TABLE TENNIS: China unassailable

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China took an unassailable 31/2-11/2 lead in the series against England yesterday when they took a 4-1 winning lead in the fifth of six matches at Mansfield - thanks largely to their injured left-hander, Xiong Ke.

Xiong's troublesome shoulder had required hospital treatment the night before and left him less than fully fit to play, but with the Asian champion, Kong Linghui, already sidelined with a similar injury, Xiong had to appear.

He began the evening by outlasting the former English junior champion, Alex Perry, 21-15, 13-21, 21-11 despite an encouraging performance by the Devon youngster who looks to be benefiting from his season in the Swedish league. Xiong later ensured China against defeat in the series by putting them 3-1 up on the night with a 26-24 ,14-21, 21-15 win over Alan Cooke, the Commonwealth silver medallist.

Cooke had nevertheless scored his fifth success of the series when he earlier won in straight games against a Chinese national runner-up, Li Jing, and home hopes suffered their biggest blow when the England No 2, Matthew Syed, was beaten by Jiang Shan putting England 2-1 down at the interval.

Li then made up for his loss to Cooke by overcoming Bradley Billington, the former England Under-21 champion, in straight games to put China 4-1 ahead on the night.

The sixth and final match of the series is at Chester tonight.