The battle for the remaining Team Scotland squash men’s doubles slot has intensified after an enthralling British Open Championships in Scotstoun.
Scotland won every available medal, with Alan Clyne and Harry Leitch - already selected for Team Scotland – pushed all the way in a ferocious final by Stuart Crawford and Greg Lobban. Completing the podium, fellow Scots Lyall Paterson and Douglas Kempsell took bronze.
A partnership since May 2012, Crawford and Lobban make an interesting pair.
Crawford, from Irvine, is about to turn 33 and is the Assistant National Coach, whilst Lobban, from Inverness is aged 21 and a former Crawford protégé, now playing full-time.
The partnership is working and in the past three selection tournaments they have been the second finishing Scottish pair on every occasion, only beaten by Clyne and Leitch.
“Ultimately we trust each other to perform when it matters and we really step up and play our best squash when it matters the most,” said Crawford, who had planned not to target Glasgow 2014 qualification to give the youngsters a better chance, before being persuaded otherwise by National Coach, Roger Flynn.
“And the fact we are able to practise together means we've got a slight advantage that we get to go and play together regularly.”
Crawford has been in the game a long time but has never competed in a Commonwealth Games. He missed out by a fraction for the Delhi team in what proved the hardest lesson of his career. The team’s remaining doubles spot came down to a last, winner takes all match in the final selection event. Partnering Jamie Macaulay, Crawford’s dream was crushed when they were beaten by Lyall Paterson and Chris Small.
“I would like to not repeat that,” admits Crawford. “At that point I was a full-time player and I delayed retiring for about a year because the Games were on the horizon and I couldn't have looked at myself in the mirror if I had quit without seeing what would happen.
“It was everything I was training for and missing out on selection was the low point of my career. It's a bit like your first love ending. You decide you are not going to be hurt like that again so now I’m a bit more philosophical.
“It doesn't mean less, but I've got more perspective on things with other things going on, with my coaching role. I'm not quite so single-minded in terms of only interested in myself being selected and I'm enjoying everything for what it is.
“Whereas I think Greg [Lobban] puts more pressure on himself because he's a full-time player and he's really determined and up and coming.”
The pair’s balance of temperament and experience gives them a good equilibrium. Lobban is just coming to the end of his second year on the Professional Squash Association (PSA) Circuit, moving his singles ranking from the 300s to 78 in that time, after winning a pair of titles and featuring in a further five finals.
Whilst there is no doubles circuit as such, he has worked hard on his doubles with the potential of competing in Glasgow.
“Doubles wasn't important for me before, but now it's taken more of a front seat,” says Lobban, explaining the pair’s game only really worked after some fine tuning from National Coach, Roger Flynn.
“When we started we both started on our strongest sides; I played on the forehand and Stuart was on the back hand, but it didn't really work. So we changed around so I play backhand and Stuart plays forehand. It's weird and I can’t explain it, but for some reason it seems to click a little bit better.”
Flynn has also been experimenting with different player combinations, but has left the Crawford - Lobban team as they are. That of course may change for the next and final selection event in March, the Scottish Open at Scotstoun, but for now the pair are beginning to feel they have more than a glimmer of a chance of being selected.
“I was very reluctant at the start of the selection process to get too excited because of what happened before Delhi,” admits Crawford. “But last week was the first time we have actually started to contemplate that it might happen for us. I’m just enjoying being involved in the whole process.
“I've never experienced a Commonwealth Games, but I've played in four World Championships and the scale of them would be about two to three percent of what I would expect playing in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow would be. It's the absolute pinnacle of our sport and there is nothing comparable.”
You can follow Greg on Twitter @LobSquash
Photo Credit: Rob Eyton-Jones