International table tennis came to Worksop at the weekend when a visiting team from Croatia attracted a crowd of more than 150 to watch a special challenge match.
The Redlands Table Tennis Centre on Sandy Lane hosted the match, which was between Croat Crusaders and a home-based team who called themselves Worksop Wanderers.
The day gave locals the rare chance to see the town’s own star player, 22-year-old Sam Walker, in live action. England’s current number three and a world championship bronze medallist, Walker, who is currently living and playing in Germany, flew over to head the Worksop side, along with fellow high-ranked professional David McBeath.
The Croatian team included two of the country’s top four, Frane Kojic and Flip Cipin, and all four players in the match are among the top 300 in the world.
Although the clash was not officially sanctioned, it was given a true international flavour by the Croats wearing their national kit and entering the arena to their national anthem. It was played for the Malkan Invitational Cup, named after the match’s sponsor, local surgeon Dilip Malkan.
“It was fabulous opportunity to view a genuine top-class standard of table tennis right on our doorstep,” said the organiser of the event, Howard Knott. “It would be nice to make it an annual event.”
Worksop Wanderers were the inaugural winners of the cup, thanks to a 4-1 victory. Walker got them off to a flier by beating the 24-year-old Cipin 3-0, in an open game with fast attacking play, before the 25-year-old Kojic levelled by defeating McBeath 3-1.
Worksop regained the lead when Walker controlled a contest against Kojic, winning 3-1, and they clinched their triumph when the 25-year-old McBeath defeated Cipin 3-1.
Wanderers also won the concluding doubles duel 4-1, but with nothing at stake, the crowd, which included many youngsters, were treated to some entertaining table tennis laced with a vast array of flamboyant and extravagant shots.
Orgqaniser Knott thanked all the volunteers who helped to put on the event, and also Worksop Table Tennis League for supporting it. Roger Smith, at The Lock Keeper in Worksop, provided accommodation and food for the officials and Croat players, while former local player Dale Ajeto kept the crowd entertained with commentary and post-match interviews. A raffle was also held, with more than 20 prizes generously donated.