World Championship 2012: Round One Reflections

Round one of the 2012 World Championship qualifiers is now at an end and as ever it has been a tense start to the tournament with tour places and Crucible dreams up for grabs. Click below for my round-up of the first-round…

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While for quality, the snooker on display at the Crucible Theatre and other leading venues might take some beating, in terms of pure tension and drama then nothing comes close to that offered by the World Championship qualifiers.

Never was that more evident than tonight, in what David Hendon described as the quintessential World Championship qualifier between Justin Astley and Sam Craigie. Resuming at 5-3 to Craigie, the scores would soon level and there was little to separate the pair as the nerves became evident.

The most obvious example was as Sam, having been awarded a free ball with just blue, pink and black remaining, nominated the black and attempted to play a snooker behind it, only for referee Brendan Moore to call a foul, prompting an imaginary gunshot gesture from Sam as he realised his error.

He was to receive a stroke of luck shortly after as a fluke led to what was to be his most impressive break of the match, before Astley hit back with a strong break for 8-8.

That was to be where the tension would reach new levels however as frame 17 would progress for an incredible 82 minutes, much of it as Astley chased snookers and despite accidentally fluking at least three balls along the way, he eventually gained the penalty points required to be able to win with just pink and black remaining. Cruelly however, he wobbled the pink in the jaws of two pockets, while the cue ball managed to find its way in-off and the frame was lost.

Having been taken off to allow for the evening session, the two resumed later in the evening and the action was to remain tense, Astley levelling following a 41 minute 18th frame before the two served up another hour-long affair which had all the makings of a black-ball decider from the off.

Having made a good pot on the penultimate red, the chance fell to Astley to win, however a tentative shot on the last red down the right-hand side-cushion left only a very difficult black if he were to keep the break going. He missed it and with the cue ball perfectly up for the yellow, the match was Craigie’s to lose.

Unfortunately for Sam, this was exactly what would happen as he potted the yellow with the rest, only to knock the brown into the path of the green, blocking the pocket. Though he would eventually get another chance, brown to blue was to go astray and a few shots later it was Astley who would take blue and pink to complete a memorable victory for him.

Elsewhere, the other major story from the first round was for me the 10-2 success of Luca Brecel against the experienced Ian McCulloch, avenging his loss to Ian at the same stage of the UK Championship earlier this season.

As Ian took a 67 minute opener yesterday, the game plan of the former Crucible semi-finalist appeared to be obvious, but Brecel was having none of it and responded well, taking the next six frames of the opening session, the last on a re-spot on which McCulloch missed the black altogether when attempting to cut it into the right-centre. While he managed to take the next frame with a good one-visit break, a clearance from Brecel to take a 7-2 lead at the start of the session all but ended any prospect of a comeback.

For one still so young, it was an impressive match to come through for Brecel and with a tie against the struggling Barry Pinches in the next round, it will be interesting to see just how far he can go this week.

Unfortunately for McCulloch however, the result confirms his relegation from the tour and it was a similar story for another former World Championship semi-finalist as Joe Swail lost 10-5 to Daniel Wells yesterday. While from what I saw Daniel gave Joe chances, the Northern Ireland man was simply not in the form to capitalise and aside from a stunning shot on the black to take the first frame of the evening session and close to 7-3, it was not to be his day.

So far many of the results have gone according to form, though an exception has to be the 10-2 win of Cao Yupeng against Norway’s Kurt Maflin, the win in itself no shock but certainly the scoreline for me. David Gilbert looked as though he might fall victim to a shock at one stage as he trailed Stuart Carrington 6-2, but from there he was to drop just one more frame on his way to a 10-7 victory.

The perennially underrated Aditya Mehta held his nerve well to defeat last year’s success story in Andrew Pagett 10-8, while the fast-improving Adam Wicheard recorded a fine 10-5 win against China’s Tian Pengfei.

David Grace survived what was by all accounts a shocking miss to lead 9-6 against Sam Baird, to eventually win 10-8, while Liam Highfield also recorded a solid 10-5 win against Matt Couch yesterday to keep his hopes of remaining on the tour for next season very much alive.

All in all, a typically interesting start and it will be interesting to see how the 16 winners from this round will get on in the second round…