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  • Ben Wharton

Thrilling Varsity Match sees victory for M2 & M3 but narrow overall defeat

Updated: Jun 18, 2023

One week before the big day, I gazed upon an yellowed piece of paper, handwritten in an assortment of inks. Incredulous, I repeated out loud: "1928?" The document, neglected for years in an office at the USC since being moved there from the Old Schools, showed the players, venue and result of every Cambridge-Oxford Badminton Varsity Match since their inception in 1928. It revealed that this would be the 85th Match. After a long-awaited victory in 2019, CUBaC was cautiously optimistic that we could repeat the feat.

The modern format: 5 teams (W1, W2, M1, M2 & M3) must play 9 doubles and 6 singles matches each, making team scores out of 15 and the overall score out of 75.

At 9am on Saturday 29th February 2020, the first of 75 games began. Our captains tell the tale...

Women's firsts: Cam 2 - 13 Ox

Cherlyn Tan & Briony Whitfield, Sylvia Ma & Helen Yan, Felicity Coan (c) & Wendi Fan. Reported by Rachel Fenner and Felicity Coan.

2nd pair Sylv & Helen give Ox a run for their money

The women’s team’s Varsity really began the night before, full on carb loading with vegan mac and cheese (thanks Felicity). Starting the day with muscles well fuelled, W1 hoped that this year would finally be their chance to take their win, with 4/6 players making their first team Varsity debut. Over the last few years, W1 hasn’t won a singles match, however this year we got two! With Sylv keeping her cool and pushing through to the win in the third set and Helen showing off some serious talent and high-class badminton, polishing off their number 1 seed in straight sets. Other strong singles performances go to Felicity, losing out in the third set and Cherlyn, giving the ever so effortless Rachel Lu a good game.

On to the doubles and with a last-minute change of partnerships we were hoping to still bring out some wins. Cherlyn and Briony put on a very good fight throughout their doubles, narrowly missing out in the third set in 2 out of their 3 matches. However, Cherlyn did manage to get a shuttle in Rachel Lu’s hoop earrings, which is far more of an achievement. Cherlyn and Briony have formed a very strong partnership considering Cherlyn only joined this term, very exciting things to come from these two.

Sylv and Helen also had some very close games and fought throughout, despite some knee drama with Sylv in the first set of the first match! Wendi and Felicity, another new partnership who sported matching kinesiology taping, improved as the day went on and took increasingly more points off each of their opponents however ultimately lost each in two sets. We can only imagine how this might have been different if Wendi had joined us two years ago!

The score line really does not reflect the competitiveness of many of the games played and W1 should be very proud of the fight they gave.

Women's seconds: Cam 3 - 12 Ox

Becky Donaldson & Claire Zhang, Yuhua Lim & Ursula Shaw, Amy Chen & Radhika Gupta, Tessa Doubleday (singles). Reported by Rachel Fenner and Felicity Coan.

On to W2, who were defending their title from last year. Big shout out to Yuhua for taking the only singles match in W2, polishing off her opponent in straight sets with her cool and classy drop-shots. W2’s singles specialist Tessa also put on a very solid performance but the depth of strength in the OUBaC squad ultimately proved too much (nevertheless she was the real winner, starting preparations for the big night hours early by sipping a few cold ones in her keep cup).

In the doubles, the veteran CUBaC members, Becky and Claire, showed their experience winning 2/3 doubles games and narrowly missing out on a clean sweep, with a 23-25 in the third set. Ursula (who was splitting her time between organising the seating plan - big-up the social sec! - and playing some great badminton) and Yuhua also had some close games but struggled to convert them to the win. Last but not least, our newest duo Radhika (the last-minute doubles saviour!) and Amy did very well to put on a solid performance and should be proud of their results against a strong W2.

Ursula's face of focus

Overall it might not have been the results we wanted but it can only make us stronger for the fight next year. The whole squad worked so hard and should be extremely proud of their efforts, with lots of positives to take away. Ultimately a good time was had by all and it was great to see such a strong contingent of supporters from the girls’ squad.

Lastly, a massive thank you to the women graduating this year; Becky, Claire, Felicity and Wendi. You have shown huge dedication and commitment to CUBaC over the past few years, particularly Becky for her various committee roles during her time and Felicity for being an incredible captain this year. You will be sorely missed.

Men's firsts: Cam 6 - 9 Ox

Yu Han & Stephen Smith, Ryan Ng & James Xu, Neel Doshi (c) & Tom Wade. Reported by Stephen Smith.

The M1 Varsity adventure began in the most dramatic circumstances with two of the light blues’ top players ruling themselves out of contention; Hotch with a scandalously timed ski trip, and Roberts with severe case of chronic ‘knee cowarditis’. However, James and Ryan calmly stepped up to the challenge, uniting with the powers of the orient behind them. This tipped the Asian might up to a cool 66.6%; Oxford were in for a difficult day at the office. On home turf for a second year running, despite the shocking organisation of PlayerLayer, the army of light blue kitted up ready for an immense battle. This year we were armed with top secret Malaysian shuttle weaponry whose special power play was to release the cork at any given moment.

