There have been a few interesting comments circling around in the last 24 hours surrounding the standard of today’s game.
For some, it is almost a prerequisite that they have to praise without fault no matter the situation such is the blinded desire to promote the sport in every way possible.
In one sense that’s understandable, but it is naive. False representation is not going to draw in a newer audience and even if it does initially, they’ll leave even quicker than they would have done if they ventured to watch upon their own free will having felt they were conned into it in the first place.
There’s no point sugar-coating something for the sake of it and, to put a damning glaze on what were two highly enjoyable and dramatic tournaments, in my opinion the recent UK Championship and Masters were well below average in terms of standard.
Snooker journalist Dave Hendon in his post-final article on Mark Selby hinted as much last night while Stephen Hendry went one step further in a piece by Hector Nunns in today’s Irish Daily Mirror.
“They keep saying the standard has gone up, but I haven’t seen that,” was the eye-catching quote by seven-time world champion Hendry.
The article actually surrounded Ronnie O’Sullivan but engulfed the subject at large.
Basically, Hendry thinks that any tournament without the ‘Rocket’ and defending world champion is devalued by his absence because it is effectively lacking the best player.
This may or may not be the case but the fact remains that O’Sullivan isn’t competing at the moment and any reference to his presence or not in current events is simply speculation.
Remember, O’Sullivan didn’t exactly rule the world for a long period before his German Masters and Crucible triumph at the tail end of last season – though, of course, his talent and potential is undeniable.
But all the top players have talent and potential, don’t they? And it is here where one of the key arguments may be made.
While the level of performance for the top, say, eight players in the rankings may not have differed from the Hendry era or the generation of Ronnie, Higgins and Williams in their pomp, you could debate, with justification, that the players all the way down the standings have become far more competitive in recent years.
Point being, the standard may not be – and in my personal view isn’t – higher than it was but there are far more on the Main Tour who are playing to a higher standard.
This level of competition brings its own pressures and indeed this is probably one of the reasons why we have barely seen consistent domination of any significant kind by a single player over the last number of years.
That said, frequently we were given stats during the last two majors of players, sometimes both participants in a match, who had pot successes below the benchmark of 90% and a safety percentage well below average too.
What does this tell us? That the modern player, despite boasting similar ability, is struggling to maintain a high standard or rise to the occasion? With the influx of so many tournaments on the calendar is burnout a factor?
An even bigger question perhaps is this: should it matter?
This season, now more than halfway through, has produced a flurry of exciting, encapsulating, entertaining thrillers and tournaments worthy of top-level professional sport.
Some encounters were of a high standard and others less so but what has remained constant is the level of mesmerising tension and drama that continues to enthrall viewers.
And at the end of the day, isn’t that the main thing?
Maybe it was the tension and/or pressure in the UK and Masters? From what I saw of the Champions League today, the players are in good nick and big breaks were flying in, so it’s obvious that most of the players can play better than they did.
It seems silly to assume that Ronnie would dominate based on just last week’s performances. It would be like judging Hendry as a player just using his 9-0 loss to Marcus Campbell.
Playing devil’s advocate, the counter argument to that is that these top players should be able to cope with the pressure and produce the goods on the big stage.