1. It was March 10, 2016. Our team will be facing the mighty Nurani for a spot in the final. We had just squeezed through the group stage albeit losing a final group match against Jaya (we sent out a weakened team against them for the final group stage match).
2. After our opening victory against Lembaran (I won the first match against their first player Fahimi), and after watching Jaya trounced Lembaran, I figured out that Jaya was too strong for us.
3. So to reserve our energy (we would be beaten anyway by Jaya even if we fielded our strongest squad), I told Syaher to prepare our fringe players for the match (no disrecpect to anyone, but it was tacitly understood that our core players would be composed of mainly from last year's squad).
4. This rotation was also to give everyone in the team a chance to play, even though I was completely sure they would be roasted alive by the likes of Amir, Jack & co from Jaya. There was a a wide gap of class between them. I just hope that they (our players) didn't drop dead in the court due to shock.
5. Surprisingly, Aliff played well above my expectation. I was not really sure how good Aliff was, because I rarely played against him. But he did rattle Amir (former USM player) a bit. Aliff's intensity of play and his willingness to chase out every ball were his most precious attributes.
6. But Amir was a class of his own. I knew Amir only last year. I was told he was from Sabah and trained with USM team. We didn't speak a word back then, not even exchanging greeting, but I knew he also heard about me from somebody else.
7. As predicted, Aliff was beaten. For me, it was a successful failure, because he gave his best. As I sat down to referee the next match, I realized I was paired with Jack as the marker (squash requires a referee and a marker to run a match. As USM were running out of budget to hire external umpire, we were forced to referee each other).
8. I didn't have a very good relationship with Jack. Last year in this same tournament, he was the sole umpire for our final group match against his team. I won the first match but lose the second, partly because Jack was deliberately trying to tilt the match to their favour.
9. I counted THREE (3) occasions when the ball was out but Jack called it in. One or two is okay, but THREE? It was absurd. Dalilah, who was watching upstairs, told me afterwards that she thought the umpire was grossly unfair.
10. Of course I agreed with her observation. That was not counting the moments when "let" was called "stroke" and points awarded to my opponent (people familiar with squash would understand these technical terms). I was losing my temper when I finally shouted for Jack to explain his awkward decisions.
11. But we patched up when the match was over (I won the third match). Jack was just anxious for a win, because he thought my dear friend Syairazie, who was training with us beforehand in the same court, was to be our last player. He knew what he saw that he was no match for Syairazie.
12. Syairazie, a hard-hitting ball player with monumental stamina, was there because of my invitation. I introduced him to squash during my stay in Unimas, in which he picked up the game very well, as duck to water. I showed him the basics of squash, and the rest was history. He improvised his technique on his own.
13. Syairazie wasn't even in our team, he was just there to train with us. But he did send shiver down to Jack's team spine due to his manner of play. Syaher, our last player, was roundly beaten by Jack afterwards.
(To be continued in part two. Time for sleep)