Crucible Diary 2010: Day Fifteen Blog

Well after a five day absence I was back at the Crucible Theatre today for the conclusion of the tournament’s semi-finals and what a day it was for all sorts of reasons, unfortunately not all of which were good…

It is strange but for some reason there is always a different atmosphere around the place when it comes to the second week and in particular the semi-final matches. During the first week there is almost a carnival feel around the venue but now with fewer players around and the initial buzz of the tournament long gone, it has been replaced by a little more tension perhaps. Still though, it was great to be back and I headed up for the morning session which saw the resumption of the match between Graeme Dott and Mark Selby, Dott leading 10-6 overnight.

Having played some terrific snooker so far however, Graeme struggled to settle early on and appeared to be having trouble keeping his hands warm, constantly rubbing them together as Selby took the first frame to reduce his arrears to 10-7. Dott looked like he would strike back immediately in the second frame of the day as a very nicely taken break moved on to 60, but a missed red to the left-centre gave Mark a chance to get back into it. Remarkably what followed was to be a hugely impressively clearance of 66 from the Jester from Leicester to steal the frame by a point and visibly pumped up he left the arena for a moment with a spring in his step and we had a match on again.

The first chance during the next frame was also to fall his way but a failed attempt at a pot let Graeme back in to get his first frame of the day on the board and hopefully settle him down a little. Mark though was able to add the next to head into the interval trailing by just two frames and soon added the next to trail by just the one.

Having taken four of the first five frames, Selby had ensured that he would come out of this session no worse than level but with a four frame deficit at the start of the day he must have known that he would need to do better than this. Crucially however it was not to be as Graeme, as he had done during the previous session responded to Mark’s pressure in fine style with breaks of 56, 51 and 41 to take the final three frames and keep his four frame lead intact.

It was noticeable that the many jokes and quips (“it’s touching both balls”), that had come from the direction of Mark Selby began to stop towards the end of the session as he could see his hard work being undone and he was dealt a cruel blow during the final frame when on a fantastic attempt at a clearance, a mobile phone went off just as he was about to strike the final pink. He may well have missed the shot in any case but it was a distraction that he did not need and Graeme nailed it and celebrated almost like he had won the match – it was a big moment.

Could Mark still win? With his temperament you could not rule it out but whilst I felt that he was playing well enough to catch up, I did not feel that Graeme was playing badly enough to let it slip…

The afternoon session meanwhile saw Neil Robertson resume needing just two frames to book his place in his first world final at the expense of Ali Carter. Having come back from six frames behind against Martin Gould to win earlier in the tournament it would have been some feat for Neil to have lost out from that position today but the way he started today I was beginning to wonder for a while. The long balls that are his trademark were just not going in and despite a couple of scares, Ali took the first two of the session to keep his hopes alive. With the crowd behind him it seemed that we might make it to an interval after all but crucially Neil was able to take the next frame to leave himself just one away from victory.

Although Carter was able to add the next, Neil was looking a little better thanks to getting a frame on the board and soon completed victory after the interval to book his place in his first final, becoming the first Australian to do so since Eddie Charlton. Having been in the arena for Neil’s Crucible debut back in 2005 against Stephen Hendry I am pleased for him because he is a nice bloke and a cracking player who deserves the success that comes his way.

The evening session which would decide Neil’s opponent began in an amusing fashion with Steve Davis barging in during MC Rob Walker’s introductions and hilariously presenting him with a trophy for the biggest cock-up of the tournament, in relation to him introducing Steve as Dennis Taylor during his quarter-final with Robertson! It was a great moment and I will upload my recording of the presentation to YouTube following the conclusion of the tournament.

Back to the serious stuff though and needing to do it all over again, Mark Selby looked like falling five frames behind in frame 25 as Graeme moved 37 points ahead. What followed however was a real moment of genius from Selby as fully hampered by the green, the cueball directly under it on its spot, Mark drilled in a long red from distance at the pace required to get position on the black! While the red was close to the pocket, given the cueing involved it was a tremendous shot and truthfully I cannot think of many better that I have ever seen live and he eventually was to take the frame largely as a result.

Graeme again had the first chance in the following frame but could not take it and a fluent 79 from Selby cut his arrears once again before a run of 83 saw him back to just one frame away at 14-13. Looking slightly anxious, could Dott respond to the pressure as he had done at every point before during the match and head into the mid-session interval with a lead?

The answer was an emphatic yes as what followed during the fourth frame of the evening was the best 47 break that you will ever see, indeed I have seen many century breaks at the Crucible Theatre but I am not sure that any were better than Graeme’s 47 which was compiled with terrific pot after terrific pot, there were literally only a couple of straightforward shots in it! Eventually he was forced to play safe but immediately got back in on his next shot with a stunning long red and deservedly went on to clinch the frame and move 15-13 ahead. It was a brilliant break and came at a crucial time for him.

On their resumption the tension was increasing all the time, particularly as Selby got back to within one frame again at 15-14 but Graeme was far from wilting and held his nerve to move on and eventually take the next two frames to book his place in a third world final. There was very little to choose between the two players today but although Graeme wobbled at times, he crucially was able to make the majority of the important pressure balls and overall looked the more likely to score when in amongst the balls.

It was a terrific match though and one that despite the lack of big breaks and the fact that almost all of the frames lasted for around 25-30 minutes, was engrossing and saw some brilliant tactical battles – it was not the poor quality match that it may appear to be on paper. Can Robertson cope with the safety prowess of Dott? There is a question mark there for me, although he should be the fresher of the two players having finished his match earlier this afternoon.

Little did I know meanwhile that following a dramatic day of snooker that ended at around 11:00pm, the real drama was still to come as following the conclusion of the match and the work being started on the table by the fitters who were presumably re-clothing it ahead of tomorrow, I checked my phone to find a text message about allegations concerning John Higgins…