There is a new King of the Crucible. For this year at least.
In one of the most amazing turnarounds I can remember in years of watching World Snooker’s showpiece event, the Jester from Leicester turned an overnight 10-7 deficit into a comprehensive 18-14 win. That’s right, he took 11 of the 15 frames available to him on Sunday. And he did so against Ronnie O’Sullivan, the greatest player in the history of the sport. That, however, you want to slice it is some achievement. Ok, as a huge fan of Ronnie’s, I didn’t find the afternoon session particularly enjoyable. But, in the evening, you could only admire the way Selby ground the Rocket into dust. His performance in the 3 frames that followed Ronnie reducing the deficit to 15-14 was perhaps the greatest demonstration of coolness under pressure ever seen at The Crucible- he just never looked like missing.
Ronnie may have sensed it wasn’t going to be his day as early as the first frame of the afternoon session. A fluent break of 32 came to an end when a cannon into the pack didn’t work out for him. Ronnie and open reds? Frame over and a 4 frame gap opened. But the reds did not open and Selby was able to, eventually, reduce his arrears to two frames. In the very next frame saw a prolonged safety battle. With the yellow and green guarding both of their pockets and nine reds up in the baulk end, it came to a catastrophic end for the defending champion when he got too much side on a safety shot and rolled the cue ball into the corner pocket. With so many reds in the baulk end, this time it was frame over.
The mid session interval came with all manner of unwanted stats for Ronnie. All four frames of the mini session lost, completing a run of six consecutive frames gone to his opponent- the first time that’s happened to Ronnie at the Crucible, I think. The most important stat was that, for the first time in the match, the man who had led 3-0, 8-3 and then 10-5, was behind.
The first frame after the interval, which seems a long time ago now, was another dragged out affair. And saw both players miss the yellow ball repeatedly. After you Ronnie, no after you Mark. Eventually somebody, can’t remember who now but I think it was Selby, potted it. And a similar scenario played itself out on the green. Ronnie, eventually, potted it and went onto level the match. In what turned out to be the final frame of the afternoon, Mark Selby enjoyed a fantastic run of the ball, missing pots and escaping snookers whilst leaving Ronnie awkward on at least six occasions (I counted). Despite that, Ronnie eventually drained a fantastic colour (the brown, I think), potted the blue and left himself a formality of a pink into the middle to edge back in front.
And then the greatest player in the history of the sport missed it. Why did you hit it so hard, Ronnie? Why? Having been thrown the most unexpected of lifelines, Selby grasped it. The pink and black put Selby in front ahead of the evening session. Selby’s clenched fist showed you how aware he was of the importance of this.
No player had ever won the world title going into the evening session with a deficit. Had Selby been in arrears last night, I suspect that statistic would have been consigned to history. This was a man on a mission.
The evening session began with fresh hope for the Rocket and his fans. Rinsing a long pot left from distance after Selby’s break off, Ronnie knocked in a wonderful century in seven minutes to level the match. But the grinder man of the snooker circuit battled his way through the next three frames to take a 15-12 lead to the final mid session interval of the tournament. I believe that Ronnie is capable of almost anything on a snooker table, but expecting Ronnie to win a session 6-2 against a player like Mark Selby, and a Mark Selby with his pecker up… well, it wasn’t going to happen. So all that was left to do was sit back and enjoy the show.
A wise man, I think it may have been John Cleese, once said “It’s not the despair, I can live with that… it’s the hope.” And Ronnie had hope in abundance as a quickfire break of 49 and then an absolutely spectacular yellow along the cushion in frame 29 helped him to close to one again. That yellow, in fact, was good that had the final finished differently, we may have been talking about it as the shot of the final.
But with magnificent breaks of 127 and 87, Selby slammed shut the door that Ronnie had inched open. The end was rapidly approaching and, when it came I guess it may just have summed up the day’s play. A cracking pot sent Ronnie racing away to a 56 point advantage and it seemed another frame was a racing certainty. And then he lost position. A great safety shot followed, but minutes later Ronnie had, once again, gone in off and could only watch as Selby nailed a long red. An all around the house shot to cannon the reds open saw him with the world title at his mercy.
Ten minutes later, Mark Selby drained the black to pinch the frame, 56-62. Ladies and gentleman, after 32 frames of snooker, we have a new Snooker Champion of the World, Mark “The Jester from Leicester” Selby!
I don’t think Ronnie was laughing. But afterwards, he was very gracious. As I suppose he had to be. No, he didn’t think the missed pink which denied him the lead coming into the final session had cost him. He had been left “numb” by Selby’s snooker. Attritional, some have called it, “granite” was the word from the ex pros in the commentary box and BBC studio. It certainly wasn’t pretty to watch (and I found myself snidely wondering if Willie Thorne was going to run down from the commentary box to give his big mate Mark a kiss) but you couldn’t help but admire the way Selby had stuck to his task. Like a dog with a very big bone, he just wouldn’t let go. And to do that to Ronnie O’Sullivan, well, The Rocket knows the effort involved in that.
The new World Champion is, in my view, totally deserving of the title. He absolutely battered the best player in the world yesterday. And he did so coming off one of the toughest semi finals I’ve ever seen against the outgoing #1 player in the world, Neil Robertson. As he said himself, “There’s no better way than beating Ronnie in the final.” Having previously won the Masters and the UK Championship, the man from Leicester is now a member of the very exclusive “Triple Crown” club.
I think that fact kind of speaks for itself- congratulations Mark!