James Xu shows off his textbook form

Benjamin Franklin would’ve been proud as the atmosphere approached electric, and much like the wonderful fairy-tale of Cinderella as the clock struck 12 the M1 games began: Up first the mighty Yu Han to take on Oxford’s Gordon. He quickly shook off his doubles hibernation that he had been hiding in, arguably rivalling the ability of any other singles player in the entirety of CUBaC (probably due to his disgustingly long limbs). After a tough battle Yu Han went down in two close sets narrowly losing 21-19 in third. Ryan quickly counteracted the dark blues’ early lead with a phenomenal dispatching of a questionable addition to Oxford’s M1, Tom Hadfield. James and Neel undertook the S4 and S3 games respectively but lost in exhausting three set battles, Neel had yet another Varsity bottlejob moment despite being up 19-16 just couldn’t get over the hump. Regardless we all got to witness the marvel of the Doshi drop for the sixth consecutive Varsity. The S2 game saw a clash of two Varsity newbies, Oxford fresher Lucien against the experienced Stephen. The first two sets went one-a-piece, but the pressure was too much for the young man. The noise reached unprecedented levels as the shuttle hit the floor with Stephen taking the third. Some say it could be even heard a few metres beyond the sports hall door. Back to Oxford 3- Cambridge 2, game on for the big one, the main event. As the number one seeds took to centre court the tension was too much to bear, tears of nerves were rumoured seen amongst the grandstand. Tom Wade and his magical left wrist took to the court with his typical steely gaze, the target in his sights the formidable Andrew Zhu - ironically his guest for the weekend. Despite his best efforts Oxford went into the doubles having double our number of M1 games overall.

After entering into a temporary cryosleep for recovery and nipping off for a quick Poo-Han, Yu Han woke up reinvigorated for the doubles, uniting back with Stephen as the number one pair after their preceding unbeaten streak together in the BUCS leagues. Taking on Gordon and Hadfield, a true classic emerged. At one set all and 11-3 down in the third, the light blue boys pulled off a modern-day miracle to have a match point opportunity 20-15 up. For 10 minutes the Yu-Han was airborne, taking off to new heights pummelling the dark blues. Despite the match point, the boys couldn’t capitalise, taking the game to setting where the game remained on a knife edge. One way and the other chances came and went but no one team prevailed, both teams gathered in groups on the edge of their seat, until the dark blues finally took the game 28-26. Next up, Ryan and James took on the top pair from the other side. Fuelled by vengeance they put on an unbelievable show in the first set dispatching them 21-13. The boys continued to battle through sets two and three constructing what can only be described as a light blue brick wall. Unfortunately, the big bad wolf of Zhu proved too strong, eventually blowing the big house down and taking the game.

The familiar pairing of Tom and Neel took to the court having scarred Oxford’s minds the year before in Cambridge’s 12-3 mauling of the dark blues M1. Like a horrible sense of déjà vu, they made light work of the meagre dark blue offering with a classic shaky start but strong final 2 sets to finish. The next round proved more difficult with the pairing of Zhu and Ian bringing the boys' sense of elevation to an abrupt end. James and Ryan got their doubles wins up and running in their second round through another destruction of Oxford’s second pair, highlighting their dreadful selection once again - should’ve gone to Specsavers perhaps? Yu Han and Stephen completed the violation of the second pair, sending the young Lucien packing with zero Varsity wins under his belt (better luck next year chap…). Ryan and James entered the third match with enthusiasm, but the toll of the previous games proved too great, surrendering in a close three set. The mighty showdown of the number one pairs did not disappoint with body pings and screaming left, right and centre and Stephen powering through some three strings. Yet the dark blues prevailed once again undefeated deciding the fate of the overall M1 score. Playing only for pride Neel and Tom took to the court for one final hoorah to finally wipe the smile of the blatantly misplaced Tom Hadfield. They did not even budge under duress from the commentary box, even the announcement of Neel’s clamped Audi could not phase the sheer focus. Final score Oxford 9, Cambridge 6… to be continued spring 2021.

For the remainder of the games the boys kindly took to megaphones to selflessly provide the in-game announcements and entertainment. Travel news, weather, shipping forecasts and a running commentary was graciously provided to the guests who can only be described as wholly ungrateful. The noise from the Dark Blue Corner was quite frankly embarrassing, you’d have a hard time realising they were even present at all. This only reassured us all that we had made the right choice of university. As was once infamously proclaimed by the Wealdstone Raider: “you’ve got no fans”.

Win or lose, CUBaC proved our professionalism and proceeded to host celebrations at the grandest Pizza Express one can ever lay eyes upon: the physical manifestation of Oxbridge privilege. There were admittedly some questionable attires though I will not name any in particular (James’ dinner jacket). Oxford’s Lucien was quite excited for his inaugural Varsity, turning up in sunglasses. We can only assume this was to hide his shame from his clean sweep of losses on the day. The festivities continued in the mighty Spoons, where far too many pitchers and VKs were consumed. Whilst a difficult day on the court, it was most certainly a night to remember.

