After each big tournament this season we’ll be reflecting on the latest action, so let’s take a look at a few things learned after the Championship League.
Events Can Work Amid COVID-19
The Championship League was the first tournament staged following the COVID-19 lockdown that curtailed the 2019/20 snooker season.
Its staging somewhat divided opinion, with many including myself questioning the decision to return to competitive action so soon after the restrictions were lifted in UK.
Barry Hearn wasted little time in getting the wheels of the sport turning again, scheduling the tournament for June 1st – the very first day that it was possible to come back to the sporting calendar.
Hearn’s Matchroom Sport promoted the event, and a lot of detail went in to making the 11-day competition as safe as possible.
Credit should be given to all those involved because it was a major feat, especially as it was all put together at the last minute.
All the players and the staff were tested for COVID-19, with a 100% success rate in producing negative results.
By hosting the tournament at the Marshall Arena, the use of the on-site accommodation meant that social distancing and isolation measures could be more easily adhered to.
No fans were present, which wasn’t too unusual in terms of the Championship League because it has always been played behind closed doors, but host broadcaster ITV managed to create an atmospheric arena with clever background lighting nonetheless.
Some things were clearly for show, though, for instance the enforcement of the rule that required both players to use separate equipment like rests.
This really didn’t seem to make any sense considering every player was sharing the same table and cloth.
The other major issue was with the list of entrants, with the field largely comprising cueists from those in the UK.
It was interesting that the general perception within the UK – from the media and people on social media – was basically that of nonchalant acceptance.
While it didn’t really matter too much for this event as it didn’t carry ranking points, it could potentially be a more considerable talking point ahead of next month’s World Championship, as underlined by Ding Junhui’s decision to withdraw from the lucrative Tour Championship.
Hearn, who of course deserves recognition for getting the sport going again, has constantly chimed that players are given “equal opportunity” but anyone who truly believes that in the current climate has been sucked into a mist of delusion.
The international members of the tour are being badly affected and a lot of effort should be made to accommodate these players if the integrity of what is meant to be a global sport is upheld.
Brecel Proves International Success is Possible
That said, it was a little ironic that after the Championship League finale, the winner ended up being a player from overseas.
Brecel was one of only eight from the original line-up of 64 who represented a nation outside the UK – and the majority of the others were already based in the UK anyway.
The Belgian made the trip – crucially before the government enforced its new 14-day quarantine upon arrival rule – and a successful one it was.
The 25 year-old pocketed £30,000 to capture only the second professional title of his career.
In such a short format and under rather unique circumstances, it’s difficult to properly analyse how this will impact his game in the future.
Yet, winning breeds confidence and Brecel is the player who has his name on the latest trophy that has been awarded.
Blessed with natural talent, the former China Championship winner will head to the World Championship qualifiers in July with a renewed vigour to end the campaign strongly.
The absolute perfect end to a great tournament #drama
— Joe Perry (@joegentlemanjoe) June 11, 2020
High Break Tie-Breaker
After the Championship League, the remaining events from this term will revert back to the more traditional knockout guise.
But despite the implementation of round-robins throughout, last week’s tournament did produce quite a lot of drama.
League competitions can often peter out under boring circumstances – and that did happen on a few occasions – but many of the groups went down to the very last frame.
Brecel’s triumph, indeed, was sealed with a marvallous century break when his opponent and nearest challenger Ben Woollaston had just compiled a brace of his own to move to within a frame of pinching success from the “Bullet”.
One interesting feature that particularly worked well was the use of the highest break in a tie-breaking situation.
There were a few times when players needed to not only win the last frames of their third league fixture but also produce a contribution that bettered an opponent in the standings.
Ken Doherty came close to usurping Ashley Carty in this fashion when he conjured up a timely 90 break against the Englishman in the penultimate frame of their encounter only to surrender the next and bow out.
Still, it kept people watching with a couple of hundred thousand tuning in after midnight to will on the Irishman, and it would be fun to see that kind of element utilised in other events that incorporate league formats in the future.