To Live in a Dream World

The next eleven days are up there with the most important for nearly every snooker professional.

16 of the world’s best can be safe in the knowledge that they have already achieved the success that will include them in the hat for the sport’s blue riband event.

For everyone else, though, a long, arduous campaign comes down to one final push to gain the honour of descending through the curtain, down the short steps and into the cauldron atmosphere of the Crucible Theatre, surrounded by lights like stars where wishes are made and dreams are born.

So often in the past, the World Championship qualifiers were held in March or even prior to that, resulting in many of the Tour’s members twiddling their thumbs for a significant chunk of the season’s finale having already been dumped out of all that was remaining.

Rescheduling the qualifiers to conclude just one week before the curtains are drawn in Sheffield is a master-stroke that has ensured a month-long bonanza of blood, sweat and tears – culminating, as always, on May’s Bank Holiday Monday.

There are two ways of looking at it from the point of view of a qualifier.

In one sense, it could work to their advantage as, having reached the venue, they will automatically know they are in form and be ready to challenge the game’s elite.

On the other hand, the gruelling nature of the best of 19 qualifying matches, those that can dramatically pass the stroke of midnight on so many occasions, may come back to haunt any concerted challenge deep into the main event itself.

Only two qualifiers have ever come through the field to claim the big prize – Terry Griffiths and Shaun Murphy.

In this particular year, arguably the most competitive in living memory with eight different ranking event champions, the chances of another name being added to that exclusive list is decidedly unlikely, but not impossible.

Only a few days ago, 2002 winner Peter Ebdon unexpectedly claimed the China Open title at the age of 41 having emerged from the qualifying cubicles and suddenly – or, to put it another, more accurate, way, slowly – found the winning formula required to challenge for a major title.

And of course, it is easy to forget that a certain Judd Trump was a qualifier when he launched his unbelievable onslaught at lifting the famous silverware twelve months ago – knocking out defending champion Neil Robertson in the opening round.

Trump was, and is, a rather special case, an enigma or talent that only comes along once in a generation akin to Alex Higgins, Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan.

Yet, the nature of the calendar is such nowadays that an array of cueists, particularly those that make up the Top 32, will be confident in their own ability following a year that has granted them all an equal opportunity to perform.

Whether there is a champion among them this year is up for debate but, for most, being allowed to strut their stuff in the tight squeeze of the Crucible arena will be reward enough.

21 years after his defining career moment, Liverpool’s John Parrott is coming out of retirement in an attempt to stage a miraculous comeback.

The 47 year-old plays former quarter-finalist Patrick Wallace to open the preliminaries tomorrow and, if he can somehow deviate his way through five matches, he’ll meet old foe Stephen Hendry in the final qualifying round.

In the same section is Joe Delaney, who has enjoyed a decent season on the Irish amateur scene a year after losing his professional status.

These players and a few others like them are off the Tour but are allowed a stab at this event because they continue to pay their member’s fee and in reality, with the exception of maybe David Gray and Justin Astley, none have any hope of embarking on a long, inspired journey to the Crucible or even anywhere near it.

But who cares. Let them try. It is all part of the developing story that will capture the imagination of so many over the coming weeks and will conclude with the 2012 world snooker champion.

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