Tuesday 17 January 2017

Public enemy No 1 doesn't check out without a fight

Tommy Conlon

Published 08/01/2012 | 05:00

It was midnight at the oasis, New Year's Day had run its course, and still the titans of tungsten were hammering the lipstick.

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Down in the cheap seats the boozed-up mob was agog. This was proper bread and circuses for the vulgarati, top-notch cakes and ale. Short of a hanging, they couldn't have been happier.

Up on stage at the Alexandra Palace in north London, Stoke's Adrian Lewis and Aldershot's James Wade were firing darts like they were coming out of a Gatling gun. It was the semi-final of the world championships and the Ally Pally had become the house of flying arrows.

The game had already started late because the previous semi-final had gone all the way to the 11th and final set. The second semi was just up and running when both players felt a breeze blowing across the oche. They left the stage for some 20 minutes while organisers sorted the problem.

When they returned, Wade took over. Lewis was defending the world title he'd won 12 months earlier. Boastful, gobby and unpopular, he made a belligerent gesture to the crowd when he won the third set. He got a round of boos for his trouble.

By the time Sunday slipped into Monday, Wade was 4-1 up in sets and needing to win just two more. Formidably consistent and one of the tournament favourites, the 28-year-old left-hander was playing at the top of his game.

In the fifth set he hit a 126 checkout to break the Lewis throw: treble 19, treble 19, double 6. It was what the great Sid Waddell would've called "Atavistic tungsten!" But Sid was diagnosed with cancer last September and in the Sky Sports commentary booth we had to make do instead with a chap by the name of Rod Studd, no less. Alongside him was the current player Wayne Mardle.

At 4-1 down, Lewis, said Mardle, had to win the next set. Otherwise, "not a prayer". Lewis won the first leg. He was waiting on a 148 checkout in the second leg when Wade, on 121, came to the oche. Wade hit single 20 and treble 17 to set up a shot at the bullseye. "He'll have to go for it," said Studd, "he's got no option, Lewis is on a finish." But Wade didn't go for it. He hit a single 10 to leave himself on a handy 40 -- double top -- for his next visit.

This decision spoke volumes. Wade was publicly declaring that his opponent would not nail the 148 he needed. "He's saying," Studd remarked, "to Adrian Lewis, 'You're not taking this out, pal'. He's saying to the world champion, 'You're not up to this'. That's a bold decision!" But he was right: Lewis didn't come close. Wade took the leg, and the next two, to leave him 5-1 up in sets.

Lewis meanwhile was suffering further indignities: on one visit during this set his first dart landed in the single 1 bed; his next bounced out and the third landed in single 19 for a grand total of 20. His technique had deteriorated, said Mardle, he was putting "loads of shoulder" into his throw. He had managed just three 180 maximums in six sets. "That's unheard of," said Studd.

Lewis had first throw in the seventh and held it to finally win another set. But at 5-2 Wade just had to hold his throw to win. The set went to 2-2 in legs. Lewis was still struggling. "The crown is slipping," said Studd as the champ hit a paltry 58 in the fifth leg. "Lewis now is sliding towards defeat."

Wade came to the oche with three darts in his hand and 100 for the match. With his third dart he needed double 18. It landed low of the wire. Lewis had three darts for 98 to stay in the game. He needed just two: treble 20, double 19.

And with that, a psychological transformation occurred. Lewis won the next set 3-0 in five minutes flat. He won the next in a 3-0 whitewash too. Suddenly it was 5-5. Lewis, said Mardle, was "on the rampage". He started stacking up 180s; he was perforating what Sid calls "the red bit", "the lipstick" -- the treble 20.

Wade meanwhile was falling apart. "How could this possibly have happened?" asked Studd. "He was 5-1 up and at 5-3 he had one dart, a double 18, to go through?"

In the first leg of the final set Wade had a chance to stop the rot: two darts for a 57 checkout. Single 17 and double top would do the job. Incredibly he landed in treble 17 and couldn't finish from there.

"That is pressure," said Mardle. "That is pure pressure. His action's gone, his head appears to have gone."

Lewis took the leg; they both missed chances for the second leg but Lewis took it too. He had now won nine legs on the trot. In the third leg he faced an improbable 161 for the match. Treble 20? Check. Treble 17? Check. Bullseye? Bang. He could barely hit the board an hour earlier; now he wouldn't have missed it if he was blindfolded.

Later that night, Lewis coasted home in the final. But it was the semi-final that had had them rocking in the aisles at the Ally Pally. It was, as dear old Sid famously said on another occasion, "Tungsten-ticklin' of terpsichorean proportions."

thecouch@independent.ie

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