Well the talking wasn’t quite over. Indeed, it’s always been thus. In the last couple of days before the World Championship a kind of hysteria builds and all sorts of things get said.
There’s the inevitable ‘there’s no characters in the game any more’ pieces written by journalists who bring not expertise but ignorance in publications which suddenly remember snooker exists once a year.
Players say all sorts of things too, most usually forgotten by the time play actually starts.
However, Mark Williams hit the headlines yesterday for a derogatory tweet about the Crucible. In fairness to Mark, he has always thought this about the legendary venue, but in the cold light of day the tone of his comments appeared unnecessarily harsh. The Crucible is where everyone who picks up a cue wants to play.
This harms Williams’s reputation more than snooker’s, although it also reveals much about the modern media.
It seems anything now written on Twitter is regarded as great truth, as if spoken under oath in a courtroom, rather than what most of it is: throwaway nonsense generally not meant to be taken seriously.
What is meant to be taken seriously is the actual snooker, which finally begins this morning.
I’ve already given an in-depth rundown of the matches and won’t repeat all that, but it is interesting how hardly anyone is tipping John Higgins this year.
This is because Higgins has had a poor season by his own high standards. But he also belongs to a generation whose best days are surely behind them.
Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are by no means finished yet, quite obviously, but time is running out for them to add to their haul of Crucible titles.
I’ve spoken to a few former players about the phenomenon of decline. They tend to all agree that it comes about through a mixture of reasons: changing eyesight, decreased desire to practise and a greater inability to cope with pressure.
The latter is why so many players slow up. Peter Ebdon is often accused of dragging out matches deliberately but much of it is actually calming the nerves before playing the shot.
Dominic Dale is quite perceptive about this in his column for next month’s Snooker Scene. He says you can get down and, in your natural rhythm, be ready to play the shot but that your brain can be a few seconds behind, not ready, which is where difficulties begin: a clash between your technique and your mind.
We look at top snooker players and are fooled into believing the game must be easy, because they make it look easy.
But it isn’t. We know this whenever we have ourselves picked up a cue.
We also don’t see when we watch snooker the serious doubts and insecurities in a players mind, only the product of them.
“How could he miss that?” is a common cry when watching a match on TV. The actual answer, given the difficulty of the game and the pressure on a player is, “quite easily.” Perhaps the question, given what is at stake, should be, “how could he pot that?”
Playing snooker can bring great riches but it is also a lonely, mentally exhausting profession. The 32 players gathered in Sheffield over the next 17 days are an elite that, for all they may say or do to frustrate, deserve respect.
I’m sure they will entertain us greatly this coming World Championship.