Triple-X Crucible Hardcore

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I suggested that the final of this year's World Snooker Championship would be "remembered fondly only by…'hardcore' lovers of snooker pain and suffering" but also that it could end up being a "classic of its kind". As Graeme Dott finally put an absorbing match to bed at 12.52 a.m. on Tuesday morning, both predictions looked fairly sound guesses.

The latest ever finish to a world final?

Check: Beating (by some 33 minutes) the previous record held by Steve Davis and Dennis Taylor in their legendary 18-17, black ball finish 21 years ago.

The longest frame in Crucible history?

Check: Surpassing, at a whopping 74 minutes, the 69 minute mark set by Cliff Thorburn and Doug Mountjoy in 1980.1 Not only that…but it now holds the distinction (dubious though it may be) of being the longest televised frame in snooker history, just edging out the 73 minute and 30 second decider of the 1989 World Team Cup final (where England's Steve Davis overcame New Zealand's Dene O'Kane).

Beyond these impressive (or alarming) statistics lies a tale of phenomenal mental resilience and stamina. Peter Ebdon, after playing his worst snooker of the tournament on Day One, entered the final session 15-7 behind. Dott only needed three more for the title but, incredibly, six long (high-tension) frames later, his advantage had shrunk to two (at 15-13).

At that stage Dott (though still commanding a slim lead) appeared a beaten man while Ebdon, in Clive Everton's words, seemed like he'd had his "reservoirs of mental strength fully recharged". Dott looked like he wanted to crawl into a hole and sob himself to sleep – Ebdon looked like he'd gladly play all night. Dott was ashen-faced and muttering to himself – Ebdon's Dubai tan held firm and his stoicism slipped not an inch. Betting men everywhere were quickly slapping the kitchen sink on a rejuvenated, and ruthless-looking, Ebdon while Dott's family friends must (secretly) have been preparing their commiseration speeches.

The next 2 frames were shared (with Dott winning his first frame for 5 ½ hours) before "The Pocket Dynamo" missed an easy black (a "sitter" according to Denis Taylor) in frame 31 to leave Ebdon with a chance to pull the match back to 15-16 and ensure an agonisingly tense finale. Even the ferociously combative and competitive Mr. Ebdon was feeling the Crucible heat however as he broke down on 51 to leave a plant on for Dott…which was duly despatched. A short while later, after showing remarkable tenacity and composure, Dott completed one of the best clearances (a 68) this great championship has ever witnessed. If the match had a defining moment it was this break and Dott knew it, as, after sinking the final black, he punched the sky…letting out a roar of relief and renewed self-belief.

A short while later, in front a smaller than usual, weary, but enthralled Crucible crowd, the man who must be thoroughly fed up with the overuse of the "Small in stature, but big of heart" refrain (he’s 5 foot 5), had time to kiss the famous trophy on his way to his first ever tournament win. As Clive Everton put it, he had journeyed through "the valley of doubt" and emerged battered, exhausted, but triumphant on the other side. Great stuff entirely…

A match like that does, of course, beg all sorts of questions about the significance of 'entertainment' in sport…but then one has to ask what exactly the term 'entertainment' is taken to mean. My lady love, the younger sister over from London, the Da recuperating in hospital, and my good self all found ourselves thoroughly engrossed, and (in a way) entertained. The drama might not have been of the 'rollercoaster', "Hang on to your hats" kind, but it was nonetheless captivating in its own right…and, curiously enough, a perfect example of snooker's addictive (exhausting) intensity.

I understand, of course, the concerns of those who are frantically trying to 'sell' the game back to a largely-indifferent (compared to the glory days of the 1980s) public, but the game is what it is…and 'jazzing it up' (or compromising it) certainly won’t add anything to its unique appeal.2 It may be slow, it may (at times) be frustrating, it may occasionally try one's patience, but, as Clive James noted, it's "Chess with balls" and for this fan (at least) it's just fine the way it is.

