The PTT-EGAT Snooker World Cup is only seven days away as the excitement mounts for what promises to be a valuable addition to the growing calendar.
In years gone by, snooker professionals enjoyed long summers off from the Main Tour and were free to sunbathe and relax for up to three or four months.
However, that has drastically changed for the 2011/12 campaign and the World Cup in Thailand is sandwiched in between the Wuxi Classic in China and the Australian Open – developing a unique Southern Hemisphere leg to the events list.
20 teams and 19 different countries will contest the revival of the World Cup – Thailand as host nation will provide two teams – as the sport continues its efforts to reach a wider global audience.
There will be four groups of five teams, with two players in each side , and over the next week I will have a look at some of those participating.
The Republic of Ireland have been seeded 8th but are involved in a tricky round robin stage that includes top ranked nation Wales and potentially dangerous opposition in Germany and Egypt with Pakistan making up the quintet of Group A.
Ireland has struggled in the last decade to unearth fresh talent and it has been left in the capable hands of old stalwarts Ken Doherty and Fergal O’Brien to carry the hopes of the tricolour flag.
The Dublin duo have experience in team events having contested the old World Cup in 1996 and the Nations Cup between 1999 and 2001.
In 1996 and 2001 the pair reached the final only to lose out to Scotland’s “Dream Team” that included Stephen Hendry, John Higgins and Alan McManus.
The experience, though, will stand Doherty and O’Brien in good stead and the format of the event should suit them.
Each country plays each other once in a group, with every match consisting of four singles encounters and one doubles tie – much to the same way the Davis Cup is run in tennis.
What will be essential in these circumstances is a tight-knit partnership that know each other’s games and personalities inside out.
This is something that both Doherty, who will captain the Irish, and O’Brien have in abundance as friends on and off the circuit and their experience over the years will also stand them in good stead.
Neither player has performed well on the Main Tour over the last couple of seasons but it is often in any individual sport – tennis, golf, darts – that form counts for nothing when the intensity of team battle and national pride is at stake.
Similarly, the camaraderie that will be evident between 1997 world champion Doherty and 1999 British Open winner O’Brien could inspire one another to play better and act as a springboard for the rest of the year.
The Welsh will prove their sternest test in the form of world number one Mark Williams and the talented Matthew Stevens while Germany’s team of Patrick Einsle and Lasse Munstermann could be dark horses in the tournament.
However, the Republic will feel confident of landing one of the top two places in the group stages that will earn a quarter-final berth and, once there, they will be a difficult unit to beat.