by Simon Daish
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia played host to the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships between Sunday 28th February and Sunday 6th March. Alan Cooke’s England was participating in the Championship Division of the Men’s Team event having been promoted two years earlier, so the level of excitement surrounding the camp was high.
England was drawn in Group B alongside Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark and the host nation Malaysia. Despite the difficulty of the opposition, however, the team of Paul Drinkhall, Liam Pitchford and Samuel Walker edged through to the last 12 where they eliminated Poland from the competition by a 3-2 scoreline before sealing a dramatic 3-2 victory over France to put the English squad through to the semi-finals.
Japan’s 3-1 win in the last four brought England’s journey to a halt but nonetheless a terrific showing at the tournament from England resulted in a bronze medal for the country and coach Alan Cooke admitted that he was left shocked at the outcome in Kuala Lumpur:
“In our dreams, we weren’t expecting that and yet when it came to an end, we were disappointed – which was great, because we realised how close we were, even against the Japanese in the semi-final. But when we had realised the bigger picture of what we had achieved – the first medal in 30 odd years, we were absolutely delighted.” – Alan Cooke.
Following the success at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships, Paul Drinkhall, Liam Pitchford and Samuel Walker went on to represent Great Britain at Rio 2016.
Liam Pitchford and Paul Drinkhall finished in the Round of 32 and Round of 16 respectively in the Men’s Singles category before Great Britain caught the headlines in the opening round of the Men’s Team event. Drinkhall, Pitchford and Walker triumphed 3-2 over France once again and while Great Britain’s campaign went on to be ended by China in the following stage of the competition, Alan Cooke was delighted with the effort of his players:
“There were some incredible experiences and a lot of great moments, so it’s very difficult to pick one… To see Paul in the form he was, well, that’s a coach’s heaven, to know a player is totally in control of everything when they go out there. But then the Team event was also special. I think it was almost written that we would get France again, but to have the epic match that we did and to end the way we did, that was very pleasing from my perspective” – Alan Cooke.
With England/Great Britain’s successes of the year grabbing the table tennis headlines, Samuel Walker was nominated for the Star Point Award for his sensational rally against Japan’s Yuya Oshima at the Perfect 2016 World Team Championships. Alan Cooke was nominated for the Star Coach Award for the standout year of shocks and upsets. The coach praised his players before dedicating his nomination to their efforts:
“While it’s great to be recognised, I honestly didn’t see it as an individual award. It’s more a recognition of where English Table Tennis has got to and the result of a team effort. I think it’s also a great reflection of the structure we now have behind the sport in England and a lot of credit for that must go to Simon Mills (Head of Talent & Performance for Table Tennis England), whose been instrumental at building confidence at all levels and is someone with a real vision about where we can get to and how we do it.” – Alan Cooke.
The year 2016 is approaching its conclusion and after achieving so much in the year you could forgive Alan Cooke and his team for taking it easier for a little while but ambitions remain high in the camp and the aim is to build upon the successes of 2016 moving into the year ahead:
“Obviously we want to build on what’s happened. We don’t have the budget that other countries have but we’re looking to build on what we’ve started and the mentality is positive. We particularly want to push on our young players… we’re looking to build the women’s programme as well, towards the Commonwealth Games, which are only just over a year away now.” – Alan Cooke.