, Murphy and Cooper missing out in another close three-setter.

Norfolk had every right to feel a little aggrieved at the final score of 7-3 to Surrey in a match where six games went to three sets, but that is what the Premiership is all about With little time for a rest between matches and fighting hard to come to terms with life in the Premiership, Norfolk found themselves up against Lancashire in the second round of the day. Jacobs and Cooper lost both their mens singles and doubles, but Pike and Culyer enjoyed singles success before missing out in three sets in the level doubles. Cooper and Sturgeon, on the other hand, had a relatively comfortable womens doubles, 21-9,21-13, but missed out in the mixed, partnered by Gerrard and Jono Atmore respectively. But there was drama in the mens doubles. Murphy and Gerrard were having another tough battle against strong opponents, with the score at one all, going into the third and final set, when Murphy had to retire in considerable pain with a torn calf muscle. This left the final match score at 7-3 to Lancashire

The third and final match of the weekend was against Derbyshire, who were promoted to the Premiership with Norfolk at the end of last season. Norfolk got the match off to a cracking start with Jacobs, Cooper, Pike and fourteen year old Devon Minnis, making her county first team debut, all winning their singles matches. With Murphy's calf injury keeping him out of the match, Mike Philpott responded to the call for action and, partnered by Justin Gerrard, narrowly lost their doubles in three hard fought sets 21-18, 17-21, 19-21 With the opening four singles all going to Norfolk, Derby staged a strong recovery, winning five of the six remaining games, with Cooper and Sturgeon picking up Norfolk's fifth to gain a draw. So, at the end of a hard fought but highly enjoyable weekend, Norfolk lost two matches and drew one, winning 11 games, losing 19 but gaining a lot of valuable experience, on which to build in time for the next round of matches in January The pundits are forecasting an unbeaten Hampshire to gain promotion to Premier A with Lancashire and Bucks in hot pursuit, but there are six matches still to play in the New Year.

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