China’s Coming

In 2008 and 2010, three Chinese players contested the last 32 of the World Championship in Sheffield – discounting Hong Kong’s Marco Fu.

Only last year’s semi-finalist Ding Junhui is assured of his place at the Crucible Theatre next Saturday but there is a possibility that four others could join him in next Monday’s draw.

Ding first qualified for the blue riband event in 2007, when he lost 10-2 to Ronnie O’Sullivan shortly after his capitulation in the final of that season’s Masters.

Ever since then, he has been an ever-present at snooker’s quest for the holy grail and, on occasion, has been joined by some of his fellow countrymen.

For years – well, really ever since Ding’s emergence onto the scene when he claimed the 2005 China Open in spectacular fashion as a shy teen – people have been predicting the dominance to shift from the British Isles to the Far East.

While the game is undoubtedly experiencing a massive boom in popularity in the People’s Republic, the progression of their players has perhaps not happened quite as quickly as many initially predicted.

In hindsight, this was to be expected. It was  unrealistic to believe that just because the country boasts a billion people, millions of whom now play regularly in the thousands of clubs in China, there would be an immediate influx of residents in the Top 16.

Evolution takes time, as does the development of an individual player’s game, mental strength and temperament.

In addition to this, in the five years subsequent to Ding’s initial success the majority of snooker – what snooker there was actually played back then – was still based in the United Kingdom.

It meant hardship and loneliness for the Chinese players who did attempt to break through into the higher echelons of the sport following months upon end away from their homeland and family.

This, though, is changing. In the next campaign there will be an unprecedented five ranking events in China.

Of course, the qualifying section, which all of the young, aspiring talents must go through in order to reach the venue stage of a tournament, will still be in England but the transition is beginning to occur.

Indeed, you only have to look at the ages of the Chinese players still in the World Championship draw to realise where the future most likely lies.

Ding Junhui, a five-time ranking event winner, is still only 25 – as is Liang Wenbo. Yu Delu is 24 while Cao Yupeng and Liu Chuang are just 21 years-old.

Ironically, while it would be brilliant to see all five compete in the 2012 championship, the presence of the quintet could initiate the end for the Crucible Theatre.

Safely contracted until 2015, and probably guaranteed at least another few years on top of that as well, eventually the likelihood is that there will come a time when it will make sense on a number of levels to move the event to China.

This will anger many people but, as we all know, World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn is as shrewd as they come in business and, if he remains in charge in another half-dozen years the pressure from corporate sponsors and television broadcasters in China will become immense, let alone the fact that by then there really could be a wave of Chinese players in the Top 64 – not simply the imaginary, unrealistic one that was forecast five years ago.

The transition is already in process. Taking away the Main Tour nominations to the five National Governing Bodies of the UK and Ireland and transferring them all around the world, particularly Asia, is as foreboding a warning as they come.

This year will mark the 36th anniversary of the Crucible’s tenure as host of the World Championship. Whether or not it’ll reach 50 is up for debate.

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