by Ian Marshall, ITTF Publications Editor
Defeats had been experienced at the hands of Sweden and France but success against Denmark had given hope; at that stage of proceedings were thoughts more focused on trying to stay in the Championship Division rather than gaining a medal?
Maybe I was thinking that way but I assure you there was one man who was not of that mind; if it was still theoretically possible to compete for a medal, Alan Cooke, the England National Coach, would believe it was possible. He is nominated in Doha in the Star Coach category.
It is that belief above all else that he has instilled into the English outfit; they progressed to beat Denmark, Germany and Malaysia to gain third place in the group and a place in the main draw. The team that had started the tournament as the 18th in the order of merit recorded dramatic wins again Poland and France, before eventually losing to Japan at the semi-final stage.
A bronze medal was the lot for the newly promoted team; later they were to repeat the success against France at the quarter-final stage of the Men’s Team event at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in an equally dramatic fashion, before even more recently winning a cliff-hanger against Greece in the European Championships qualifier.
The team as whole is nominated in Breakthrough Player category, whilst in addition Sam Walker is named in the Star Point category for his incredible rally in the Men’s Team final in Kuala Lumpur against Yuya Oshima when facing Japan.
Is Sam Walker not the final piece in the jigsaw; furthermore, is he not the modern day version of Alan Cooke? He revels in the rally, he thrives in the heat of the battle and if there is a glimmer of hope he maintains his belief.
The year is 1991, an era when in a team event it was best of three games and 21 points was the goal.
Alan Cooke played Kalin Kreanga of Greece who in those days was Calin Creanga. In the opening game after three points had been played, from far out wide, Alan Cooke attempted a forehand top spin, his racket caught the court surround. The head of the racket bounced of a window at the top of the building, the handle remained in his hand.
Another racket was hastily prepared but in that opening game, Alan Cooke mustered only three points but he still believed. He won the second game but in the vital deciding third, he trailed 15-20. He levelled at 20-all; then saved two match points before winning 24-22!
Now fast forward to Friday 12th August at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games; in the first round of the Men’s Team event, the score in the fixture at two-all against France, in the decisive fifth game against Simon Gauzy, Sam Walker trailed 7-10.
He fought in the same manner as Alan Cooke had done 25 years earlier; relentlessly, taking no risks but fighting like a terrier biting at the heels, he put the ball on the table time and again. He maintained the pressure to win the next five points to snatch a remarkable victory.
“Even when I was losing 7-10 in the fifth game I still believed I could win”, said Sam Walker after the match.
I suspect he was not alone, so did the coach sitting courtside in whom he has total trust; in his playing days nobody was better than Alan Cooke at treating every opponent as a player.
It is that attitude which Alan Cooke has engendered in his charges, believe in yourself, trust in your ability; it is those credentials that has created a team spirit of the highest order, it is that approach which has made England once again a force with whom to be reckoned.
The Breakthrough Player and Coach of the Year will be decided by a panel of experts but you can still vote for Male Player of the Year, Female Player of the Year and the Star Point.
2016 ITTF Star Awards: Click here to cast your vote
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Voting closes on Sunday 13th November