Men's 2nds: Cam 10 - 5 Ox

Richard Parsons & Pranav Santhosh, Andrew Sheat & Rory Xiao (c), George Moran & Athan Siah, Thomas Williams (singles). Reported by Rory Xiao.

Richard and Pranav defy physics to gain height advantage

The anticipation was palpable; M2 was back again to defend our piece of the Men’s Varsity title after last year’s 9-6 thriller. The day started with Tom Williams stepping up to take on his hometown rival Joshua McColgan, but it was McColgan’s experience and strong backhand that came out on top. Next on was George Moran, whose powerful smashes and angles found the floor time and time again, putting away his opponent, Joshua Ng, in straight sets. The 4th seed singles saw Andrew Sheat take on his counterpart Tom Johnston in an epic 3 setter, with Sheat taking the first comfortably, but Johnston stepping it up in the 2nd and 3rd ends to take a narrow victory. Receiving a call that we were 1-2 down, Pranav leaped out of bed and arrived 10 minutes before the start of his match against his opponent Alex Liu. Channelling Raj Ouseph himself, Pranav won in 3 sets to bring the score level to 2-2. On next was the highly anticipated match between Rory Xiao and Anuj Doshi. With the help of the Cambridge crowd (including our own Doshi) equipped with a fine assortment of instruments, Xiao was able to get fired up and win in straight sets. Finally, the showdown between the 1st seeds, Parsons and Hugo Benainous. Despite giving it his all, Parsons’ attacking style couldn’t penetrate Benainous’ solid defence on this day, levelling the score for Oxford to 3-3.

A fire was lit within the Cambridge lads, who vowed to crush the Oxford side in the doubles! It started strong, with Parsons & Santhosh playing their legendary serve-returns and fast paced game, Rory & Andy using their steady and patient rallying, and Athan and George using their trademark “brick wall” tactics. After the first wave, the Cambridge lads took a 1 match advantage, with Athan & George losing a close 3 setter to the Oxford first pair – a promising start. Going into the final match of the second round of doubles, the score sat at 6-5 Cambridge. This match between George & Athan and the Oxford Second pair was a critical one. A win for Oxford would bring them back into the competition but a win for Cambridge would put victory within reach. Three gruelling sets of scintillating badminton later, the Cambridge lads buried the shuttle on the ground for the final point. 7-5 to Cambridge, with one more required to win. From that point on the Cambridge pairs looked undeniable – we asked for one but got all three. Oxford put on a great performance, but at the end of the day it was all light blue. 10-5 to Cambridge.

Men's thirds: Cam 11 - 4 Ox

Jonny Itcovitz & Ben Wharton, Dhurai Balan (c) & Michael Li, Stephen Mak & Jake Mann, Saket Koti (singles),

Aarjav Jain (singles). Reported by Dhurai Balan.

M3 boys turned up with great fighting spirit, with Saket starting the day facing a former Oxford M1 player. He went down in the 1st set after a smashing start from the opponent. With a calm nerve, Saket bounced back, forcing his opponent to run every corner, waiting patiently for the right time before ending the rallies with sharp drops and smashes, winning the match in 3 sets. The early (1-0) lead from Cambridge did not last long when Aarjav and Jake had to bow down against stronger opponents. Each lost their singles in straight games after tough fights. The score was then equalised by Ben Wharton. Using his height to his advantage, Ben displayed aggressive moves around the court with powerful attacking shots - leaving the opponent clueless and winning the game comfortably in two sets. The last two singles game was then played by Dhurai and Michael each winning their game in 3 sets. After a wobbly start in 1st set, Dhurai came back in 2nd and 3rd with a narrow 24-22 and 21-15 win respectively. Michael, on the other hand, won the 1st set before going down in the 2nd and bouncing back in the decider with great smashes and slice drops.

A great overall performance was also shown by everyone in the doubles. Cambridge’s 1st pair, Jonny and Ben, won all their games adding up to the existing lead. Ben’s smash from the back and Jonny’s interception at the front gave them a comfortable win against Oxford’s 2nd and 3rd pair in straight sets. However, a tougher match was witnessed against the 1st pair when they lost a set before bouncing back in the decider. Similarly, Dhurai and Michael managed to win all their games as well. Brilliant drive shots and a variety of skills from both of them gave the opponents no chance to attack. They won two matches comfortably but struggled slightly against Oxford’s 2nd pair after a tiring day. Cambridge’s 3rd double pair, Stephen and Jake showed a great performance as well but unfortunately, they only managed to win one game (against Oxford’s 3rd pair), and take a set against the Oxford 2nd pair. At the end of the day, Cambridge M3 beat Oxford M3 with a huge 11-4 score.

Overall score: Cam 32 - 43 Ox

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