The Egyptian army may be hot favourite for the Men's World Team Championship which starts next Monday in Marseille, but England cannot be ruled out. Crowned in five of the last ten events, they will be led by a trio whose experience is unparalleled. Focus on a powerhouse of the squash world, and interview with their leader Nick Matthew.
By Jérôme Elhaïk
Here are a few facts and figures that illustrate how successful England have been in the history of team events. Since their debut in the MWTC in 1981 (Great Britain was competing before), they've always made the top 4, clinching five titles as well as nine other medals (three silver and five bronze). France recently called their European supremacy into question, but they still boast an incredible record of 40 titles in 45 ETCs! National coach David Campion believes this is mainly due to two things: “First of all, English players are incredibly proud to represent their country. Secondly, we train our National teams together – women, men, and juniors. This gives a sense of unity, a togetherness that helps to build a team spirit which is critically important in those high pressure moments, at the event itself.”
This picture of Alison Waters and Peter Barker at the 2014 Commonwealth Games is a perfect example of the unity mentionned by National coach David Campion (Photo credit: US Squash / Getty Images)
Nick Matthew (37 years old) and James Willstrop (34 years old) have made no secret that they are not best friends off the court, but have always put their rivalry aside when wearing the England jersey. Both players made their MWTC debut together in 2003, and they haven't missed the event since then (three titles in 2005, 2007 in 2013). The third member of this very experienced trio is Daryl Selby (35 years old). Four years ago in Mulhouse, the Harlow-born had brought a major contribution to his team's victory, putting on a fantastic display to overcome Tarek Momen. “I've been preparing specifically for this match for six months,” he said afterwards. “The World Team Championships is a very special event, which brings out the best in our players,” Campion adds. Their mixed results since the beginning of the season - especially for Willstrop and Selby who haven't won many matches on the PSA World Tour – are therefore not necessarily an indicator of what will happen in Marseille: they have surely been preparing to be on top form for both World Championships, Teams and then individual in Manchester, and that's probably why Matthew and Selby decided not to play in Hong Kong. “The World Team squad has been hard at work training together over the summer at the National Squash Centre,” Campion continues. “However, despite the heavy tournament schedule, we always manage to find a couple of days together as a team so we can focus specifically on this event. The England v the Rest of the World match fits perfectly as it gets everyone together with the bonus of a high quality match.” Matthew, Willstrop and Selby – with Laura Massaro alongside them – will be in St George's Hill on Friday to play against Mohamed El Shorbagy, Paul Coll, Cameron Pilley and Hollie Naughton, respectively (matches will be broadcast on YouTube, here).
England had delivered a magnificent team performance to beat Egypt four years ago in Mulhouse (Photo credit: SquashSite)
To complete the squad, Campion chose Adrian Waller. After featuring twice in the European Team Championship, the 27-year old left-hander (ranked 32 in the world) will make his MWTC debut in a few days. “I am delighted for Adrian.” said Campion. “It was a very close selection for the fourth spot, however his form since the start of the season has been the best amongst the other contenders; Chris Simpson, Tom Richards and Declan James. He has benefited from some hard work over the summer period and we are hopeful he can go on from here and get the king of results we know he is capable of.” Can Waller become a leader for England in the mid-term future? Nick Matthew (who announced a few weeks ago that 2017-2018 would be his last season as a professional) won't be playing in 2019, and it may be the same for Willstrop and Selby. Many observers think the shoes will be too big to fill for the next generation, and doubt that the national team will be able to shine for a while. Before we have an answer to these questions, this golden generation will have the opportunity to write another chapter of their history in a few days…
Eighteen months after his last cap at the 2016 European Team Championship, Adrian Waller was rewarded for his recent results (Photo credit: EuroSquash2016)
NICK MATTHEW: "THE SEMI-FINAL IN MULHOUSE IN 2013 IS ONE OF THE CRAZIEST NIGHTS OF MY LIFE"
He's been world individual champion three times, as well as three other times in teams. He also won three British Opens, and three gold medals at the Commonwealth Games. Nick Matthew, one of the greatest squash players of all times, will hang his racket at the end of the season. Just before his last MWTC, we caught up with the “Wolf”.
