SINGAPORE - It was not even a final, yet had been touted as a must-watch of the year's school sports season.
Still, the Schools National B Division Table Tennis Championships quarter-final round showdown between Raffles Institution (RI) and the Singapore Sports School (SSP) served up a lot more spice than expected, before RI wrapped up the tie 3-2.
As if the political drama over a selection row that surrounded the tie was not enough, the match also saw RI's coach sent off.
With RI leading 2-1 in the best-of-five tie, doubles pair Yee Jin Koi and Chua Shao Shxuan were in the driver's seat to send their school to victory.
But the duo were left to play the bulk of their match without the guidance of coach Li Shuhe. He was sent away from the playing area after being issued a red card for exceeding the one minute allowed to advise players during intervals.
Li had already been issued a yellow card for a similar time violation in the tie's first match.
Said Li, who watched on silently as his charges fought off three match points to win the match 3-2: "What the umpire should have done is come to me, show me the card and tell me what rule I've violated.
"Nobody knows what she's showing the cards for when she's doing so from her seat."
"The cards could've been shown to anyone, including spectators for making too much noise, or to anyone giving court-side coaching during the game," Li added of his first red card in more than 20 years of coaching experience.
The umpire in question had also erroneously displayed the scores a few times early on in the tie.
The incident got observers on the ground questioning if someone with big-match experience should have been assigned to take charge of a tie like this.
Said a long-time table tennis observer, who declined to be named: "I think the umpire is not very experienced. This tie is as good as a final and probably should have gotten someone more seasoned."
RI eventually won the tie 3-2, taking out two players from the sports school's School Within A School (SWS) programme in the process.
The selected few under this scheme train in the morning and afternoon while taking academic lessons in the evening.
They are perceived to be favoured for overseas tournaments and major Games like this year's Asian Youth Games by the Singapore Table Tennis Association (STTA).
Darren Loy, 15, was beaten 1-3 by Liu Hang, 15, while Edric Lim, 16, also lost 1-3 to Yin Jing Yuan, 16.
Maxxe Tay, 15, was the only SWS player to taste victory Thursday when he beat 15-year-old Lu Jing Guang 3-1.
RI's doubles pair Yap Heng Kai, a national youth team player, and Daryl Tan lost their match against SSP's Seth Han and Bryan Wee 1-3.
Said Year 4 student Jing Yuan: "Every time I play a SWS player I feel more fired up to win.
"Every national youth team player who plays against a member of the SWS would be."
Added his mum, Zhang Hong: "The past three years, Jing Yuan has been proving himself through his results time and time again.
"Yet, he just hasn't been able to earn the recognition of the leadership at the STTA."
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