Wednesday, May 09, 2007

SPORTIN' LIFE: Martin Johnson

No, not that one. The Telegraph hack. Good stuff.

The scenes outside Boots recently have, by all accounts, been reminiscent of Wimbledon tennis fortnight, with people camping out all night on the pavement to get their hands on a tub of miracle rejuvenating cream.

The rush began after a television documentary, but it may also be connected to a confluence of sporting events so proficient in their capacity to accelerate the ageing process that not even Cliff Richard would have got through them without finally succumbing to a wrinkle.

Cricket enthusiasts - or to be more accurate, former enthusiasts - are still being kept under 24-hour surveillance for signs of suicidal tendencies after the World Cup, which went on for so long that all those television viewers who drew the lounge curtains on a winter blizzard when it kicked off would have opened them again at the end of it all to find that the lawn was about four feet high.

For many of them, the will to live had only just returned when it was further eroded by the arrival on their screens of the World Snooker Championship at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield, which finally finished last night after beginning, or so it seems, with a maximum clearance from Joe Davis. Or even further back in the mists of time, when Willie Thorne still had a full head of hair.

Before the BBC's publicity department inform us that this tournament attracts higher viewing figures than either Wimbledon or the Open golf, some would say this merely reinforces Mark Twain's contention that statistics, lies and damned lies are irretrievably linked. After all, it's tough to change channels if you fall into a coma in mid-April, and wake up again only on May Bank Holiday Monday.
Even Ronnie O'Sullivan described the game as "boring" during last year's championship although, in snooker's defence, it has moved on a long way from the days of Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths, who once finished a match at 3.51am. These were players so dedicated to the doctrine of safety that they didn't so much apply chalk to the tip as a condom.

Nowadays, balls go flying into the pockets from every conceivable angle, and O'Sullivan can clear a table in less time than it took Bill Werbeniuk to drain a pint of lager. When Eddie Charlton was playing, the organisers considered issuing spectators with complimentary razor blades, either to keep the beard in check while Eddie was pondering the best way of getting the white back on to the baulk cushion, or to open a major artery.

The fact remains, though, that snooker players spend about 50 per cent of their time during a match sitting down and doing nothing at all, apart from fiddling with their bow-ties or twiddling an ear lobe. Television has long since cottoned on to this, which is why the commentators now adopt the role of psychoanalysts, in an attempt to make a drama out of someone in a waistcoat staring vacantly into space. Or, in the case of Anthony Hamilton during a moment of absent-minded reverie in his quarter-final, picking his nose.

Hamilton also features regularly in the tournament's attempt to convince an audience whose animation rarely extends beyond attempting to suppress the urge to cough that they're about to witness some kind of personalised joust to the death. They do this by giving the protagonists boxing-style nicknames, and Anthony is invariably introduced as "the Robin Hood of Snooker". To qualify for this soubriquet, Hamilton - doubtless to his considerable relief - is not obliged to leap through the curtains wearing a lincoln green cap and a pair of tights. He simply has to come from Nottingham. Or consider the plight of Mark Selby, who was introduced as "the Jester from Leicester".

If the MC had been feeling more alliterative, "the Nottingham Nosepicker" might have been trotted out for his next match, but Anthony rather spoiled this by getting eliminated.

Snooker, all the experts seem agreed, is now a young man's game, although quite why this should be is hard to say. Especially when the energy required to sip a glass of water (or indeed remove the contents of a nostril for careful examination) don't exactly suggest that there is any great impediment to someone like Steve Davis still winning this event when he's 100.

Hand-eye co-ordination may have something to do with it, but given the length of some of the frames, it may have less to do with cue-ball control than bladder control.

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