Stuart Bingham completed an astonishing transition from journeyman to king of the Crucible as he brilliantly beat Shaun Murphy to take the Betfred World Championship title.
The 38-year-old from Basildon defied expectations to see off Ronnie O’Sullivan and Judd Trump to reach his first final in Sheffield, and pulled off a stunning 18-15 triumph, finishing with a sparkling break of 88 as wife Michelle watched on with a huge smile across her face. Before the break was finished Bingham punched the air in jubilation.
It made him the oldest world champion since Ray Reardon, at 45, won in 1978.
Bingham showed the composure of a player who had been playing Crucible finals for many years, rather than one who in eight previous visits had reached the quarter-final stage only once, which was the reality.
For a large part of his career, Bingham has been a rank-and-file cueman, with contesting finals or even semi-finals a pipe dream until something clicked in his mid-thirties. Fifteen years ago he caused a sensation by beating defending champion Stephen Hendry in the first round at the World Championship, however for five years in a row, beginning in 2003, he failed to even qualify.
Landing a pair of ranking titles, in Australia and then China, has marked him out as a dangerman, but not even Bingham was expecting this.
The world number 10 suspected the day would not come after becoming accustomed to early exits in Sheffield, and had a disbelieving look about him in the early stages of the match.
He trailed 3-0 and 8-4, but crucially got back to 9-8 behind after Sunday’s play, and as Murphy faltered he swept ahead on Monday afternoon, creaming off the first four frames to go 12-9 in front.
When the match reached 15-12, Murphy had problems, and when he trailed 55-0 in the next frame those problems deepened.
Then Bingham over-cut a black and a glimmer of hope presented itself to Murphy. He cleared up with 75, and won the next frame too with a 64 break to nudge to just a frame behind.
Murphy was on a quest to become the sixth man to win more than once at the Crucible, following his success a decade ago. His idol Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, John Higgins, Mark Williams and Ronnie O’Sullivan are the players with multiple wins.
Murphy needed three chances to take the 30th frame, and Bingham, faltering just at the wrong time, obliged with them. His three-frame lead was history.
Murphy gave away 38 points in fouls in the next frame, after being put in two problematic snookers, and when attempting to escape from a third he left Bingham the yellow. It had reached an hour in duration when the pair took a toilet break, with the frame still unresolved, never mind the match.
Eventually, after 63 minutes and 31 seconds, Bingham fired in the pink to nudge 16-15 ahead, two frames from the title.
Bingham’s newest fan, former tennis star Martina Navratilova, wrote on Twitter: “This frame was the equivalent of a 18:16 set or something like that...wow”
And it was just one frame required when he made 55 in taking the next, with Murphy then handing Bingham a golden chance to complete his triumph.
Going for broke by taking on a long red, Murphy missed it by a large margin and Bingham completed his greatest win.
“Wow,” Bingham said. “At one stage there at 15-all I thought I was going to do Shaun's speech, all commiserations.
“I think it was a 63-minute frame and to go 16-15 up, that changed everything. It calmed me down. Unbelievable. Winner, winner, chicken dinner!”
Asked if he could sum up what it meant after 20 years of trying he added: “Everything.
“Twenty years as a pro. Blood, sweat, and tears, on the road, qualifying in places like Prestatyn and Malvern, places like that. Everything rolled into one, so many family and friends backing me, it’s just been unbelievable.”
Murphy, while disappointed, was full of praise for Bingham.
“It’s been a great fortnight for me,” he said. “It’s not finished the way I wanted it to. I came here well prepared and gave it my best as I always do and to come up against an inspired Stuart Bingham, who’s beaten Ronnie O’Sullivan and others to get here, sometimes your name is just on the trophy.
“As a snooker geek like Stuart, there is not a player alive who deserves it more than him.”