World Championship Qualifiers 2010: Day of Drama at the EISS

After a relatively quiet Monday, the final day of qualifiers at the EISS was compelling as it contained a major upset, table troubles and a classic twitchfest. Click below for more…


Arriving at the venue in time for the start (for a change), I began by watching Stephen Lee’s match against Mike Dunn and he looked strong from the off as he stroked in an opening long-red to finish on the black. Although he did miss a red to the right-centre, he soon found himself back amongst the balls and polished off the frame with a break of 64.

From here however the going became very slow up until the mid-session interval, particularly the second frame which was eventually won by Mike. Though Stephen looked the more likely to score when he got in, frames three and four were to be shared also as they went in level at 2-2.

Elsewhere Jamie Cope had started well, as had Anda Zhang who had taken a surprise 2-0 lead against Ricky Walden. More to come on that match later…

On paper at least, the match between Stuart Bingham and Stuart Pettman looked for all the world like it would be a close one and at 1-1 there was no evidence to the contrary. Frame two was extremely tight as the pair scrapped over the colours but crucially it was Pettman who knocked in green, brown and blue to leave himself a tricky pink. Though he appeared to almost go in-off when potting it (I couldn’t quite see as the divider was in the way), it went in and he added the black to re-take the lead at 2-1.

From here he began to thrive, punishing some poor safety play from Bingham to make it 4-1. The next frame however was all Pettman’s own work as he potted an excellent long-red, held for the black and soon split the reds to set up a frame-winning 87 break. But for a very unfortunate split on two of the final three reds he could have easily had his first century of the match.

At around this point I noticed that Graeme Dott and Jimmy Michie had been on their interval for an unusual amount of time and I strolled over to the far end to see what was going on. It soon became apparent that there were issues getting the table level as former pro Gary Wilkinson demonstrates in the following video that I recorded:


They must have worked on the table for almost an hour but no matter how hard they tried they could not get it right, indeed they appeared to be making things worse at one point. That this was allowed to happen is really quite ludicrous and given Dott’s post-match quotes describing it as being as bad as it could have been, I am a little surprised that they played four frames before making an issue of it. Having not been used since the previous Friday, prior to the re-clothing of the table on the Saturday, you could see to an extent why it had not been noticed before but surely they must have checked the table after they had done that!

As Jimmy Michie himself came up to watch the table-fitters in action, I stood with Snooker Scene’s Dave Hendon and watched. As I said to him at the time, it was somehow amusing that we were being more entertained by an empty table than the other five that had matches ongoing. Eventually word reached us that the plan was to move Graeme and Jimmy onto table three, on which Pettman was advancing into a 7-2 lead at the end of the session.

The match between Stephen Lee and Mike Dunn was still dragging on at 2-2, a quick resolution to frame five not looking likely as the black covered one of the corner pockets and made the safety shots relatively straightforward. The turning point however came when having seen Mike escape from a snooker to leave the brown close to the right-centre pocket, but extremely close to the cushion, Stephen potted it brilliantly and cleared to lead 3-2. From here he never looked back, rounding off the session with breaks of 83 and 67 to secure7 a 7-2 interval advantage and surely putting the match beyond doubt.

I had not seen much of the match between Ricky Walden and Chinese youngster Anda Zhang but having taken two in a row to level the contest at 4-4, Ricky was now in with a chance to take an unlikely lead into the evening session. As he missed a long red this looked to be unlikely but cruelly for Anda he managed to fluke it into another pocket and set up what would eventually become a frame-winning break of 74. Having taken the last three frames I must admit that I saw Ricky as a warm favourite to go on and take the match at this stage. Oh how wrong I was…

Another man to take an important final frame was Stoke’s Jamie Cope, though having missed when 62-32 up with one red remaining, he give Joyce an opportunity of a double – which he made – to set up a frame-winning break. He could not make it however and soon found himself in a horrible snooker, which he failed to escape from and left pottable to the left-centre for a relieved Cope. At 4-5 that match could have been interesting heading into the evening session but at 6-3 it was always going to be tough for Joyce to get back into it.

