Guy Rundle’s very occasional snooker column:
Gunsels of the green baize had a treat this weekend, with the World Championship being won by Stuart Bingham, the ultimate journeyman player. Thirty-eight, looking 60, Bingham beat out Shaun “the magician” Murphy by 18 frames to 15 in a match that began with strong attacking play and a series of epic breaks and ended with a sudden switch to ultra-defensive high-snooker play by both men. Murphy took the first few frames easily, and it looked as if Bingham — a first-time finalist, who last made it to the semi-final in 2000 — would be a washout. But the quiet man fought back to equalise 4-4, and then leapt ahead, winning eight of nine frames, and by the crucial point of the two-day, four-session final was leading 14-11.
But going into the final session, Bingham got the “lead wobbles” and Murphy took the first half, to equalise 15-15. The key frame was the 31st, an hour-long tactical slugfest in which Murphy, desperate not to put Bingham into position to clear the post-red colours, replayed a “miss” eight times, giving away 38 points (if you try to get out of a snooker in a manner more difficult than the easiest path out, you lose four points, and your opponent can make you repeat the shot. Murphy potted the white once and hit the pink for the six extra demerits. TMI?). Bingham won that one, and equilibrium restored, never looked back. In the final frame, Murphy appeared to play two suicide shots, massive red-ball scatters that set Bingham up for victory.
Bingham’s victory was one for hacks everywhere, and an excellent omen for an Ed Miliband victory. He may well be the least naturally talented player to win the championship for many years (i.e. about 20,000 times more talented than you or I), with the commentators regularly disparaging his poor cue-ball skills — i.e. his inability to land the cue-ball where required following a given pot. But he showed a huge, near miraculous ability to recover from poor positions and build large breaks. He’d already beaten out Ronnie O’Sullivan, snooker’s Bradman/Lindrum combined, a man of supernatural talent and skittish temperament. Bingham, a solid man who spends some of his spare time campaigning for Amnesty International, is the opposite, and a testament to why snooker is the best game evah: slowed enough for it to be simultaneously a struggle against the other, against yourself, against failure, against middle-age, against remorse, regret, self-loathing, magical thinking, hubris, demons, the mute indifference of the universe to your desires, the resistance of being-in-itself to the simplest embodied action, and the regular swamping of all meaning by the futility of existence — all played out on a flat void of dumb, crashing spheres. Beats League.