Tour News – Slow play? Is AST a meaningful measure?

This was published by Worlrdsnooker a few days ago:

The number of snooker players on the sport’s global tour with an average shot time of more than 30 seconds has fallen from 12 to four over the past two seasons.

Data was made available on snooker’s live scoring website during the 2017/18 season, showing the average shot time of all 128 players on the World Snooker Tour.

The number of players averaging over 30 seconds dropped from 12 to six during the 2018/19 season. And in the 2019-20 season so far it has dropped to just four players: Lee Walker, Rod Lawler, Martin O’Donnell and Peter Ebdon.

The 14 slowest players from the 2017/18 season all significantly improved their shot times in 2018/19. For example, Joe O’Connor quickened from 33.23 seconds to 27.27, while Mitchell Mann went from 31.38 to 25.66.

World Snooker Chairman Barry Hearn said: “Two years ago we decided to make this average shot time data publicly available, in order to make this information transparent for the players, officials and fans.

“It has had the desired effect because players don’t want to be near the bottom of the list, and many of them recognise that playing more fluently actually improves their performance.

“Our governing body the WPBSA recently published an updated version of the rules of snooker, and for the first time there is a separate rule on Time Wasting. This helps make it clear to players that taking an abnormal amount of time over a shot will lead firstly to a warning and then to loss of the frame.

“These measures are helping to eliminate slow play from our sport. The vast majority of players prefer to keep the game moving, as we are in the entertainment business. We are pleased to see the clear message getting through to the small minority who need reminding of these principals.

“We will continue to review the average shot times, and we are also reviewing the number of times that players leave the arena in between frames.

“While of course we recognise that toilet breaks are necessary, again players must appreciate the importance of keeping matches moving, especially live televised games. The frequency of these interludes must be kept to a minimum and we will be monitoring this closely in the current season.”

Average shot time, 2019-20 season so far:

Fastest five

Thepchaiya Un-Nooh 16.66 seconds
Zhao Xintong 18.42
Jack Lisowski 18.55
Robert Milkins 18.80
Mark Williams 18.90

Slowest five

Tian Pengfei 29.95
Peter Ebdon 30.04
Martin O’Donnell 30.53
Rod Lawler 31.98
Lee Walker 33.78

Whilst I’m all for a stricter application of section IV of the rules – the one dealing with time wasting – I’m not convinced that focusing on AST is the answer to eradicate unecessary slow play. Players have different natural paces, and whilst most of them play better when they play fluently, without overthinking, there will always be “slower players” and “faster players”.

What I would like to see, is a stat about the players average frame time over a season. Of course the frame duration depends on how the game unfolds, of the context of the match, and on the opponent as well of course. But everyone following the snooker regularly knows beforehand whether a match is likely to be lengthy or not depending on who is involved in it. There are players with an “average” AST who always seem to get involved in over-running matches, whilst others, who are on the slow side, actually rarely do. Why? Because “negative play” is more likely to produce a  drawn-out affair than “positive play” even combined with a slow “action”. There is no way to “rule” against negative play quite simply because, although most snooker fans would recognize it when they see it, it’s impossible to “define”. A match can be very tactical, without any negativity. The same shot can be an astute tactical move, or can be plain negative, depending on the sitution on the table and the context of the match. In short, ultimately, the “style” of a player, and their mindset, are more significant than their action “speed” when it comes to frames/matches duration.

As for BH obsession with toilet breaks… I really don’t see the problem, certainly on television. Even if a player leaves the arena, they are usually back before the table is reset and the adverts break is over. BBC of course has no adverts, but they usually have pundits commentating between frames. Repeated toilet breaks of course may disrupt the opponent rhythm and, if the referee thinks there is an issue, they surely have the right to have a word with the players, first of all making sure they are allright. Surely repeated breaks are better than an embarrassing incident?

2 thoughts on “Tour News – Slow play? Is AST a meaningful measure?

  1. For me the most revealing thing about that list is the fastest players: Thepchaiya, Zhao, Lisowski, Milkins. All massive underachievers with a reputation for carelessness.

    Of course, AST isn’t a reliable indicator. But generally it is not determined by a players’ slow pace per se. The players with a long AST are the ones who don’t get breaks as often, and find themselves playing messy tactical frames. So there is a correlation.

    • You are right about the correlation, there is one. However, such messy frames often happen because players refuse shots, and prefer to push balls onto cushion rather than to take a risk, even minimal. So the correlation with negative play is also there and I think it’s even stronger, because it’s those negative choices that quite often create the messy tables in the first place. This negativity can be a tactical choice from a player who is particularly apt at “de-tangling” messy situations – we know some – but it can also be the result of genuine anxiety and pressure – we have seen that as well – so it’s not an easy situation to deal with.

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