World Snooker has one wildcard to be awarded at its discretion to a player who has not qualified for the professional tour in any of the myriad of ways possible.
There may – for various reasons – be more wildcards available but assuming for now there is just one, who should get it?
For me, the outstanding choice is Liu Chuang, who gave Ronnie O’Sullivan something of a first session scare before losing 10-5 to the eventual winner at the 888.com World Championship.
Liu was only the fourth 17 year-old – after Stephen Hendry, O’Sullivan and Judd Trump – to compete at the Crucible and the first pro to qualify in their debut season for 13 years.
He was unable to play in the qualifiers for the season-opening Shanghai Masters because of a mix up over visas so had only six tournaments to count towards his final ranking.
Liu found it hard at first to adjust to life on the circuit. This is hardly surprising: he’s a teenager from China, abroad for the first time in a completely different culture.
Yet he demonstrated by qualifying for the Crucible – and against O’Sullivan – that he has potential and surely deserves another, immediate chance.
If not Liu, then who?
Drew Henry, a pro for 17 years before relegation after the World Championship, has chosen to retain his professional status rather than resign like all the other players who missed out. Last I heard he was considering applying for the wildcard.
I’m unsure, to be brutally honest, on what grounds it could be given to him. This is not to detract from his career – which has been better than most – but he would not have a better claim than Liu in my opinion.
Tony Drago has applied and could be in with a chance on the basis of being a recognisable name who is, unquestionably, attractive to watch.
Also, with a professional event established in Malta, it may be seen to be smart politically to keep him on the tour.
The same does not apply for James Wattana, who appears to have lost interest in the game. Thailand’s greatest ever player does not wish to continue and has returned home to pursue other interests.
Michael White could be a good outside bet. There was widespread sympathy for this 16 year-old when he was denied the chance to play in the Shanghai Masters qualifiers because he was, for a few days, still 15.
Shaun Murphy had been given an exemption in almost identical circumstances in 1998. Almost unbelievably, World Snooker denied this had happened until Snooker Scene produced irrefutable evidence that it did.
White, then, was under pressure from the off, not just because he had one less tournament to play in but also because of the furore surrounding his exclusion and the sense of injustice it must have engendered.
He didn’t make any great impact on the other events but he’s still very young and, most observers would conclude, has time to improve.
Perhaps a season on the PIOS would do him good but plenty of 16/17 year-olds have played on the main tour so why not White?
Other names will doubtless be presented before a decision is made. Hopefully, it will be made for the right reasons.