Crucible Diary 2012: Day Fourteen – The Semis So Far

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Meanwhile, the action on the table has continued as we are down to the last four, click below for my summary of the story so far, as well as a few other musings on the tournament as a whole…

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Thursday’s session is always a strange one, with just eight frames being played in each match from a possible 33 and with that in mind I opted to stay at home for the day, rather than making the regular trip to Sheffield to take in the action first-hand.

Watching the action on television always offers a different perspective, indeed I grew up following the tournament on television and watch most of the other events that way. Since 2005 however, I have been lucky enough to have followed the Crucible action almost exclusively from the venue and it is almost odd to see it from the other side of the lens again!

We began yesterday with the opening session of the match between Ali Carter and Stephen Maguire, a match that is fascinating on many levels, particularly given the contrasting styles of the two players. Even within the first couple of frames, it became evident that Carter was generally content to sit back and wait for chances, not wanting to push the boat out and take on anything carrying undue risk. Maguire on the other hand was on the other extreme, playing aggressively and showing signs of impatience given the approach from his opponent.

Having 2002 world champion Peter Ebdon in his corner (as became immediately evident from him being shown on the television several times a frame), has no doubt helped Ali this week and his game plan has so far worked a treat as at the time of writing he has established a 10-6 lead at the end of their second session.

The scoreline could have been different, Maguire twice gaining snookers and a chance to win frames that has already looked lost, only to be unable to convert his chances and let Ali off the hook. There have however been signs of Maguire losing his patience and playing into the hands of the 2008 finalist and it is going to be a real test of Stephen’s temperament to turn the scoreline around when they recover this evening.

The other match meanwhile got off to a surprisingly scrappy, tactical start yesterday evening as Ronnie O’Sullivan emerged with a 5-3 lead against Matthew Stevens. At the interval I had feared the worst for Matthew as he fell 4-0 behind, but he did well afterwards to take three of the next four, indeed he could have taken the seventh frame but for a surprising miss on a red to left-centre early on.

At the time of writing the first four today have been shared now, Stevens making a great pink and black in particular to draw level at 5-5, before O’Sullivan hit back with breaks of 62 and 110 to lead 7-5 at the interval.

Away from the table, there has been a fair bit of debate on Twitter and the other blogs as to whether the format of the semi-finals, in particular the length of the matches, should be reduced. The argument for such a reduction is that they are too similar to the final, that the players are left too tired for the final and that the fact that they take place over three days is unduly excessive.

Regular readers will know that I am something of a traditionalist and generally speaking, loathe to see the reduction of frames in such a manner, but in this instance I think this is probably the one round at the World Championship where I would not be particularly averse to a change. Yesterday did feel like something of a ‘dead’ day and if they could fit in a rest day ahead of the final, this would probably be of benefit to the standard of the final.

That said, I do feel that the semi-finals should be of a longer duration than the quarter-finals, reflecting the significance and the fact that the players have made it to the one-table stage of the tournament. A best of 29 over three sessions has been mooted and perhaps this would be something that could be considered for the future. In truth though, I think that there are probably more pressing issues in snooker that need to be attended to.

Elsewhere this Friday, a couple of stories in the media, firstly this one confirming that Pankaj Advani will turn professional next season, receiving the national nomination from India, following Aditya Mehta’s victory against him in the final of the Asian Championship.

The second is this one in the Daily Mail, quoting Ronnie O’Sullivan as explaining that he will prioritise his schedule next season and look not to play until September, presumably at the Shanghai Masters. Could this be something that we see more of from snooker’s older generation as the schedule of events increases still further?

Back on the table, Ronnie O’Sullivan has completed a spectacular six-frame burst against Matthew Stevens to lead 11-5 overnight and leave himself an overwhelming favourite to move into Sunday’s final. With two centuries and a pot success rate of 94%, to Matthew’s 85%, it was an emphatic session of snooker after those first two frames.

Following a brief break and a chat with a few people outside of Crucible, I headed back inside and decided to go out into the arena and sample the atmosphere of the one-table set-up for the first time this year. Despite it being my eighth year attending the tournament, it never fails to amaze me what a different venue it is when down to just one table, suddenly there is so much more room for the cameramen, the players, the referee and the arena just comes into its own.

Speaking of the referee, Leo Scullion was soon given his introduction, indeed he had his own walk-on song which I thought was a nice tough, while Stephen Hendry was also given generous applause as he filmed a piece for the BBC.

Most importantly however, the players were to follow and it was Maguire who made the stronger start, claiming the opening frame, before having first opportunity in the second. It was this frame that proved crucial however, lasting around 35 minutes and eventually being won by Carter, though both had chances to take it.

A poor safety from Maguire in the next gave Ali first chance in the next and he took it with a brilliant total clearance of 134, before adding the next two either side of the interval to storm clear at 14-7.

With the prospect of the match finishing with a session to spare (indeed both semi-finals potentially finishing with a session to spare, for the first time since 1985), Maguire to his credit was able to dig deep, taking the next two frames to close to 14-9, while at the time of writing he is in the balls early in the final frame of the session. At 14-10, he would just about have a chance, as he knows only too well having himself lost that lead back in 2007 against John Higgins, but 15-9 would be a mountain to climb against a man playing as well as Carter…

A couple of those little moments that you perhaps might not have seen at home, early in the first frame after Stephen Maguire’s initial break, Ali Carter immediately told the referee that he could hear the commentary ‘as clear as day’, whether it was from the earpieces, or from the commentary box, which scorer Michaela Tabb checked to see whether the door had been left ajar.

While Stephen Maguire is known as the cuebanger of the two, Ali was also not afraid to show his emotions tonight, at one stage cuebanging his own foot (not that hard of course), while later giving himself a red mark on the forehead with his cue on his way back to his chair.

It was also noticeable tonight that Stephen was sniffing a fair bit, presumably suffering from a cold which while not excusing the scoreline, can’t have helped. You may also have heard at home that Peter Ebdon was very much in the arena with his distinctive clap, while he watched the last couple of frames in the press room while giving an interview for Radio 5.

Those observations aside, Stephen Maguire has taken the last frame of the session on the pink to close to 14-10, keeping himself very much in the match which did not look likely at 14-7. Match on!