Allen’s first-round exit was one thing — Cao Yupeng’s assured Crucible debut signalled the levelling standards that produced so many shocks in a fascinating opening week. But from there it was sadly inevitable that the proud people of China would suffer another slander. In March, they were, at Allen’s insistence; ignorant, smelly purveyors of disappointing food and inadequate snooker tables. This time they were simply not to be trusted.
No wonder Barry Hearn, forever hustling the sport east, seems at the end of his tether with Allen. “This is a very good time to be a snooker player. It’s not a good time to be an idiot.”
But many of the game’s leading exponents appear to have mistaken the clamour for more personality in the sport as an excuse to showcase the worst aspects of theirs. Before a ball was potted, Mark Williams called the Crucible ‘a shxthole’ on Twitter, while Ding Junhui added petulance in defeat to the swelling Chinese rapsheet. “I don’t think the table’s right. I don’t think the fans are right. All rubbish. Rubbish fans.”
Thank goodness, then, for Stephen Hendry, who showed how the game could be played 20 years ago and has never stopped showing them how to behave. However many we see — Hendry’s was the Crucible’s 10th — the maximum remains one of the finest sporting spectacles. The unnatural hush and the crackle of nervous energy channel ridiculous pressure in a game of millimetres. It’s a little potted slice of perfection.