In this strangest of strange years, it has been a matter of drawing comfort from wherever it crops up. thus, darts being on at what would be a very unusual time of year for the said discipline was a very welcome distraction amid the chaos. That was fairly extensively covered on a previous outing in this space, however, on this section of our whistle-stop tour of some of what’s been going on in the truncated world of sport, it’s another chronologically displaced event which attains due focus.
The Crucible Theatre – mere mention of the place immediately conjures images of Snooker. Just as Wimbledon does likewise for Tennis, Lords with Cricket or Alexandra Palace in the aforementioned case of darts. Earliest recollections here of affairs on the cloth table are those of that epic last frame, last black ball drama between Dennis Taylor and Steve Davis which was the culmination of the 1985 incarnation at the Sheffield venue.
Yes, snooker is one of those sports – akin to some of those listed above – which tend to volt to the forefront of thoughts when the showpiece therein is underway. However, that doesn’t mean that happenings contained within cannot impact greatly on the viewer. As was absolutely the case when being off school due to illness allowed me to take in the International Open in Bournemouth.
From there, John Higgins was catapulted to the role of my favourite exponent of the sedately paced sport. Mind you, the great Scot has had plenty of competition for his vaunted status! From Stephen Hendry to our own Ken Doherty, to the luckless but lovable Jimmy White and finally, the Rocket himself, Ronnie O’Sullivan.
With the exception of the year Doherty emerged victorious – 1997 – principal attraction to tuning in every year was to observe O’Sullivan, and Higgins in particular, do their thing. Though even at that stage a good grounding in the craft that is both more technically and academically taxing than may appear to be the case.
imply because when I was growing up, there was a lot more of the smartly clad stars in action seemed to be available on ‘normal’ television than is now the case. With the notable exception of Eurosport which seems to champion the sport where silence is sacrosanct.
I first came across what was – to my knowledge – the only dedicated sports channel at the time when I used to visit my brother-in-law’s family home every Saturday. Then, as now, Eurosport could be depended upon to showcase some of the more obscure pursuits – snooker, winter sports (in particular) and various others the exposure and respect they deserve.
Though in fairness, back then, snooker got much more of an airing on regular television than is now then case. Even in Ireland where the Benson&Hedges Irish Masters took place at Goffs in Kill, Co Kildare. Thus, the deeds of players like Davis, Taylor, Alex Higgins, God rest him, John Parrott, Terry Griffiths and the late Willie Thorne were regularly on view.
At this point, it should probably be admitted that the annual and almost obligatory punt on John Higgins was had by this corner before the action commenced in the Steel City. However, for reasons that may remain as mysterious as how they get the figs into the Fig Rolls, normal policy of having a counter punt on Ronnie wasn’t adhered to.
To opine that The Rocket is an enigma would be commensurate with stating Concordes could move fairly quick. Like the best in any sphere, though, he is possessed of the acumen and skillset to know how to win when it’s needed most.
Which was certainly required in the early part of the decider against surprise finalist Kyren Wilson. That would only tell a fraction of the story of what was an enthralling unusally timed two and a bit weeks of fare, mind you.
Between the ridiculous flip-flopping over whether spectators were allowes in or not, to Anthony Hamilton’s much publicised and ultimately unnecessary withdrawal, Judd Trump’s 100th century break of the season and a John Higgins 147. From my own personal perspective, the emergence of players such Kurt Maflin and Jack Lisowski and Jamie Clarke ignited a flicker of interest which will very possibly entice yours truly to tune into what was surely the original sports channel more often.
Having said that, it would be remiss of me not to admit that the biggest lure towards snooker as far as this viewer would be concerned is the longevity it offers to and which can be taken advantage of by some of the game’s most decorated stars. Even more so now with the advent of the Seniors Tour. Not that some of the greatest exponents of the craft practiced maple, pear and even ash instruments require any segregation or special conditions to be seen at their best.
To his immense credit, Higgins remains No. 5 in the latest W.P.B.S.A. world rankings more than a quarter century after first making his breakthrough to the big time in his area of undoubted expertise. Or, to evaluate matters through a different set of parametres, it was even more heartwarming to witness his fellow Scot Alan McManus still qualifying for the biggest event of them all.
Right, so he was ultimately defeated comfortably enough in the end, but, during the match in question, he showed enough knowhow, craft and guile to suggest that he would not only have serious prospects competing against his fellow veterans but more pointedly remains worthy of his place on the mainstream tour as well.
There can be doubting, though, that as admirableAs the old campaigners are, modern greats such as Judd Trump and Mark Selby and Neil Robertson appear to operate on a slightly higher plinth than their predecessors. For all that, even they have some way to go to launch an attack on The Rocket’s status as the top performer at the table.
The rankings in snooker must be curiously constructed just as they are in golf. For example, how Trump can still command top spot in the pecking order even after Ronnie garnering the top gong is hard to fathom. Perhaps what can only be described as his apathy – which sees him only compete in events periodically – precludes him from attaining or retaining the top ranking.
However, numbers on a list do not denote who the most gifted player in snooker is. Producing their best when it matters most does. That goes for any sport. There were times, up to and including the early stages of the most recent Crucible climax against Kyren Wilson when he looked about as interested in being there as Fr Jack Hackett had in exploring sobriety!
Then again, as the true champions always do, when the man chasing a sixth world title sensed the fat was in the fire, he not so much upped his game as put on an exhibition of every ounce of the indisputable class that has seen him rightly acclaimed as the best player of his generation and one of, if not the actual greatest of all time.
Sluggish start there may have been, but, some seismic snooker during the afternoon session on Sunday enabled him to open up an unassailable 17-7 advantage. Meaning that he only required one more frame in an evening session during which Wilson never got to pot a ball as his opponent hoovered up a sixth world title with consumate ease.
He could go on doing for years, if he wants to.