http://snookerscene.blogspot.com/2010/0 ... ecial.html
There’s much talk about new formats in snooker, about speeding up play, about attracting a new, young audience.
I’ve got no problem with any of that. Outsiders look at snooker and see a sport that has barely changed in years.
The late, great Alex Higgins shook it up in the 1970s but it’ll take more than a single figure to do the same now. No sport can be that lucky twice.
But while I welcome innovation, I would warn those charged with leading this bright new era not to mess too much with the very ingredients that have created so many great memories for millions over the decades.
Snooker’s attractiveness is based on its capacity to author dramatic psychological sagas. It is not a physical sport but the mental strengths and weaknesses of players are laid bare for all to see and this leads to an emotional investment on behalf of the viewer.
Who will hold their nerve? Who will crack up completely? These are the fascinations through which audiences can become hooked for hours at a time.
In the August issue of Snooker Scene, out next week, we include an interview I have done with Martin Gould in which he speaks honestly about his 13-12 defeat to Neil Robertson from 11-5 up at the Crucible last season.
The only good news for Martin is that he wasn’t the first – and certainly won’t be the last – to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
So many careers are littered with regrets at having lost matches, and particularly finals, having held commanding, surely unimpeachable, leads.
But what makes these at times heartbreaking losses so compelling is the amount of time they took. Finals, especially at the Crucible, allow time for doubt to creep in, anxiety to take hold and seemingly unsurpassable leads to be overturned.
Snooker’s great appeal has always been the slow burning drama it generates.
Shortening the length of matches will dilute this drama.
The shot clock will do the same. A shot clock is not necessarily a bad idea but it should not be introduced to artificially speed play up. Rather, it should guard against players dragging the pace of play down.
That is why 20 seconds a shot is certainly too short and 25 almost certainly too short.
In the Premier League, where there are no ranking points up for grabs and which has in any case always been attacking, the players cope fine but in a ranking tournament, with more at stake, all a 25 second shot clock would do would be to drag the standard down.
Players would panic, rush and miss more. Balls would run scrappy and frames could well take longer to complete than normal.
But a 40 second per shot limit would be a different matter entirely. It would stop players taking a minute or more to consider reasonably straightforward shots but should not cause rushing and the errors that brings either.
I remain unconvinced about the need for a shot clock at all, but it is almost inevitable it will feature at some point during the season.
And, as I said at the start, there’s nothing wrong with trying new ideas. Snooker should move with the times and take a look at itself instead of arrogantly assuming all is rosy in the garden.
But drama in snooker comes from the possibility that exists for whole matches to turn round, and these have to be of a certain length for that to happen.
Snooker is a sport of many facets. A scrap on the colours can be as enjoyable as a flawless century break.
But the best matches tend to be the close ones and the most memorable of these tend to be where one player has held a big lead only to see it reduced: think Taylor v Davis in 1985, Higgins v Davis in the 1983 UK Championship, Davis v Thorne in the same event in 1985, Paul Hunter's three Masters comebacks, Hendry v White in 1992 and so on, and so on.
Alex Higgins’s 69 break against Jimmy White at 15-14 down in their 1982 semi-final would have been considered a great contribution at any time in any match.
But what makes it so iconic and so well remembered is the point at which he made it: with his back to the wall at the end of a four session match. It was appreciated all the more because the audience, like Higgins, had come through the battle and were into the endgame.
How a player stands up in such a scenario, after so many hours, so many frames, is what makes top level snooker such a gripping sport.
Jimmy White would probably have been world champion had the final been best of 11. But it wasn't and he wasn't and that's the point.
Shorter formats, though fun, do not have the same appeal because they cannot generate the same drama.
Barry Hearn understands this. Some characterise him as a populist who cares little about the history of the sport but this is nonsense. In fact, he is steeped in the history of the sport. He was there in the 1980s. He knows what made snooker great in the first place.
And that is why he has pledged to 'ring fence' the majors and leave them free of gimmickry.
At the same time he has to work on snooker's staid image and find a way of marketing it to bring in new fans.
That's why shorter formats and events aimed more at entertainment than pure sport have their place - as long as they augment the traditional game and do not encroach so far into it that people no longer believe it's worth watching.
The challenge for Hearn and snooker as a whole is to recognise what makes the green baize game special and safeguard that while at the same time still embracing the age in which we live.
Its success at balancing the two will to a large degree decide the fate of the sport over the next decade.