IT WAS one of those matches that mark the Commonwealth Games as a rather quirky event. Full-time professional Kieran Merrilees against the plucky ageing amateur Richard Cribb.
For Scottish champion Merrilees it was the easiest of opening ties in the men’s singles at The Emirates Arena, and even he seemed a little embarrassed by the mis-match as he cruised into the last 32 with a 21-4, 21-3 win over the man representing Norfolk Island.
“I tried to keep the rallies going so that the crowd had something to cheer,” admitted the 24-year-old Glaswegian. “Obviously, I have much better training facilities and have had a lot more practice than he has. But it’s good to give players from the island the chance to play at the Commonwealth Games.”
For Cribb, it was an unforgettable experience. Now 43, he only started playing badminton three years ago when the first Norfolk Island Club was set up. “One of our players, Jo Snell, played to a high standard in New Zealand and it was after the last Commonwealth Games in Delhi that she decided to get things going,” he explained.
Snell represented the island in archery in 2010 and it was because it was dropped from the Glasgow 2014 programme that she changed track.
“There are six of us in the club and we are all here,” the jovial Cribb continued. “We’ve had one training trip to New Zealand – the rest had just been at home. I think you could tell. Our hall has a really low ceiling so we never really get the chance to practise all the shots.
“I was absolutely terrified before I went on, but I loved every minute of it. My goal was to stay on court for as long as possible. I was scared I might only be on for about six or seven minutes.” In fact he turned it into a marathon, all of 20 minutes.
It isn’t Cribb’s first visit to Scotland. A few years ago, he travelled all over Britain working as a chef in Skye, a plumber in Forfar and an assistant greenkeeper in the south of England. For Merrilees, it was good to get back in action, albeit with little more than a knock-about and his second match today is against Kenya’s Victor Munga. He is ranked No 515 in the world.
All the Scots had the chance to take two days’ break following the defeat by eventual gold medal winners Malaysia in the team event on Saturday when Merrilees lost to the No 1 seed Chong Wei Feng. “It took me a while to get over the loss,” he continued. “The first game was close and I had a really bad call. I felt I might have won. But it’s good to start the individual events. I’m the eighth seed and should meet my training partner, England’s Raj Ouseph, in the quarter-finals. I really want that match.”
Paul Van Rietvelde and Jillie Cooper were the only other Scots in action yesterday and they lost 13-21, 22-24 to Canada’s Adrian Liu and Michelle Li in the first round of the mixed doubles.
In the second game, the Scots did forge ahead and led 17-12. But Liu and Li made it level at 18-18 and they then went on to save game points at 20-21 and 21-22 before finally clinching it on the second match point.
Longniddry’s Van Rietvelde was struggling with an injury and he would have pulled out if it hadn’t been the Commonwealth Games. “I bruised the ankle and strained ligaments three days before we went into the athletes village,” he explained.
“I then exacerbated it in the group match against New Zealand. But we are playing in front of a home crowd and I’ve trained for this for four years so I wasn’t going to withdraw.
“I knew that Jillie was playing well and that she would be able to cope but it certainly wasn’t ideal.”
Cooper added: “It is pretty disappointing. I had two serves into the net and that’s unacceptable at this level. It was also a shame about Paul. But there’s nothing you could do and he stepped up and tried his best.”