Jérôme Elhaïk: Hi Nick. First of all, let's talk about your history at the Men's World Team Championship. Do you remember your first match? And do you have specific memories about the event?
Nick Matthew: I made my international debut for England at the WTC in 2003 in Vienna. I'd been close to get picked up for a couple of years beforehand but England Squash has always been a difficult team to get selected in! I recall the disappointment of the team losing the semi final against France but also remember proudly my individual performance when I was first match on and handled the pressure really well (author's note: he beat Jean-Michel Arcucci in straight games). As far as memories go, the semi-final in Mulhouse in 2013 is still one of the craziest nights of my life. The atmosphere was probably the best I have ever played in. The crowd were so loud with probably 99.9% cheering for their home team, rightly so. My match against Greg (Gaultier) and the tie as a whole were unbelievable. There was so much tension, drama and emotion. We both cramped and couldn’t stand at the end, but I still somehow managed to nearly jump over the glass when I won! What I remember most from that night was the dignity of the French fans. They hated us on court but when the match finished they showed how much they respected us by giving us a standing ovation when we left. Class.
Nick Matthew was absolutely ecstatic after his win over Gaultier in Mulhouse (Photo credit: SquashSite)
J.E.: How confident are you ahead of the upcoming WTC? On paper Egypt are obvious favourites and France and England main challengers. Do you agree and who are according to you some possible underdogs?
N.M.: Egypt are the clear favourites but we have always believed in ourselves at team events and our record shows that. We feel like we have brought the best out of ourselves at these events, and have the experience that no other team can match. France will be incredibly dangerous, especially on home turf. I hope they play Egypt in the semi-finals! I think there are many teams with strong top orders who can cause upsets on their day, and that shows the depth of squash at the top level nowadays. There will be no easy games.
"We have the experience that no other team can match"
J.E.: The next generation of English players will have big shoes to fill once the members of yours definitely retire. Does that give you extra motivation to try and get the possible result in Marseille?
N.M.: It’s possibly the last chance for this group, and if you believe the press, the last chance for England for a while. However we are confident that the next generation will come through in time. All we can do is concentrate on doing our job in the present moment.
Daryl Selby, James Willstrop and Nick Matthew have been a very successful trio for England (Photo credit: SquashSite)
J.E.: England Squash has an incredible record in team events. Last year at the Women's World Team Championship, we asked your national coach David Campion what were the reasons according to him and he mentioned two things: pride to represent the country and a culture centered on togetherness. Could you elaborate on that?
N.M.: I definitely agree. The team I’ve been part of over the last 15 years have all grown up playing together. We have learned from senior figures when we were younger, the likes of Peter Nicol, Simon Parke, Peter Marshall, Lee Beachill and Cassie Jackman. Coaches such as David Pearson and Paul Carter taught us what it means to play for England and the pride in the shirt. Hopefully the next generation have taken this from us.
James Willstrop and Nick Matthew (on the left) won their first WTC in 2005 alongside Lee Beachill and Peter Nicol (Photo credit: Getty Images)
J.E.: Are you happy with how your last season has been going so far?
N.M.: I’m thoroughly enjoying my last season. I know I won’t win every match but I’m really excited about where my game is and think it’s in better shape than it’s been in for 3 or 4 years. I’m feeling like I’m building nicely to the 2 Worlds but there’s still plenty of hard work to be done to achieve our goals.
"I’m thoroughly enjoying my last season"
J.E.: Last question: most of the national coaches are former top-level players, and some former rivals of yours – such as Amr Shabana and Thierry Lincou – have occupied or are still occupying such position. Can you imagine being England national coach on day?
N.M.: We had some serious battles together over the years with Amr and Thierry and I learned so much from them. Two of the nicest people you will meet but on court they were both so tough! Whatever happens I would love to give back to England Squash in some capacity but concentrating on the playing for now....
The film “Becoming the Wolf”, which chronicles Nick Matthew’s journey from grassroots to greatness and the triumphs and challenges along the way, is available to England squash members here:
More info on the teams on this link.