Abstract: This is the report I wrote for the Oxford University Table Tennis Club (OUTTC) website. I’m posting it here to break up my blogging hiatus after getting permission from the club secretary. Please also check out the awesome club website @ https://outtc.wordpress.com/ where photos of this event can be viewed.

Apologies for not posting in the last two months. This post is obviously just a ploy to buy more time to write about the rest of my Europe travels in December/January and the other things that have been happening in both my PhD and non-PhD life in Oxford. Stay tuned till then and thank you for your patience!

Varsity (by Oxford Varsity captain, Abe)

19th February 2017.

Disclaimer: Please don’t be offended if you’re from Cambridge and reading this, it’s just banter.

Note: If you think this is written terribly, I will claim that I mockingly imitated the ITTF reports.

Trials, Teams, and Training:

After a hectic several weeks of trials involving multiple rounds, we selected the following teams to compete at Varsity in Cambridge:

Women’s:

  • Lucy (no nickname) Zhu
  • Niloofar (Nilooch) Karaji
  • Louise (Our Most Glorious Supreme Leader, Toddy) Todd
  • Kritica (Rikki-Tikki-Tavi) Dwivedi

Men’s 1st:

  • Abraham (Abe) Ng
  • Kristofer (the man, the myth, the legend) Hammarbäck
  • Pan (who?) Hu
  • Xi (BFG, Dai) Dai

Men’s 2nd:

  • Nabil (Diao Si, Mai Dan) Hudda
  • Jean-Francois (pronounced Gene Fransoyce, my name is Jeff) Ton
  • Jason (Jase) Brickhill
  • Shailendra (Shil) Nama

Coach, Supporter, and Honorary Member:

  • Alison (Ali or Allez) Cheung

The places in the men’s team were closely contested, with over half the matches coming down to tie-breaking fifth games. Even those who missed out played exceptionally well and gave it their all. I was proud of the fight and the depth of quality the club showed throughout the selection process. Our post-selection preparation including a 16-1 thrashing of Cambridge in a warm up BUCS game and two training sessions with Japanese former international player Ryota Kawai organised by Nabil.

The Trip:

The actual adventure began with the grand entrance of (the) licensed El Presidente in the driver’s seat of a minibus (soon-to-be yellow submarine). We drove along the road-of-many-roundabouts with fire in our eyes and songs on our lips. A musical video of “We Will Rock You” featuring a terrifying Nabil and a bus full of morons was compiled and sent as a warning to Cambridge, a potential away team tradition we hope will catch on. Many other performances, often badly accompanied by two ukuleles, were given, including a solo rendition of “Lemon Tree” by Jeff, a heartwarming clip of “I’m Yours” by Dai to Mrs Dai, and a collective “Happy Birthday” from the team to our treasurer, Xiao Ke Ai Leon.

After we arrived, Dai lead the team in a group warm up before the first team to play spread out to have a hit. The captain of the Cambridge Men’s 1st Team, Hampton Tao, introduced the umpires and rules of the day.

Format and First Event:

The format of all the team matches were played in two halves, with the top two seeds and the lower two seeds battling it out with the top two seeds and the lower two seeds of the opposing team respectively. The team matches concluded with two doubles matches where a substitute player was allowed.

Varsity officially began with the Men’s 2nd team matches, with three simultaneous matches being played at the same time. On the other side of the sports hall divider curtain, weightlifting was also having their varsity. Unfortunately, they had a microphone and speaker that was prone to emit shrieking noises, disrupting our focus and games. Equally unfortunate, the weightlifting announcers using the speakers weren’t particularly helpful, but there wasn’t much we could do and in the end, we just put up with it (RIP eardrums).

Every single match in this first round went to five games, leaving spectators with yanked-out tufts of hair in their hands and the Oxford team with a 2-1 lead. Nabil led the way, overcoming former Oxford president (-turned-traitor) and scrappy fighter Paul Erdunast in a hard fought match. The second round stretched Oxford’s lead to 4-2, again with Nabil finishing his singles matches with a two out of two record against the top two seeds. The singles matches completed with Jeff going down in two tight 3-2 matches, Shailendra claiming two wins from two matches, and Jason securing one final singles win. With the score at 5-3, the doubles pairings Nabil/Jeff and Jason/Shailendra completed a convincing 7-3 victory and set the Oxford tone up for the rest of the day.

