Triple-X Crucible Hardcore
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.
- 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]
- 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