England men started their Commonwealth Games campaign with predictably straightforward victories over Guyana and Fiji today.
It seals a quarter-final place and they will play Bangladesh tomorrow in their final group match to surely rubber-stamp top spot in the group.
England began their campaign against Guyana, the combination of Paul Drinkhall & Tom Jarvis (pictured above, picture by Michael Loveder), not a commonly-used line-up, gelled as if they had been playing together for years, the pair simply having too much of everything for their opponents Christopher Franklin & Joel Alleyne.
Power, placement, touch, movement – you name it, the English pair had heavy artillery which the Guyanese could not withstand.
The South Americans had a few moments, especially in the third when the match had already slipped away from them, but England’s first point was on the board in well under 15 minutes thanks to a 11-5, 11-2, 11-6 margin – the second a particularly brisk game in which England led 8-0.
Liam Pitchford’s first foray into a Games in which he will battle on four fronts was against the left-handed Shemar Britton, ranked No 263 in the world.
The bombardment continued from the Guyana point of view as Pitchford unloaded a barrage off both wings, his power and precision time and again having his opponent lunging for thin air.
Britton hung in gamely, and won one memorable rally with a lovely drop shot after forcing Pitchford wide and deep, but it was no more than a minor delay as Pitchford raced through for the loss of only 12 points in total.
And so to Drinkhall, against the currently unranked Alleyne. More of the same? Of course – the first game a one-sided 11-2.
Alleyne rallied, trying to unleash some power of his own and having a little success, taking seven points in the second game.
It was seven points to Drinkhall before Alleyne could get a point on the board in the third, and the England No 2 closed it out 11-4 to complete the victory.
Sam Walker came into the team in place of Drinkhall for the second group match, against Fiji, and he opened up in the doubles alongside Jarvis.
On the other side of the net was one of the oldest athletes competing here, Plymouth-born Stephen Reilly, who turns 63 next month.
The power and control of the English pair would have been too much for many a younger opponent, and Reilly and his 17-year-old partner Vicky Wu were simply blown away.
It took them until the first point of the second game to register a point, when Walker drifted long, and they won only five more before the English pair closed it out 0, 3, 3.
Pitchford’s opponent is, it’s fair to say, at the other end of his career to Reilly, but 16-year-old Jai Chauhan was always going to be outclassed.
In the end, he mustered two points in the opening game but didn’t pick up another until Pitchford returned a serve marginally wide at 7-0 up in the third.
The teenager, to his credit, did not get disheartened and earned the admiration of the crowd when he forced Pitchford into defence in the longest rally of the match (13 shots) a couple of points later – though the Englishman was canny enough to resist and then pick his moment to attack. Two points later it was all over (2, 0, 1).
Jarvis played his first Commonwealth singles match third up, against Wu, and there was no let-up in the barrage.
Wu picked up three points in the first game and one in the second. In the third, in an echo of Chauhan’s match, he three times forced Jarvis into lobbing. He netted an attempted drop shot the first time, but Jarvis went long on the second occasion to give the Fijian his only point of the game. But Jarvis won the final lobbing duel and went on to seal a 3, 1, 1 victory.
There will be bigger challenges ahead, of course, but for now England can only beat the nations in front of them.
England 3 Guyana 0
Paul Drinkhall & Tom Jarvis bt Christopher Franklin & Joel Alleyne 3-0 (11-5, 11-2, 11-6)
Liam Pitchford bt Shemar Britton 3-0 (11-4, 11-3, 11-5)
Paul Drinkhall bt Joel Alleyne 3-0 (11-3, 11-7, 11-4)
England 3 Fiji 0
Sam Walker & Tom Jarvis bt Stephen Reilly & Vicky Wu 3-0 (11-0, 11-3, 11-3)
Liam Pitchford bt Jai Chauhan 3-0 (11-2, 11-0, 11-1)
Tom Jarvis bt Vicky Wu 3-0 (11-3, 11-1, 11-1)