Larry Ryan: Snooker's longest frame ends the eternal dance of mechanics and psychology

The snooker ranks high among the victims of the 21st century’s quickened pace
Larry Ryan: Snooker's longest frame ends the eternal dance of mechanics and psychology
The Focused Jester: England's Mark Selby. (Photo by Alex Burstow/Getty Images)

You have never found much in the way of life coaching on this page, but can I just recommend the tremendous value in taking your holidays while the snooker is on.

The snooker ranks high among the victims of the 21st century’s quickened pace.

The modern attention span is not cut out for settling things across 30-odd frames over three days and four sessions.

And sure, even on your holidays, it can be hard to reconcile the call of an afternoon immersed in the Crucible action with domestic responsibilities.

But when one of our many go-to wellness advisors writes the book on the ultimate staycation, they will surely prescribe at least one session daily from the World Snooker Championships. Call it isometric stretching for the mind.

It takes a few days to attune to the ancient rhythms of the grand old tournament. You’re only truly there when the fog has cleared and you find yourself worrying about nothing other than whether that red to the right of the cluster will go to the middle pocket.

You’re locked in at that stage. Fully committed to this small world of angles and collisions.

Where true drama is that unwanted kiss on the yellow. Where improbable joy is the manufacture of a three-ball plant. Where a plot twist is that ‘horrible kick’ on a black off its spot.

Ah, the kick. A cruel quirk of physics. A crude, random imposition on this place of order and reason. Snooker’s own parable about best-laid plans.

The game’s ability to engross can be measured in the language used at these times of ‘catastrophic’ misfortune.

When a barely perceptible deviation of the balls from their natural course is described as ‘a thunderous kick’, you know you’re dealing with men who are operating at a higher level. Who have fully tuned into their senses.

You are now in a very special place. Where you will be able, like Eurosport commentator Dominic Dale, to see Neil Robertson v Mark Selby as Tyson v Holyfield — “all-out attack versus ring craft”.

And there, surely, is the lesson the gurus would have us take away from the Crucible. When you can find this much intrigue landlocked between four cushions of a 12-foot table, just what wonders await our stretched minds back in the wild once these magical 17 days are up?

It’s just a pity that nobody out in the real world calls a foul on themselves.

The past fortnight has spoiled us. There has been plenty of our old friend, controvassy, for those needing a little soap opera with their psychodrama.

We have enjoyed the rich pleasures of a man standing in another man’s eyeline and the other man following him out to the jacks for a meeting of minds.

We have seen a referee change his mind altogether on a key decision in a final frame after the sport’s greatest player quizzically raised an eyebrow. And we are inclined to respect the referee more for it, since reffing a game of integrity should always be a dialogue.

We have heard the same superstar cast aspersions on the whole sport, assuring us he is only hanging in there still because most of the rest are useless.

We indulge Ronnie, with that kind of talk, because he is Ronnie. Even though we know well that anybody who has ever compiled a break beyond 50 is not useless. Let alone these lads who are rattling in centuries at their ease.

Instead, we await Ronnie’s moments of clarity, such as when he likened himself to Maradona or Ballesteros. At those times there is no sense at all there is hubris at play, only that Ronnie is finally giving himself his due.

The other great beauty of the Crucible is the eternal dance of mechanics and psychology.

There is no end to the mind games. The sweaty straight red on frame ball. The forbearance needed when the perfect cannon into the pack puts everything safe. The loaded significance of the final frame of a session. The cavernous gap between 6-2 and 5-3 after a tough morning.

We have the Crucible curse and ‘clincher’s disease’. And the sacred duty to the snooker Gods to make the most of a fluke. Because the wheel of fortune keeps turning.

Yet at other times, even without the ‘knowledgeable’ Crucible crowd to guide us, we simply revel in the mechanics. In a world of stun-run-through and check side, there is lovely, simple pleasure in watching somebody land right side of the blue.

Though with John Virgo in exile, we are not quite as alarmed these days about where the cue ball is going.

This year, Steve Davis’ punditry has gone deep into the technical stuff, every miss seemingly down to deceleration through the cue ball.

Steve even broke the magic circle by showing us how Ronnie clicks his heels together to reset between shots. A nod to The Process from the master of flow. Still, as he punched in that brilliant 133 clearance that flattened Mark Williams, if Ronnie was clicking his heels it was quicker than Flatley.

Ronnie, like them all maybe, is at his best when he can switch seamlessly between thinking deeply and not thinking at all. A state of affairs he might well be practising for in his interviews.

If mechanics ever had designs on trumping psychology, you could forget about it after yesterday’s longest frame. In today’s final, Kyren Wilson will have to learn snooker all over again after a remarkable decider completely emptied him and Anthony McGill. 

"Remarkable scenes of humanity," is how they described it on the BBC, as two normally fine technicians closed it out with the kind of messing you could have seen any day of the week down the UCC snooker room back in the day. 

They were still at it in the second semi at time of writing, the Rocket and the Jester from Leicester. Two great champions.

A brilliant split-screen video did the rounds during the match. Ronnie’s fastest 147 from 1997, mopped up in less time than Mark Selby once mulled over a tricky red to the middle.

The lord of this dance is very much a player for the century. A poster boy for getting things done now. The genius who tells us he can take it or leave it was coming strong again last night, though he had punched the table in frustration and looked to be running just to stand still.

The Rocket may be the more compelling character. But the crafty, revitalised, patient Selby, a man who can wait however long it takes to beat you, arguably leaves us mortals with more to take away into the wilds of Monday.

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