Kelly Sibley out of retirement to help England table tennis team qualify for Europeans

Leamington star plays her first competitive game in more than three years

England team (Front left to right) Kelly Sibley, Denise Payet, Tin-Tin Ho, Maria Tsaptsinos. (Back left to right) Head of England Performance Matt Stanforth, Charlotte Bardsley.

‘Supersub’ Kelly Sibley won her first competitive match after more than three years’ retirement as England women qualified for the European Team Championships.

The squad defeated Lithuania 3-2 to top their group, having earlier beaten Finland 3-1, earning automatic qualification for the Championships in Romania later this month.

Sibley, from Leamington, came into the line-up for the Lithuania tie under the substitution rule which allows a team to change one player after the second match of the tie.

The score at the time was poised at 1-1 after England No 1 Tin-Tin Ho had beaten Emilija Riliskyte before Charlotte Bardsley lost to Riliskyte’s twin sister Kornelija.

Laura Abaraviciute defeated Denise Payet to put Lithuania in front but Ho’s second victory, over Kornelija Riliskyte, made it 2-2 and left it all down to Sibley.

The double Commonwealth Games medallist, who also coaches the England women’s team, beat Emilija Riliskyte 3-1 (13-11, 8-11, 11-7, 11-6) to complete the overall victory. It was her first international match since the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

Afterwards, Sibley said: “It’s been a great team effort from the girls in this tournament. Our goal has always been to qualify for the European Championships and I’m proud that we’ve achieved that. We won our matches and topped the group, I can’t ask for better than that.

“The girls played brilliantly and we really came together as a team, we put everything out there and it paid off.

“The match against Lithuania was always going to be a tough one. We knew if we were going to beat them, we needed to be really flexible and adapt what we had been doing.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve played competitively but I’ve been working hard behind the scenes and practising a lot with the girls, so I felt confident in my game.

“I, like the girls, gave it my all and with the team spirit from the bench I managed to win the decisive match.”

The European Championships is the only team competition likely to be held before the Commonwealth Games, so to qualify is an important part of the build-up to Birmingham 2022. England men qualified automatically after the qualifying system had to be redefined due to the pandemic.