Crucible Diary 2011: Day Five Blog

Following today we have now seen each of this year’s lucky 32 players in action at the Crucible and day five proved to be the best yet as Martin Gould, Graeme Dott, Rory McLeod and dramatically Mark Allen all sealed their places in the last 16. Click below to read my take on the day’s events…

Arriving fashionably late as I have done seemingly all week, I headed up to the betting stand to check the scores to see whether or not Rory McLeod and Ricky Walden had yet completed a frame. In my head I had decided to have a little race to see if I could drive 65 miles before they had started frame ten but they just about edged me out, curse them.

On a more serious note however I did see that Martin Gould had made a strong start to the morning, taking the first two frames and by the time I was able to get into the arena had drawn level at 6-6. The fourth was soon to follow in just 13 minutes and it soon became apparent that apparently Marco’s overnight preparations had been hindered by a rogue fire alarm going off at his hotel. Whether that contributed to his performance I do not know but as he lost another frame to trail 8-6 it looked very much like the writing was on the wall.

To his credit however, the Masters finalist was to hit back with a fabulous century in the next frame before setting up a best of three by taking frame 16 to level once again. It was hard to call a winner here but what impressed me about Martin was that while he was missing a couple of balls, he did not stop going for his shots and was to be rewarded, taking the next two to complete an excellent comeback and oust Fu for the second year in a row here.

Next up for Martin is Judd Trump tomorrow in what should be a cracking match between two of the most exciting players in the game to watch at the moment. As Martin himself said in his press conference, there isn’t going to be a great deal of safety for that one so it should be a treat. Particularly as I’m sat on Row C for the first session!

Love the Robertson photo taped over where the trophy used to be. next year?

Over on the other table meanwhile, having progressed the scoreline to 5-5 I was surprised to see that Rory McLeod had then taken four on the bounce to lead 9-5 and be just one frame away from his first appearance in the last 16 of a ranking event. As the clock ticked by, Ricky was able to pull a frame back before the fatal decision was taken to allow them to play one more ahead of the afternoon session. Typically, that was to last for over 45 minutes and as I tweeted updates while watching at the betting stand, there were some very anxious members of the Crucible staff who had the job of getting 300 people out of the arena and another 900 in for the delayed next session!

Eventually however Rory was able to get over the line, sealing surely the biggest win of his career and sending the seeded Walden out of the tournament and out of the top 16. As those of you discussing the match with me on Twitter will be aware, there was something of a debate as to whether Rory’s play, in particular his pace is good for the game or not.

On the one hand my view is that he is not the most exciting to watch and if I as a reasonably dedicated snooker fan think that, what are the more casual fans who Barry Hearn is trying to attract to the sport going to think? Watching matches like his today or his against Mark King a couple of years ago is not going to bring the crowds in as was proved by several rows of empty seats in there today.

Enter the Jester

On the other however, Rory and other players before him who have adopted a more considered approach such as Peter Ebdon back in 2005 are playing for themselves, to provide an income and ultimately to win. If you ask them if they would prefer to play for ten hours and win or for five and lose then I can assure you that it will not be the latter! If their style of play is what is best for them then who are we to argue with that fact?

Naturally I am going to sit on the fence as I can definitely see both points of view, though judging from the quotes from Rory’s press conference here, he would argue that it was Ricky who was trying to control the pace of the game. You can watch Ricky’s press conference here.

When we eventually got started for the afternoon session I went in to watch John Higgins take on Stephen Lee in what was an interesting, if not enthralling session of snooker. Frame one saw John miss as many chances to win it as he would in a best of nine match normally but from there he began to move through the gears as Stephen struggled to string pots together and eventually finished up with a 6-3 overnight lead having made three century breaks on the way. What was most scary was the fact that I never really felt that Higgins was playing that well, yet he still did that, perhaps demonstrating the high standard that is expected from him.

The other notable point to come from that match other than Stephen Lee’s ‘go faster’ haircut as MC Rob Walker described it…

My view from Row F for the afternoon session

The match on the other side of the curtain saw Graeme Dott complete a 10-7 win against Mark King, though Mark did at least set a new benchmark for the high break prize with a run of 138. A good win for Graeme, though having been on the other side of the curtain for both sessions I cannot really gauge how well he played.

The final session of the day however was to prove the real highlight as Matthew Stevens resumed with a 5-4 overnight lead against Mark Allen. The first session has surprised me slightly as amidst the news of Mark’s battle with depression recently, I had not expected him to be up for it but with a couple of 90+ breaks early on, he had looked quite good and enjoyed some good banter with Matthew.

Today however both players struggled from the off but while Matt looked focused on the match, Mark in my opinion just looked lost, disinterested and just completely flat. As he fell 9-6 behind I could see no way back for him and as he would later admit in his press conference, he had to talk himself out of smashing the pack of reds at his next break-off, he just looked gone.

Jimmy Robertson and Mark Selby settle in

As Matt squandered a chance in frame 16 however, Mark stepped in well with an excellent break of 103, clearly just deciding to have a swing at it and see what would happen before a pivotal 17th frame went a long way to turning the match on its head. Both players had several chances and Matt with the lead in points as it came down to the pink and black appeared to be trying to keep things safe and not take on a few possible pots on the pink to get over the line. Unfortunately for him however one such attempted safety eventually gave Mark a look at a pot and he duly knocked it in followed by the black for 9-8.

From here while both players continued to miss chances, Mark was now looking up for the match again and you could sense the feeling that he was believing that he could win as he set about forcing a decider.

As the curtain rose following the conclusion of play on the other table (Mark Selby establishing an 8-1 lead over Jimmy Robertson incidentally), Mark’s ex-girlfriend Reanne Evans made her way down to the front row with daughter Lauren, an interesting move which I did not quite know whether it would distract or inspire Mark who was obviously aware that she was there. In truth I don’t think that it made a great difference as unsurprisingly in a Crucible decider, both missed several easy balls.

Mark enters the arena

Eventually however it was to be Mark who was to get over the line and as the winnings balls went in it was abundantly clear just what the win meant to him and he went over to Lauren between shots before leaving the arena with her at the end of the break. As was evident from his press conference following the match (see the excellent Snooker Backer for this), Mark has been through a tough time personally recently and perhaps it could be something like this that sets him back on the right track. Who knows longer term, but it was great to see him smiling again as for me he is probably my favourite player in the game to watch these days from a style point of view and the game would benefit from a strong Mark Allen.

What Mark probably won’t realise is that the result moves him up to 14th in the provisional rankings and in all likelihood safe from having to qualify for events for the foreseeable future.

Having said all that however, I am gutted for Matthew Stevens who I have had the pleasure of meeting a couple of times this season and have a lot of time for. On the positive side he still looks likely to remain inside the top 16 provisionally at the end of the tournament which once the dust settles will be something at least. Hopefully he will be able to get over this loss for next season.

Table fitters wasting no time!

On another note following the match I headed over to the Graduate for the nightly debrief and was also lucky enough to meet fellow blogger and lover of scones.

Time for sleep now but in the morning before I head out for Sheffield once more I plan on putting up a few more photos as well as some more general observations of the tournament so far now that the first round is all but complete…