Second Event:

The Women’s team matches came on next, with plenty of fight displayed by Oxford. The strong team spirit continued on from the first event, with supporters and coaches attending every table. Niloofar took Cambridge first seed Clara Chau to deuce with some outrageous points, challenging the former Singaporean international player, before Clara closed out the match. Lucy showed us all just why she was once the top nationally ranked cadet with forehands and fire, narrowly missing out on a win in the fifth set. A few more games were lost, several quite closely, bringing the scoreline to a grim 7-0 before Kritica came up with arguably the most brilliant win of the day against Eva Dema. It is no exaggeration to say the hall erupted in cheers. Our team rushed down from the stands to join those coaching at the table in a massive group hug and wild celebration. The matches wrapped up at 1-9, numbers that do not accurately reflect the closeness of the matches and the spirit exhibited. BUT NEVER FORGET THE 1, for it was glorious.

Final Event:

After a day of drama and tight matches, the final event between the Oxford and Cambridge Men’s 1st teams promised to provide a grand finale, and it did not disappoint, with the advantages changing every single round. Kris went down to Cambridge top seed Hampton in a nail-biting four sets. The second game of that match was a toss of the coin, with Oxford losing in the high deuces (around 16-14), with the match potentially going either way. Abe efficiently took out Cambridge second seed Eddie Wei and Dai lost to Marco Wong 1-3 after taking the first set. Down 1-2, Oxford came back strong in the second round of matches, winning all three matches in straight sets. Abe beating Hampton 3-0, Kris beating Eddie 3-0, and a fired-up Pan beating Aland Chan 3-0 to take the score to 4-2, advantage Oxford. Unfortunately, Oxford’s fortunes stopped there, with Cambridge closing out the gap with Pan losing to Marco 0-3 despite leading 8-4 in both the first and seconds sets, the Cantabrigian showing too much fight, and Dai going down to Aland. At 4-4, Abe and Pan failed to secure an advantage by losing to Marco and Aland 1-3 before Kris and Dai were unable to obtain a draw to save the Varsity match, losing 1-3 in a tense finish to Eddie and substitute doubles player Juan Rubio-Lara. The score was completed at 4-6 and a win for Cambridge.

Result Summary:

The final results were:

Oxford Men’s 2nd 7 – 3 Cambridge Men’s 2nd,

Oxford Women’s   1 – 9 Cambridge Women’s,

Oxford Men’s 1st  4 – 6 Cambridge Men’s 1st.

Congratulations must be offered to a strong Cambridge team for an extremely well played and hard fought Varsity. However, the Oxford team has earned the right to hold their heads high. The women’s team showed much more fight and competition than was perhaps expected by their opposition with Kritica securing a massive win and the combined men’s team, both morally and objectively speaking, won the combined competition 11-9, proving that the greater depth of quality resides at Oxford. Not only that, but the greater team spirit also lives in Oxford, as demonstrated by the defiant roar of “3, 2, 1, OXFORD!” resounding from the post-match Oxford team huddle.

Dinner:

Despite being enemies since the dawn of time and opponents to the death, the Cambridge team proved to be wonderfully gracious hosts. Leaving the battlefield with the dead and dying lying stricken on the ground, the survivors and umpires had dinner at a PizzaExpress outlet that was super fancy. Captain Hampton gave a stirring speech and brought tribute to the umpires for their hard work weathering the screams from both sides throughout the day. El Presidente would not be outdone and gave a speech of her own garnering much applause. The teams mingled and chatted, the wine (beer) flowed freely (looking at you, Lucy), and the merry night was long, but alas, the Oxonians had to leave for their long trip home after tearful farewells and heartfelt congratulations.

Thanks heaps for the match, Cambridge! Oxford awaits you, and we hope that next year’s Varsity will prove to be as exhilarating and nerve-wracking as this year was, and above all, as incredibly fun.

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