March 2005, Cheltenham. Day one of the Festival. The race that’s not only the highlight of the day, but of that entire year for us that are hopelessly devoted to jump racing. Or maybe many years.
Hardy Eustace, the venerable old Massey Ferguson 390T, the old dog for the hard road, turns for home with the last load of the day. Running on fumes, billowing smoke. You’te convinced the load is weighing the old machine down, front wheels doing push-ups.
Then Harchibald, the suave young 5455 with more technology aboard than Bill Gates’s office, arrives up in cruise control, beacons flashing. It’s a case of how far and how long behind will the old stager be. But then something changes. Warning codes and alarms flash up repeatedly as one of the three on-board monitors shout about needing a laptop to soothe their ills. Meanwhile, the oldest swinger in town strains its every sprocket but gets the job done first.
No, I am not writing a piece for Classic Tractor magazine – as much such a task would be adored – but it felt like a useful analogy to articulate at least some of what went on in an oddly ill-tempered affair between Gary Anderson and Mensur Suljovic. That such was the case is actually quite difficult to fathom given that the Austrian is one of the popular characters on the darting circuit and secondly Gary seems like one of the least confrontational people anywhere.
So to the analogy. Anyone who has watched even part of a darts match involving ‘The Gentle’ should know that his take-off is very much 390T rather than one of the newer rigs with 40K box. Most of all somebody who has played against such an opponent as often as Anderson surely has at this stage.
Thus, it was almost staggering to observe the level to which ‘The Gentle’ setting off at his own sedate gallop left the unusually headstrong Scot with more questions than answers. Firstly, as to how he let what in fairness was no more than his opponent’s usual match day routine get into his psyche so much.
More fundamentally however,more troubling to the Hibernian fan should surely be the fact that over the course of the rumbustuous encounter the two time kingpin of world darts kingpin missed 33 darts at a double. Muscle memory and anger were enough to see him manage Mensur but he will certainly need to produce more, much more, if he is to negotiate a way past any of the other remaining contenders.
Starting with Devon Petersen next time out or, if one was to look a bit further down the tracks, Ryan Searle. He is rapidly becoming a favourite with yours truly. Not only due to his resemblance to Jack Black and his easy on the eye languid throwing style but also that he uses it with quick efficiency.
Highlighting him doesn’t even bring the double Dutch threat of Dirk Van Duijvenbode and Vincent van der Voort into calculations. Nor indeed does it afford due respect to the redoubtable Mervyn King who continued his darting renaissance with what many aficionados consider to be his greatest ever performance at the London venue in evicting Jose De Sousa from same.
As will as Anderson, Gerwyn Price and Glen Durrant also came through grueling outings against Brendan Dolan and Danny Baggish respectively.