Elite participants in any given sport carry a veneer of familiarity. Everybody knows them. Even those who sporadically at best tune in. Those for whom Wimbledon represents the entirety of their tennis intake will know Rafa Nadal and Andy Murray. Anyone who knows what a dart board looks like will have heard of Phil Taylor. For this corner at least, Ronnie O’Sullivan remains the big attraction in snooker.
It seems strange indeed that the multiple World Champion is now ranked a lowly 33rd in the world. Now, the official line will most likely be trumpeted that such is the case due to ‘The Rocket’ having restructured his playing schedule etc. That can hardly wash though, can it?
Similar sentiments were expressed here a few years back in golf when Luke Donald was officially decreed to be better than Rory McIlroy when – at the time – what was actually transpiring out on the course said different. Thus, my line of thinking would be that – as the current standard setter – shouldn’t Ronnie be considered snooker’s best?
Such thinking would, of course, align with the view that, essentially, who is best should be determined by what transpires on the tables. Rather than by whatever order names appear on a list. Trouble is, snooker is one of the sports that doesn’t attain the coverage it merits. Indeed, at a time when Sky coverage is a hot topic in many places, the BBC are to be commended for their promotion of things like the snooker World Championships and Wimbledon.
Maybe, however, that’s part of the annual appeal of the big one in Sheffield – the seldom seen brilliance of the likes of O’Sullivan and others. Principally the aforementioned, mind you. It’s probably important for the sport itself that he’s re-discovered his mojo for the cue again. For it hasn’t been without its problems.
Whether it be in the form of comments by Mark Allen that cast a shadow over the action at The Crucible last year, or, more seriously, the cloud of match fixing that has – to some extent at least – hung in the air since the time Stephen Lee was banned for twelve years having been found guilty of same.
Naturally, things like that don’t do the reputation of a sport – or those governing or partaking therein – any good. Perhaps, in fact, there was a bit of reputational repair and/or a desire for widened appeal at the heart of the recent decision by Barry Hearn to expand the World Championships to enable anyone who has triumphed in Sheffield a shot at getting back there.
Even without that, however, the masses seem to tune into Hazel Irvine et al each season. Those that have this time around haven’t been disappointed either. Personally speaking, possibly the greatest highlights of the current incarnation have been the – albeit partial – return to the big stage by our own Ken Doherty and Alan McManus of Scotland.
They – along with players such as Stephen Hendry, Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor, John Parrott and the late, lamented Alex Higgins – were the exponents of snooker I grew up watching. That said, some of those who’ve adorned the sport in recent years like Mark Selby and Judd Trump and Barry Hawkins haven’t made for bad viewing either!
Out of all of the modern stars, mind you, special mention must be reserved for Neil Robertson. The Australian former kingpin achieved quite the milestone in this year’s showpiece tournament when he chalked up his 100th century break. In itself that’s a phenomenal achievement. However, it pales in comparison to the amounts amassed by Hendry and O’Sullivan. Which in turn indicates the glittering careers enjoyed by those two.
When last a snooker piece rolled off this machine it was titled thus: “Sedate pace but much grace”. Lack of speed still abounds and, while the other half of the headline referred to comments by Mark Allen, there’s unquestionably still a bit of needle in the game. Maybe that’s no bad thing.
Rivalries are good for sport providing their controlled. One wouldn’t have be Einstein to deduce that Robertson and Judd Trump mightn’t be overly fond of each other. Ditto Parrott and Davis judging by some of the sparring that went on in the commentary box. In terms of the two current players, though, future meetings will be studied with great interest.
That is, if the opportunity should arise to do so. There’s no doubt, snooker makes compelling viewing. Especially as Mark Selby’s magnificent comeback against ‘The Rocket’ in the World Championship Final exemplifies. You can’t help feeling there could be a change afoot at the top of the sport. It’d be great to see it unfold but no breathe would be held for that!