Back underway on the next table was the match between Graeme Dott and Jimmy Michie, though all things considered the match was not too far behind the other matches still in play. Having resumed 3-1 down it soon became obvious that Graeme was enjoying this table far more than the last and he actually went on to take all five frames on it that session! The most amusing moment came in frame eight when Graeme floated in a brilliant long-red and Michie could only stand and shrug his shoulders. His body language spoke volumes.

Between sessions I spoke to Janie Watkins from Global Snooker who informed me that the match would continue no earlier than 6pm on the first available table. As Janie said, this was the only real option as even if they had managed to get the original table playable again, the players would have been affected psychologically and no doubt used it as an excuse for their misses.


Having gone out for refreshments I returned early to claim a perfect seat to see the conclusion of the Pettman/Bingham match. Though I was very keen for Pettman to win, knowing how good Bingham usually is in the qualifiers I half-expected him to stage a fight-back. Having left a red pottable from the break-off however he could only sit and watch as Pettman drilled it in before playing a snooker behind the brown. Bingham was able to escape but another red followed by another snooker from Pettman forced an error and set up the first good chance of the frame for the man from Preston.

On 32 came the key shot of the break and having gone into the reds it looked for a moment that he might be on something. Unfortunately for him however he was stuck to the pink, prompting an amusing exchange in which he asked referee Brendan Moore to get the extended rest out, before having it put back and then getting it back out again. After all this it was unsurprising to see him miss the shot, but Bingham was not on his game for whatever reason and Pettman soon went 71-0 up with just 51 remaining. Bingham actually played on for snookers and managed to force two fouls but a double kiss on a subsequent safety shot eventually undid that good work and the score moved to 8-2.


The next two frames were far more scrappy affairs as Pettman began to miss a few with the winning line in sight, but Bingham did not look like capitalising at any point and soon went 30 points ahead with just 27 on the table at 9-2 up to leave himself within touching distance. Bingham attempted to get the snookers he needed but it was he who was to be snookered and upon his first miss, turned round to shake Pettman’s hand as the world number 37 qualified for the Crucible for the first time since 2004.

Following the match I headed on down to offer my congratulations before he left and he was understandably happy with how he had played and pleased to be through. At the same time I also saw Stephen Lee relaxing as he had already completed a 10-2 rout of Mike Dunn, while Graeme Dott and Jimmy Michie both entered the building to get ready for the delayed started to their second session.

At this point it was clear that the match to watch was that between Ricky Walden and Anda Zhang as surprisingly to me at least, Zhang had brought himself level at 5-5 and then 6-6 before going 7-6 up following frame thirteen.

Then came what looked like it might be a pivotal moment as having been placed in a horrible snooker behind the brown following an excellent shot from Zhang, Ricky unbelievably managed to fluke one and win the frame in one visit with a 62 break. The gasps from the crowd which included a shocked Ken Doherty as the red dropped in said all that needed to be said!

Not knowing too much of young Zhang I again expected him to wilt a little at this stage, understandably so having now lost two big frames to flukes from Ricky. What happened in the next frame however convinced me that he was not going to give this match away as although he needed a couple of chances to do so, he re-took the lead once again and demonstrated no signs of frustration given the events of the last frame.

Despite an in-off when on an initial break of 44, Ricky managed to bring himself level at 8-8 and at the time I remember another spectator at the back saying to me that Ricky would surely go on to finish him off now. As I replied to him though, every time I had said that already during the match, Zhang had come back brilliantly so it was impossible to predict.

And how right that judgement was as what followed was quite simply an absolutely stunning couple of frames from the man nicknamed the Mighty Mouse. With the match reduced to in effect the best of three frames, Anda came to the table and produced a simply flawless total clearance of 134 to go back into the lead 9-8, a brilliant effort given the circumstances.

Given how the match had gone it looked like it was destined to come down to a decider and with Ricky in on 32 this seemed to be even more likely. Having run out of position, Ricky was soon back to the table and faced with a relatively straightforward red to the right-centre following a missed effort from distance from Zhang. Surprisingly however, Ricky was to miss and hand his opponent a chance to win the match. What followed was a hugely impressive break as while the balls were not especially awkward (barring one or two reds), given the occasion and the prize on offer, he remained incredibly composed, in control and like he had experience way beyond his years. He duly cleared the table with a stunning break of 103 to ensure that he would become the only player to qualify for the Crucible having started his campaign in the very first round.

