China too good for England

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TABLE TENNIS England suffered a shock defeat in little more than an hour against China at Grantham yesterday. Straight-games defeats for Bradley Billington, Alan Cooke and Chen Xinhua ensured China had a winning 3-0 lead in the best of five encounters, as well as a lead of 21/2-11/2 in the series, which will be very difficult to reverse.

England, who fought back to lose only 3-2 in the end, are without both Chen, the national champion, and Cooke, the former Commonwealth champion for the remaining two matches tonight at Mansfield and tomorrow at Chester. They were also weakened last nightwhen Andrew Eden, one of England's most improved players this year, was too sick to play and was replaced by the inexperienced Billington. The former England Under-21 champion lost the first nine points and was beaten 21-15, 21-17 by Jiang Shan.

Cooke tried the hardest to turn the match around. He saved four game points and held three of his own in the first game against Li Jing, the Chinese national runner-up, before going down 27-25, 21-19, and after that the visitors had their tails up.

Chen, perhaps bothered by a thigh injury, never looked like coping with the combinations of slow loops and fast loops from the left-hander Xiong Ke, and his 21-15, 21-13 loss consigned England to defeat.