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Snooker Blog Part 2 Of 2

Thundery wintry showers


In this second part I'll present some questions that I occasionally get asked, and provide some answers.

[b]Q: Do you think Barry Hearn is doing a good job for the sport?[/b]
A. On balance yes, I think the vast majority of his ideas (e.g. expanding the number of tournaments, experimenting with different formats, promoting snooker overseas and making the ranking system more of a running thing) are all good for promoting the game and increasing interest. Snooker as a televised sport was becoming rather stale under the previous owners.
I will add one caveat though, I sometimes have a concern about Hearn taking things too far from one extreme to the other, particularly in the interests of maximising his own revenues. The schedule of 27 tournaments over 50 weeks, when considering the amount of overseas travel, is very punishing and I would like to see a shift to a rankings system that encourages players to play in most, but not all, of the events.

[b]Q: Do you think Judd Trump should shift to a more percentage-based shot selection instead of taking large risks?[/b]
A. Toning down his attacking instincts will make it easier for him to grind out wins when not playing well, thus boosting his consistency. However, despite it objectively being better for results, I hope he doesn't do this significantly until much later in his career, as it will make him stand out less from the other players. I feel that the game has lacked a real all-out attacker a la Jimmy White since Ray Reardon persuaded Ronnie O'Sullivan to refine his attacking game back in 2004/05, and I would really like Trump to carry the flag for that style of play and win a few world titles with it.
On the other hand, I wouldn't object to Trump improving his temperament and tactical play- those would improve his results without necessarily making him any less different or entertaining to watch.

[b]Q. Why do players decline as they get older?[/b]
A. During their 40s and 50s the aging process makes it harder to keep the concentration levels up, but I think the main problems lie elsewhere. It can be hard to maintain motivation levels after a while, and if a player suffers a crisis of form it is hard to recover confidence from the fear of missing and the fear of going into a long-term decline.
The early decline of Steve Davis and Stephen Hendry was partly due to a drop in consistency and confidence past age 30 but mainly down to improved opposition- Hendry's game was still generally strong until the 2005/06 season (age 36-37), and Davis's until 1998/99 (age 40-41).
Ronnie O'Sullivan, John Higgins and Mark Williams are currently in that precarious "35-40" age bracket- it will be interesting to see if Higgins and Williams can recover the form they showed about 1-2 years ago.

[b]Q. Should successful players tone down their attacking instincts when they get into their 30s/40s?[/b]
A. This is related to the Judd Trump question, and it really depends on whether they are happy to grind out wins when not playing well. Playing a more conservative game is better for grinding out results when not playing well, and thus may help to prolong longevity within the top 32, but it doesn't necessarily help to win major tournaments- players tend not to be in contention for victories unless their potting and break-building are holding up well.
Thus, I don't think it's fair to criticise Steve Davis for doing this, or to criticise Stephen Hendry or Jimmy White for refusing to back down on their aggressive shot selections- consistency of results isn't everything, it really depends on the player's mentality and priorities.

[b]Q: You were a Jimmy White fan in the 1990s; how on earth did you also end up wanting Stephen Hendry to do well?[/b]
A. I'm a little unconventional in that in fierce sporting rivalries, supporting one player doesn't necessarily cause me to hate the other- it often has the opposite effect due to the fact that it takes two players to make a great rivalry.
During the days of the Stephen Hendry vs. Jimmy White rivalry, I strongly wanted Jimmy to win their important matches, mainly because I found his playting style the more entertaining of the two, but I also developed an appreciation for Hendry's more "refined" attacking style and for what he was achieving- the result was that I became a fan of both players. It's similar to the way that I became a fan of Ayrton Senna (Formula One) and Garry Kasparov (chess) in spite of wanting Nigel Mansell and Nigel Short, respectively, to beat them.
I particularly enjoyed the subsequent Hendry-O'Sullivan rivalry because, as a supporter of both players, I ended up as a neutral, and thus could enjoy their matches to the full.

[b]Q: How could you possibly dismiss the great 1985 world championship final?[/b]
A. I did, in fairness, downplay it too much in my previous blog entry. It was indeed a great final, arguably the greatest World Championship final of all time, I just feel that in terms of match quality it was an inferior relative of the 1998 Masters "re-spotted black" final, and (understandably) gets the more recognition of the two because it decided the World Championship rather than the relatively unimportant Masters.


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