John Parrott believes Ronnie O’Sullivan can return from another sabbatical to win this year’s snooker world championships which begins at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield on Saturday. The iconic venue stages the event for the 38th year in succession and the home of snooker will host 17 days of the sport played at the highest level.
The nature of the ranking system in the sport means the best players qualify for Sheffield. Players earn points from ranking events and the top 16 players in the standings automatically qualify for the world championship. The other sixteen places are determined by a qualifying tournament.
In golf being inside the top 50 gets players into the majors and world championship events. The Holy Grail for a snooker professional is a place inside the top 16 as this brings playing privileges and qualification for the other ranking events and several prestigious invitational tournaments.
Snooker is one sport that benefited hugely from the arrival of colour television. Watching snooker in black and white was not very appealing but the game had a massive growth when viewers could distinguish the colour of the balls and the table. Pot Black was a one frame weekly programme that was the precursor to many events being shown live on TV.
When Dennis Taylor beat Steve Davis on the final black of the final frame in the 1985 final the viewing audience was 20 million. Coverage of the 1980 final between Alex Higgins and Cliff Thorburn was interrupted by news of a terrorist siege in London. The BBC got thousands of complaints because the snooker was taken off the air.
In the 1980s snooker tournaments were show live on both ITV and BBC. Just about every major event was covered by terrestrial channels. One of the reasons for the decline in popularity of the game was the reaction against tobacco advertising on television and snooker suffered more than most other sports.
With the advent of dedicated sports channels snooker was shown less on regular non- subscription channels. The BBC shows the world championship and the Masters Invitational but everything else is on Sky or Eurosport. Live betting has also grown as all the ranking events are shown across Europe on Eurosport. The world championship remains one of the jewels in the crown of live sport on our national broadcaster.
The winner of the world championship has to maintain his form over 17 days and six extended matches. Matches are played over more frames than in any other event so there is always a worthy winner. Sessions are played in the morning, afternoon and evening so players must be ready and prepared to play at whatever time the schedule determines. The final is played over 35 frame and six sessions and the earlier rounds are the best of 19 to 33 frames.
The seedings are loosely based on the world rankings but O’Sullivan is seeded number one as the defending champion despite being at number 33 in the standings. Neil Robertson is statistically the best snooker player in the world, followed by Ding Junhui from China. A player from that country has yet to win the world championship. There is huge interest in the sport in China and the world championship is sponsored by Asian online bookmaker, Dafabet.
The modern era is considered to have started in 1969 when the championship adopted a knock-out format. Previously it was a challenge event in which the previous year’s winner qualified for the final automatically. Stephen Hendry has won the world championship seven times in 27 appearances during which he has recorded three maximum breaks. Steve Davis and Ray Reardon are six times champions.
O’Sullivan is the next winning most player with five titles. He has the ability to play well into his forties so at aged 38 can surpass Hendry’s total. Parrott believes the Rocket is the best player in the world and good enough to return after a break and win another world championship. Playing with his non-dominant hand might seem disrespectful but Parrott thinks O’Sullivan does not mean to cause offence but at the time he feels more comfortable playing the wrong way around.
O’Sullivan is something of a flawed genius and he has had temperament and discipline issues in the past. A revealing documentary showed he can be quite obsessive and really gets down on himself if he can’t maintain his highest standards on the snooker table. A troubled past during which his father was jailed for murder has added to the mix.
The Rocket is one of the mavericks of the game, like Alex Higgins and Jimmy White. Although Higgins won two world titles he maybe should have won more and White has famously never won the title. However, O’Sullivan is able to combine unpredictability with his snooker brain. That means he has the ability and temperament to win another world championship in an event that is at the pinnacle of his sport.