TV View: New ball game as Chinese rock cosy Crucible consensus
Rise of the world’s newest superpower increasingly apparent in snooker
Barry Hearn: “Do you want to see a draw between all Chinese players? The system is there, if they are good enough.”Photograph: Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Last year Ding Junhui’s run to the final of the World Snooker Championship brought TV audiences in China to 210 million. Ding became the first Asian man to reach the final, where he was beaten 18-14 by world number one Mark Selby.
The afternoon sessions of the final, which after two weeks of competition in the Crucible Theatre, were played on Sunday and Monday and watched by more than 45 million in China.
The total global audience for the tournament was over 300 million.
Those figures arrived after World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn predicted that half of the world’s top 16 players will one day come from China.
Some people believed Hearn’s remarks should have carried a health warning.
“Do I want to see the top 16 players all Chinese players?” he added playing the race card. “Do you want to see a draw between all Chinese players? The system is there, if they are good enough.”
It is Hazel Irvine’s annual set piece, her pleasing Scottish accent filling our screens between the traditional two-table set up for the early stages.
It is also the tournament’s 40th anniversary of being staged in The Crucible, a survivor if there ever was one. Over the decades calls to move it to London, make it bigger, brighter and louder and placed in a modern hall have fallen on deaf ears.
Knowing how the market works, Hearn has eschewed the soulless, purpose -built hangers of the East London Docklands or the Wembley Arena.
The traditionalists have won that battle with Hearn flamboyantly signing an oversized contract that keeps the event in the iconic venue for 10 more years.
It is what the Brits and the BBC do well. Like Wimbledon and prior to losing live rights for the The British Open last year, they deliberately preserve the essence of the game and those things that give it English character.
That can be a woman doing her knitting in the afternoon session on a Tuesday or young men with tattoos screaming ‘go on Ronnie’ in the boozy Friday evening shifts.
In a 40 year anniversary mood as the tournament kicked off we were treated to some beloved old footage: a crying Alex Higgins, not knowing quite what to do with the trophy or his little girl.
A slim Jimmy White with a luxuriant mane, and long before his rug refit, wearing what appeared to be a white fur coat. What else? Ronnie O’Sullivan with that solemn WTF get me out of here look. Stephen Hendry with a tailored beard and appearing a tad George Michael like and the John Parrott, Steve Davis meat and two veg.
“Old friends reunited,” said Irvine. Yes the Brits know how to do nostalgia better than anyone. Then they take it one step further.
“And Steve I think there were two moments that really resonated with the crowd last night,” added Irvine to the six-time winner. “First of all Barry Hearn announcing that they will be issuing two wild cards to Ken Doherty and Jimmy White, how popular a move would you say was that.”
The implication being, with all those Chinese around a few familiar faces would not go amiss.
Irvine loads and Davis gives both barrels.
“Their extra extension of two more years gives them a chance to bow out in style or perhaps get back on the main tour. You never know,” says Davis.
You don’t. Do you. Remember John Delaney tried something like that with Sep Blatter. The Fifa boss then infamously made a laughing stock of Ireland as he revealed the FAI’s plea to change the rules for Giovanni Trapattoni’s outfit to be added to the World Cup as a 33rd team after Thierry Henry’s hand denied a final spot.
But football is not up against the Chinese, as snooker may now see it, with six of them in this year’s draw. One, Yan Bingtao was born in 2000 and is the first player to appear in the World Championships who was born in the 21st century.
Fearless Fergal O’Brien at 45-years-old was at the other end of the age spectrum to Yan. His qualifying experience in Ponds Forge brought a sense of the epic to the Crucible.
The final frame in his qualification match against David Gilbert took two hours three minutes and 41 seconds to complete, a world record.
The 500-1 outside shot was rewarded with a first round draw against defending champion Sizzling Selby. The odds proved accurate, O’Brien losing 10-2.
“I was talking to Fergal last night,” said Parrott before the first frame.
“He said it took me seven years to get here, I figured another two hours wouldn’t make any difference.”
Just another 700 frames or so to go.