After the highs … here come the lows
Players going missing …
Quite incredibly for a player of his talent, Ding didn’t go past the quarter finals in any ranking event this season, and he only reached that stage once. He did better in invitational events, reaching the final in the 2018 six-reds World Championship, and the semi-finals in the 2018 Shanghai Masters and the 2019 Masters. The puzzling question is: why? The way he played in Sheffield, I had the feeling that his heart wasn’t in it, that neither the belief, nor the desire were there. Ding has been elevated to national hero status since he won the China Open at just 18, and with the glory came huge expectations and huge mediatic pressure. When I write huge, I mean really, really huge. Has it been too much, too early and for too long ? I believe it has.
But, there may be more. Ding has lost his mother two years ago, in January 2017; they were very close. At the Crucible that year, he beat Ronnie in the quarter finals and then gave Desmond Kane from Eurosport a very emotional interview. Ding then lost in the semi finals to the eventual champion, Mark Selby, the same man who had beaten him in the final the year before. Since that defeat, something seems to be broken. Or maybe, his priorities have changed. He’s a father now. After losing to Judd Trump this time – in the second round – Ding was all smiles at the thought of being reunited with his little daughter. Maybe, it’s just a case of life being more important than snooker for him nowadays, and the realisation that it can’t be taken for granted.
Mark Selby’s case is different, but somehow even more surprising. He won the World Championship in 2017, hurt his foot over the summer and since has gone missing, in the UK and in Europe at least. A winning Mark Selby still seems to “exist” in China: he has won the 2018 China Championship this season, the 2017 International Championship and the 2018 China Open last season. Meanwhile, during the same two years he hasn’t been able to win two consecutive matches in any of the triple crown events in his home country. He is playing well in patches, but the consistency is gone. The confidence is probably gone too. The desire is there though, Mark’s strong reaction to the bad shots and misses during his match against Gary Wilson was both uncharacteristic and revealing.
Yes, Mark, the fans are just as nonplussed as you are yourself.
Yu Delu, Cao Yupeng, David John and Jamie Jones
Those have actually gone missing, all of them being hit with suspension and ban over match fixing or failure to report related approaches.
Here are some articles and WPBSA posts related to those cases:
That players still haven’t learned from previous cases – and the punishments coming with them – is quite baffling. Do they believe that they are smart enough to will get away with it? Or are they in such despair that they are ready to take such a risk? I can only suppose that this is not a “one answer fits all” situation. Cao Yupeng and David John clearly weren’t winning enough at the time they were approached to make a living out of their snooker. I’m just stating a fact, not excusing them, but it may explain why they were vulnerable to the approach. Yu Delu wasn’t in such desperate situation though. Yu is actually the only Chinese player without “academy” background, he was basically a hustler before turning pro. Jamie Jones didn’t fix any match, nor did he bet on snooker but he made himself an accomplice in the David John case.
Independently from the background of each case, every of them is damaging to the sport and, unfortunately, human nature being what it is, scandals usually get more space than positive news in the media.
Also, whilst I perfectly understand that zero tolerance is the only way corruption can be fought out of sport, I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Cao and Jones. After that bad spell, Cao had been obviously working hard, and had recently reached his first final. Jones, to his own admission, didn’t think clearly under the circumstances and I guess that a culture of “not grassing on mates” played it part in his indecision. Jones’ ban ends on October 10, 2019. He was ranked n°39 when he was suspended, he has now dropped off the tour. He’s not entered the Q-school, most certainly because his ban doesn’t allow him to do that, and that means that, effectively, he can’t be back on the tour before the 2020/21 season. I’m not sure that this is entirely right.
The return of the “toiletgate”
Barry Hearn in his most recent announcement has come back with the totally daft idea that toilet breaks should be “monitored”, most certainly with the idea to put restrictions on them as the next step. I thought that this nonsense had been buried for good, not so.
First of all I see absolutely no evidence that toilet breaks are being abused. In the very vast majority of cases, on the TV table, the player taking a break is back before the balls are set and the commercial break is over. Mid frame breaks are a rarity. Players do drink a lot during matches, often they are under a lot of stress too, and not everybody has a strong bladder (or bowels). Occasionally players might go out briefly just to collect themselves. Is that an issue? I don’t think so. Surely, if a player were to seem to abuse the situation, and there is a suspicion of gamesmanship, the situation can and should be left to the responsibility of the referee? Players suffering from a minor health problem, might be advised to tell the referee privately before the match starts maybe. Anymore than that is completely unnecessary and could lead to embarrassing and humiliating situations.
This one gets my annual “Golden Turkey” award.
The tables, and the conditions have been a constant talking point again this season. At times during the World Championship – the biggest event of the season – they were shocking. It was a pings and kicks festival. So much so that it attracted harsh criticisms in post-match interviews from players who had just won, so it wasn’t “moaning”. John Higgins was quite radical about it: he would have table 1 put to the fire if he had it his way. Seriously, is there no way to fix those issues? I have been around the tour for long enough to know how hard the fitters work, and for very long hours deep into the nights as well. If they are to blame, then it can only be because they are under-staffed. If so, recruiting more of them is a good way to invest the sports money. If not, then other factors should be seriously taken into consideration, tables, rails and cloth being the obvious candidates for scrutiny.
The obsession with meaningless statistics: AST and centuries
At times, listening to commentary, you would think that snooker is all about making centuries, and that they are the ultimate measure of “high standard”. Whilst centuries are nice to watch – and good for the supported charities – they are only one aspect of the game and my feeling is that they are over-hyped recently. There was barely a frame played by Judd or Neil where their season century tally wasn’t put forward. This is NOT a dig at Judd or Neil, it’s being tired of the constant emphasis put on that aspect of the game. For the record, when Ken Doherty beat Stephen Hendry in the World final in 1997, his highest break was 85, Hendry had made 5 centuries but was beaten by 18-12 which was quite a damning score.
The other thing is AST, average shot time. I, personally, hate deliberate slow play, and I do think it IS an issue with some players and should be tackled. However, the tools for that exist: it’s in section IV of the rules. Nothing more is needed. BTW, a high AST isn’t necessarily a measure of deliberate slow play, and very long matches are not necessarily those where players have a high AST. Many factors come into considerations. There is no denial that every fan who has been following the sport closely knows that matches are likely to drag when they involve certain players, but it’s because of their style of play and shot selection much more often than because of their AST. And you can’t really put rules into place to “ban” certain choices of shot, can you?