As those of you who were following my updates on Twitter will have gathered, I was blown away by that performance. I have seen a fair few players over the last six years and to be honest I have not seen anything so impressive from a relative newcomer since I was there at the Crucible for Mark Allen’s debut against Ken Doherty in 2007. One to watch.

For Ricky Walden though this is a devastating loss. Not only has he failed to make it back to the Crucible but this combined with his first round defeats in the Welsh and China Open tournaments ensures that he will not now break into the top 16 for the first time in his career, something that I would not have predicted after the UK Championship when he looked well set.

The final match that I focused on was that between Rory McLeod and Gerard Greene, a contest that would prove to be as absorbing as it was slow.

Having seen Gerard recover from 6-3 down to trail by just one frame at 7-6, Rory found himself with an excellent chance to restore a two-frame lead with the brown available into the right-centre pocket. Though it was a thin cut, it was not overly thin, probably quarter-ball, but unbelievably Rory managed to miss the ball altogether! It is amazing what pressure can do and as a grateful Greene cleared to pink to level 7-7, it was clear that we were going to be in for a long night.

The next two frames were shared, Gerard edging into the lead before Rory found some form from nowhere to level once more with a break of 102. This was the be the last quick frame of the match though as frame 17 got off to a very cagey start, the first opportunity falling to Gerard before a missed red to right-centre on just 15 allowed Rory in to counter. Though he could not win it in one-visit, a useful break of 54 proved to be enough and Rory found himself just one frame away from the Crucible.

If the players had been twitchy before this point however then we had seen nothing yet as the amount of tension in the arena soared during the next frame.

The first chance fell to Gerard but he could not take advantage and when he caught the left-centre pocket with a safety shot, it looked like Rory might be able to put a big break on the board. Unfortunately for him however he could make just nine before running out of position and missing a blue off the yellow spot. Both players then exchanged several misses, the action being summed up best by Gerard’s father who following another McLeod miss shouted “Go on Gerard FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!”. I was nervous and I didn’t have a strong preference either way so I could completely understand why he was pacing around almost in bits.

The action became so slow as the would pot one and then miss, Gerard in particularly becoming more and more frustrated with the situation. Crucially however there was to be a lengthy period of safety towards the end of the frame which at the time I felt benefited Gerard as he seemed to settle down and regain his focus. Eventually he managed to scramble together breaks of 12 and 14 at this point which doesn’t sound all that impressive, but given the situation it was a good effort and took us into a decider.

Having played an aggressive break-off shot, Rory was then able to pot a smashing opening red to give himself the first chance in the frame. Unsurprisingly however he was to miss a green on just eight, before Gerard got to the table and made 10 before running out of position. His attempted safety on the yellow showed just how nervous he must have been as he attempted to roll up behind it off a cushion but left himself woefully short and was forced to play the escape himself by a relieved Rory.

After much deliberation Gerard simply decided to hit it hard and hope for the best, leaving Rory a golden chance to get some points on the board. As Janie Watkins said however, it was missable and so it proved as he could not take advantage. Gerard’s response was just one though, a missed green with the rest this time handing Rory another chance.

This tit for tat scoring continued until Gerard worked his way in and left himself within touching distance of a place at the Crucible. Rory did fire in a terrific last red but having not landed nicely on a colour, was forced to lay a snooker behind the black which meant that he now needed a snooker to win the match. Crucially however Gerard JUST managed to hit the yellow, something that I must admit I missed as it looked to me like he had missed it! Eventually a concession came from Rory and a compelling match that had last for over eight hours was over.

As I had said to Dave Hendon earlier in the day, in a perverse kind of way I do find matches like the McLeod/Greene affair strangely enjoyable, just to see who would be able to have the mental strength to get over the line if anything. It was fairly evident that while Gerard was missing balls, he looked that little bit more solid than Rory and more likely to emerge as the winner.

Overall it was an excellent end to a hugely enjoyable week in Sheffield. Keep an eye out for a more general ‘reflections’ post during the upcoming days…