The Scottish team: Gordon Muir, Calum Morrison, Danny Bajwa, Colin Dalgleish
Written by Gordon Muir
Edited by Charlie Ellis
Photos by Cyprus Table Tennis Association
A Scottish side, including two young and relatively inexperienced players performed creditably in the 2023 European Men’s Team Championships Qualification Stage One, Group C, held in Nicosia, Cyprus (Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd April 2022).
The team was led by Colin Dalgleish, Scottish no.2 and runner-up to Gavin Rumgay in the recent Scottish Nationals. Left-handers Danny Bajwa and Calum Morrison, inexperienced at this level, were the two other members of the team
Gordon Muir, the NPC of the Scottish side, reflects on the competition.
The team met at Heathrow on Thursday 30th and embarked on a five hour flight and hour transfer to our hotel a couple of miles outside the old town of Nicosia.
We arrived at the hotel at 7.00 pm after a full day of travel, with an early start the next day for lateral flow tests and an opening ceremony, we had dinner and an early night.
Every day saw us have a match at 10.00 am and 5.00 pm, with the top three of six teams progressing through to stage two of qualifying.
The hall was part of a cavernous sports complex which was home to a range of other sports, with the table tennis hall set up with three large match courts and four practice courts on a Gerflor like flooring.
Our first match was against Lithuania. In our morning warm our players had noticed that conditions made it difficult to serve short and heavy spin was difficult to control. We struggled to make adaptations in time but tried to attack first with good quality where possible.
Colin played well in our first game against their no.2, but lost out, 12-10 in the fifth. Danny then looked in control at times early on against their no.1, Kestutis Zeimys, the only player that remained undefeated throughout the competition, but missed a few smashes, Zeimys adjusted, winning 3-1.
Calum also went to five against their no.3 but it was not to be. However, it was a promising start considering all other teams had been there at least a day training and preparing in the match conditions.
In hindsight, it was always going to be a tough match as this Lithuanian team went unbeaten throughout the event.
After lunch and a rest, we were back at the hall to play a team of slightly older players from Armenia.
Danny was on first against Harutyunyan, who had a strong backhand topspin service, which caused problems. Danny started to be more aggressive and did well on his third ball attacks but lost out 3-1.
Colin went on next against Baghdasaryan, who had strong and awkward pendulum and reverse serves.
Colin looked uncharacteristically unsettled by this but recovered and played superbly to win 13-11 in the fifth. Once off the court, the Armenian was not happy to say the least!
At 1-1, Calum went on in third spot and had a bit of a slow start, not expecting his strong spins to be returned. After some adjustments, Calum came back well from 2-0 down, often hitting 6 plus loops in a row to win the rallies.
We were then 2-1 up, with Colin going on against Harutyunyan, Danny and myself preparing Colin to be ready to flick the topspin service. It was a tight game, with Colin playing well and having some opportunities to seal the win when up in the fourth and fifth games.
It was not to be, in the deciding match Danny went on against Baghdasaryan. Danny did better against the service and was perhaps unlucky not to win a point replayed when the Armenian coach ‘cho-ed’ during the point at 11-10, Danny going on to lose 3-0. This was a solid performance all round against a tricky team, which ended up finishing second in the event behind Lithuania.
On the morning of day two we played Malta; their no.1 had tested positive on the first morning and had to be quarantined. They had to play each match with two players (apart from against San Marino, when their coach stepped up!).
Calum did well to beat their no.1 3-0, then Colin went on and looked a bit sluggish but managed to succeed and also win 3-0.
Danny received a walkover, and we had our first victory and an early finish allowing us to scope out our evening match opponents Cyprus while they played Armenia.
The evening match against Cyprus was going to be tough. Gavin Rumgay’s current third Bundesliga Champion teammate Marios Yiangou led their line-up, with the fiery and strong pocket rocket Elia brothers in no.2 and no.3 spots.
Calum went on first against Marios and did well on serve and receive but found it hard to match the quality in the rally and lost in three.
Colin struggled to stop Iosif Elia from playing forehands, but adapted well after the 1st game, successfully targeting the backhand and winning 3-1.
There was an enthusiastic home crowd assembled by this point, with perhaps 40 Cypriots enjoying the match (and 1 Scot, Calum’s Dad Craig!). Danny was a bit nervous before his match but did a fantastic job of channelling his energy in a positive way, flicking, serving and third balling his way to victory 3-0 in an almost flawless performance.
Now we were 2-1 up, with Colin going on against their no.1 Marios. After Colin stole the first game from behind, Marios came out flying, winning the second 11-2. Nerves set in a touch for him, and Colin played brilliantly to take a 2-1 lead.
Colin perhaps played a bit too much to Marios’ stronger forehand in the fourth, losing it 11-7. In the fifth, Colin again played well, and was up 8-5.
However, it was his opponent who finished strongly, the Cypriot winning 11-8.
Calum then played well in the deciding match, including making a spirited comeback in the fourth, however his service receive, and rally play couldn’t quite match the strong attacking play of Losif. It was a tough loss to take, but a fantastic match nonetheless with the team giving it their all.
Our final match on Sunday morning was against San Marino, who had lost out to Cyprus 3-2, 16-14 in the fifth of the deciding match.
Calum went on first against their no.2 Giardi but didn’t test out his opponent’s weaknesses until after a time-out at 8-8. He was unlucky to lose that game 12-10 but did well in the second set to win 11-6.
Giardi then adapted well and won the final two games. As on the Saturday morning, Colin started slowly losing the first 11-4, but after resetting, re-looped and served well to win 3-1.
Danny elected before the match to play the only modern defender at the event, and started well, hitting some great forehand fades and getting the first thumbs up from one of our opponents congratulating him on some nice play!
His opponent started to attack well with the forehand and targeted Danny’s wide forehand with heavy backspin, making it difficult for Danny to finish off the rally.
However, Danny’s excellent use of angles sealed the match in the end; 11-7 in the fifth putting us 2-1 up in the match. Colin was fired up and in the zone for his final match, winning the first set 11-3. However, he did allow his opponent to play a little too much, losing the next 11-5.
Colin was too strong, particularly on the backhand, and sealed the game 3-1 and with it the match to leave us with a fourth place finish overall.
After lunch, we walked into the old town to explore. We saw the Turkish border in the city centre, enjoyed the sun in the modern Eleftheria Square Park, and had some excellent kebabs before heading back to our hotel ahead of a 7.00 am start the next day to travel home.
The players were a pleasure to have on the trip, professional and made the most of the experience.
Although we do not have the table tennis schools, full time halls, coaches, or players that several of the countries we faced this weekend do. Added to the fact that Colin and Danny were not feeling 100 per cent, we were in the mix and unfortunate not to qualify.
I do feel that we as a country can do more with what we have.
A big thanks to the organisers at the Cyprus Table Tennis Association, who looked after us well and organised a great event.
Thanks also to Richard Yule (of Table Tennis Scotland) for organising the trip and Martin Johnston for being on standby in case one of our players tested positive in the run up to the event.