It’s 30 years since Canadian Cliff Thorburn became the first non-British winner of the World Championship.

His 1980 final against Alex Higgins was a tense, gripping affair and famous in the UK for being interrupted by live BBC news coverage of the SAS storming the besieged Iranian embassy in London.

As Ted Lowe was replaced by Kate Adie, the BBC switchboard was jammed with viewers complaining that they wanted to watch the snooker.

Only one other player from outside the UK has since won the Crucible title. That was Ireland's Ken Doherty 13 years ago.

It’s a poor return for a game with pretensions to be a world sport but Neil Robertson (who I discussed earlier this week) and Ding Junhui are both playing well enough this season to end the overseas drought.

It’s good to see Ding back to his old self and it’s worth remembering that although he’s been on the tour seven years now, he is still only 23.

As for so many players, fate - or randomness if you prefer - intervened to present Ding with his chance to become a star. He began playing at the age of ten on a table in the street outside his family home.

His father invested significant time and money to get him coaching and as a 14 year-old wildcard for the 2002 China Open Ding took two frames off Mark Selby.

Two years later, with a string of top international amateur titles under his belt, he became the youngest player ever to win a match in the Wembley Masters. Ranking titles followed at the 2005 China Open and UK Championship and 2006 Northern Ireland Trophy.

At that point, Ding looked a great bet to supersede Stephen Hendry as youngest ever world champion but two soul destroying defeats to Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2007 Masters final and at the Crucible a few months later severely sapped his self belief and the pressures of shouldering the hopes of the biggest nation in the world got to him.

Ding’s form and confidence went walkabout, he slipped down the rankings and his status as China’s top dog was threatened by Liang Wenbo, who reached his first major final at the Shanghai Masters last September.

Ding was at a crossroads. He could either continue to decline or come out fighting. He chose the latter and has reminded everyone this season of why he is a talent to savour, winning the UK Championship and finishing runner-up in the Grand Prix and recent China Open, where he was undone by an inspirational Mark Williams performance.

He is certainly good enough to become world champion but like any other player will need to blend his talent with belief, determination and a little bit of luck. If he won, it would be a great result for snooker, which is still far too dominated by the Brits.

Ding will be joined at the Crucible by Chinese compatriots Liang, who faces a tough first round match with O’Sullivan, and Zhang Anda, an 18 year-old unknown who has qualified in his first season.

I watched him finish off with two centuries to beat Ricky Walden in the final qualifying round and he looked unshakable despite the pressure. The Crucible, though, will provide a much greater test, not least because he is playing the most successful person ever to appear there, Stephen Hendry.

Zhang is nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’ and has practised with Ronnie O’Sullivan. He is a former runner-up in the World Under 21 Championship and winner of the Asian junior title.

That’s as much as most people know about him – and possibly more than Hendry does – and the unknown makes him a dangerous opponent.

But few players do well on their debut appearances. Even though Zhang knows little of the Crucible or its history he will soon find out and could be forgiven for freezing in the headlights.

That match – Hendry v Zhang – is one of number of mouth watering first round ties.

If the young man is still standing at the end of the 17 days it will be the greatest snooker story ever.

If Ding scoops the famous silver trophy it will be less of a surprise, more a fulfilment of a great talent.


Anonymous said...

ding is outstanding

long live hendry. long live the king of the crucible!

jamie brannon said...

Dave, I notice you have tipped a Ding v Ronnie final. Have you tipped a victor in this match-up. Surprised you went for Ronnie as the draw he has got is so tough this year.

From a punting angle the value lies with Neil Robertson at 12-1 as he has a favourable draw and has this year gone to a level that only Ding, Higgins and O'Sullivan can compete with. Even tipping it without a betting hat on I still think this could be Robertson's year.

Anonymous said...

Ding will crash out against Shaun Murphy in round 2. He hasn't got it in his make-up to beat one of the top boys here. Doing it in China or even in winning the UK is one thing, but doing it in the Crucible furnace with its claustrophobic feel is a another.

jamie brannon said...

Just heard that Maguire and Burnett have been referred to prosecutor's. Maguire is drifting in the betting market, but I feel this match fixing cloud is weighing heavily on him as he has not been in the winner's enclosure for a while.

Tough first match against Lee for him - and it's the 2nd year Maguire will play someone under investigation for betting irregularities.

CHRISK5 said...

It's not rocket science to predict who might win the World Championships.

Each new decade has started with a first-time winner - So Robertson,
Ding or maybe Mark Selby are high on the list.

Previous winners - John Higgins or Ronnie - with Mark Williams as an outside chance also.

Also wonder if Shaun Murphy or Stephen Maguire will spring a timely surprise aswell.

Could there even be a shockwinner ? (eg)Joe Johnson,Graeme Dott type thing.

In any event - unlike the 1980s & 1990s - At least there is many more than just one likely potential winner!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that wonderful insight 1:14PM

Sonny said...

Dave - any news on any players who could be disrupted with the volcano? And would there be provision for say moving the schedule around to ensure matches could all go ahead if one of those early 1st round matches has a player stranded at an airport? Surely allowances could be made for such exceptional circumstances!

I must apologise for any inconveniences caused by the birth of the Island by the way!

Dave H said...

No matches will be moved but I read on 110sport that Mark Allen has had to find an alternative way of getting to Sheffield because his flight was cancelled

CHRISK5 said...

Based on form,but mostly the increased statistical prospect of a 1st time champion.

The list in preference order is


I have no interest in boldy declaring a winner (I don't bet)

Just merely giving a rounded summary of the total equation.

If the winner came from OUTSIDE those 8 players...then
someone - somewhere - is probably gonna make LOADS A MONEY !!

Bety Logan said...

Higgins has never defended a title so I think the favourite by some distance is Ronnie. They're the most recent winners, the top two players in the rankings, so they are rightly the favourites. Murphy has a really good track record in long formats so he's next favourite. Ding would be my favourite after that - the UK champ always has a chance - and 22/23 is a common age for the Crucible first strike.

I don't fancy Selby at all - he's going to have serious problems hanging on to his top 16 place next season if he doesn't have a good run here. Robertson, the best player of the season after Higgins but no track record to speak of in the long format comps. He's going to have to at least reach a final either in Sheffield or the Uk for me to make him a favourite. Maguire has played like a solid top 8 player this season but he's going to have to produce a standard he hasn't done so far this season to stand a chance.

So my picks would be 1) Ronnie 2) Murphy 3) Higgins 4) Ding 5) Robertson.

The winner will come from that group bar one exception: the dark horse - Williams. If he beats Ronnie he will probably win it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think Ding is ready to be world champion right now, having only just gotten his game back together, I believe the pressure and expectation would be too much for him right now. I hope he does win it one day but this year is too soon.

Anonymous said...

how can it be too soon for ding after all his experience when it wasnt too early for hendry....

it is never too early to win a worlds. his first may be his only win, so he should grasp with both hands and not think its too early!

Betty Logan said...

Ding has had his game back together for the whole of the season. Before he would deliver one or two outstanding performances per season, but because he wasn't in the top 16 we only got to see him when he was in good form. The last couple of seasons we've got to see Ding when he wasn't playing well too. But even if he hasn't been the best player this season, on balance I'd say he's been the most consistent. To be fair all he has to do to reach a final is beat Murphy and probably Higgins or Robertson, and he despatched two of those at the UK in two session matches so a final is very do-able for Ding this year if he maintains his form.

Bourne said...

Ding will send Murphy back to Burger King in a quick 13-4 victory.