Footnotes
  1. There seems to be some debate over what the previous record actually was. Most people seem to assume it was the final frame of the Taylor v Davis final (also 69 minutes) but stat-nerd Phil Yates (of The Times) plumps for Thorburn v Mountjoy so I'll defer to him. [back]
  2. I actually find the "best of nine" matches you get in other tournaments an absolute bore, as they're simple sprints that lack any of the twists and turns one gets in the Crucible. [back]

May 2, 2006

9 responses to Triple-X Crucible Hardcore

  1. Fergal said:

    A decidedly non-vintage final, but I stayed with it to the end all the same. But to be honest, my heart wasn’t in it after Dott won his 17th frame. For some reason, I really don’t like him. Not just that I didn’t want him to win, but a real visceral dislike. I can’t really say why, but I could hardly bear to watch him when he was doing well. His behaviour in the final frame was somewhat graceless and lacking in class, but my mind was made up about him long before that. By contrast, Ebdon was a gracious and noble loser. Anyway, so long snooker, see you next year

  2. Kevin said:

    Unlike in politics, I always side with the underdog in sport. The string of near-comebacks towards the competition’s close made for some indecision. At first, I wanted the underdog to come back – a la Fu and then Ebdon – but then, once they gain the momentum and look like they’ll go on to win, the other guy becomes the underdog – a la Ebdon and then Dott. I guess I just feel sorry for snooker players more than I do for, say, Sunderland.

    I mean, when Dott was burying his face in his towel, I actually felt really bad for him. Bloody empathy.

  3. fústar said:

    Can’t say I share your sentiments about Dott Fergal. True he let loose a bit when he was close to the finish line…but who could blame him, given the tension of the match and the fact that he’d never won a tournament of any kind?

    Ebdon was, indeed, gracious in defeat, and that is to be applauded, but his nobility seems a tad affected at times…at least to me. Maybe I’m just too cynical…

    My one regret about the championship this year was that we didn’t get to see enough heavyweight encounters because of Hendry and Higgins (etc) going out as early as they did. The only match that really pitted 2 attacking snooker masters together was Williams v O’Sullivan (and a great contest it was).

    I’d have loved to have seen Hendry v Ronnie (again), or Ronnie v Higgins…rather than the succession of odd matches we ended up getting.

  4. fústar said:

    Kevin,

    I’m with you on the fluctuating underdog thing. That’s one of snooker’s abiding charms. One minute a guy looks totally in charge, confident, decisive, fearless etc…and the next thing you know he’s a gibbering wreck, burying his head in his towel and growing paler by the minute.

    Unlike other sports where there’s constant to-ing and fro-ing, snooker can easily follow the pattern of hours of ‘to’ followed by even more hours of ‘fro’.

    Thus it’s easy to suddenly find one switching one’s affections mid-match as a huge lead collapses before out eyes. It’s hard not to feel for the guy who’s suffering the most at any given time. Bloody empathy is right.

  5. My goodness, what a final! Eh?
    I have to agree with the underdog thing, my support for both players was fluctuating with every pot and safety shot. And yes, Ebdon’s nobility is extremely affected.
    It was not quite a ‘classic’ final, but then again not many are. It was good to see the other side of the game though, it is after all called snooker. Speaking of the other side, has anyone ever seen Nigel Bond in colour? No, me neither.
    All congrats and plaudits to Mr Dott, but he does remind me of the guy at the wedding reception who, fuelled by whiskey after being turned down by the ugliest bridesmaid, kicks off on the best man, just as the hired show band roar into another rendition of Hi Ho Silver Lining. What is it with weddings and pastel shades by the way? Was at one recently and felt like I’d walked into a convention for giant interbreeding liquorice allsorts. Sorry, had to get that out.

  6. foolhardy said:

    Sadly, I missed the final being out of eye shot of a telly and all.

    I always got the impression that Peter Ebdon was only playing snooker as a front for some shady activity or other – He has an intensity that suggests a man who, in his spare time, likes nothing more than to pop down to the local abattoir to blast a bolt through a cow’s head.

  7. foolhardy said:

    In his bow-tie, shirt and youthful visage combo, young master Dott has the look of a Catholic schoolboy on Confirmation day.
    Q: “so, how much d’you get Graeme?”.
    A: “Shitloads!”

  8. foolhardy said:

    guardian.co.ukThe Snucker is gone, at least for another year, so let’s move on folks.

    any comments on the following?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/life/news/page/0,12983,1290764,00.html

    what I want to know is where’s “Sleeper”?

  9. fústar said:

    PoP,

    ‘Tis true. Mr Bond seems to be a visitor from a pigment-free dimension who has stumbled into our reality and discovered that he’s quite good at snooker. Every time he popped on screen I found myself fiddling with the settings on the TV.

    foolhardy,

    Seeing as Mr. Dott is a devoted Rangers fan…I doubt he’s too au fait with the Confirmation process. He does look like he’s just pocketed a 50 quid note from his Uncle Hamish (and is planning on putting it towards a new racing bike) though.

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