I’m told it is now unlikely the Malta Cup will be on as a ranking event this season (I hope this information is wrong), which means we are now halfway through the ranking tournament campaign.
So donning my imaginary schoolmaster’s cloak and hat (do they still wear these?) it’s time for a half term report on the game’s top players.
I’m starting with the top eight in the official rankings. You’ll see I’ve laboured the school analogy to the point of awarding grades for performances so far this season.
Tomorrow, I’ll look at those ranked 9-16 and then on Thursday some other players.
RONNIE O’SULLIVAN: A- (started 1st, now 1st)
Ronnie didn’t play at his very best to win the Northern Ireland Trophy but still showed flashes of the sort of genius only he is capable of. He made a break against Dave Harold where the balls had all been positioned awkwardly that had to be seen to be believed.
Ronnie seemed to get frustrated as the Shanghai Masters final went on and was inconsistent at the Grand Prix. Nevertheless, he has surely already done enough to keep his no.1 position at the end of the season.
STEPHEN MAGUIRE: C+ (started 2nd, now 2nd)
Stephen would have hoped for better than a semi-final and two quarter-finals from the first four events as, like any top player, he wants to be in finals and winning titles. However, his consistency has seen him consolidate second place in the rankings.
The big letdown was his performance in his native Glasgow, where he may have felt the pressure of trying to perform for family and friends. Even so, I expect him to kick-on for the rest of the season.
SHAUN MURPHY: E (started 3rd, now 6th)
Shaun has made a dreadful start to the campaign, which is very surprising bearing in mind his consistency over the last couple of years. Still without a win in a ranking event this season, he badly needs some results to get his confidence up.
Most, including me, would expect him to do so but we’ve seen so many great players sink like a stone in recent years that nothing is guaranteed. I hope Shaun pulls himself out of the slump because he’s always entertaining to watch when he’s on top form.
MARK SELBY: C- (started 4th, now 4th)
Mark was disadvantaged over the Bahrain/Premier League date clash but has still done enough to keep his top four place at the midway point in the season. Even so, there are a couple of worrying signs. He had Ricky Walden beaten at 4-1 in their Shanghai semi-final and played a strange shot on frame ball to give Ryan Day his chance to clear up in the last 16 of the Grand Prix.
But one of Mark’s great strengths is his general attitude and I expect him to shrug off this inconsistent start to the season and bounce back in the second half of the campaign.
JOHN HIGGINS: B+ (started 5th, now 8th)
Although John has gone down in the rankings, he was 14th provisionally at the start of the season so will be delighted to be back in the top eight at the halfway point. He was unable to play in Bahrain but won the Grand Prix and was a semi-finalist at the Northern Ireland Trophy.
The only worrying sign for fans of John is that his creditable commitment to the World Series means he is not able to give his game the attention some of the other players give theirs. Being so good, he can get away with this to an extent but it might catch up with him over the longer tournaments, ie the World and UK Championships.
STEPHEN HENDRY: C- (started 6th, now 10th)
Stephen salvaged his season, if not career, with his run to the semi-finals in Bahrain, in which he reminded us just what a great player he can be. The centuries were flying in again and at times he looked as good as in his heyday.
However, in the semis he reverted to the struggling player he looked in the first three tournaments. The test for him for the remainder of the season is to stave off the inevitable decline that comes to all players and keep his top eight place. I’d imagine Stephen would see anything else as a failure.
ALI CARTER: C+ (started 7th, now 5th)
Ali has improved tremendously over the last year because he now has the self belief to back up his obvious talent. Before last season’s World Championship he had only been in two ranking event semi-finals. He has now been in five.
He played superbly in the two semi-finals he was in this season before losing deciders but won’t be happy with two first round exits, in Shanghai and Bahrain. These have taken the shine off what has nevertheless been the most encouraging period of his career.
RYAN DAY: B+ (started 8th, now 3rd)
Ryan is now playing the best snooker of his career but I’m sure he would swap a little of the consistency for a title. He played the best snooker of the Grand Prix but came up short when it really mattered, in the final.
Still, he is up to third place in the provisional rankings with every reason to look forward to the rest of the season. In the class of 2008/09, Ryan is looking like one of the biggest dangermen.