Saturday 25 November 2017

Destiny arrives right on cue in familiar tale of woe

Tommy Conlon

J immy Jimmy. Oh Jimmy Jimmy. Don't do it Jimmy. Don't go there. Dear oh dear oh dear. He's gone and done it.

Ah Jimmy. You shouldn't have. You were told plenty of times. And you're old enough to know better. But would you listen? No. Same old story: blessed with talent, cursed by character.

You shoulda played safe. The green was never an option! Dennis knew it, Willie knew it, the Nugget knew it, we all knew it. Not against Hendry; not against Hendry of all people.

It would've been a bit too late to rewrite the history books, but Jimmy, you could at least have revolted against the tyranny of predestination. Because your story isn't written in the stars. You are not predestined to lose eternally to Hendry.

Nobody has ordained it so. Even at 48, you still had time to escape your doom, to rebel against fate, to chart your own course.

But hark, one can hear noises off, voices in the wind. They are the philosophers, sat in a circle, who have studied the mysteries of the green baize, because they know that in snooker they can read the runes of the human burden. And they are saying, forefingers raised to make the point, 'Ah ha! But Stephen Hendry isn't Jimmy White's nemesis; Jimmy is Jimmy's own nemesis. His talent is mere ornament; character is what matters. Character is fate.'

And therefore Jimmy is fated to lose in perpetuum to the man with the greater will, to the man who has always controlled his own destiny.

But, we protest, that's so unfair! You can't be so certain about these things. Every man has the right to decide his own fate! They ponder these childish hopes, disdain on their ancient faces. They finally reply, with fearsome gravity: 'Not at the UK Championship in Telford.'

But dammit, Jimmy had the chance to prove them wrong, these know-alls, even in darkest Telford on a Monday night. Hendry was all over the place. "I've never seen him cue as bad as this," said Willie Thorne on the BBC. "He just doesn't look like he can play at all."

White wasn't much better, mind, but he was leading 8-7 and needed just one more frame to clinch a victory that would've struck a blow for human freedom around the world.

It's no wonder he started to feel the pressure. "That was a bit of a nervy one from Jimmy!" declared Dennis Taylor at the start of the 16th frame. No problem, we fooled ourselves, Jimmy's been hitting nervy ones for 30 years. And Hendry, at 41, was a shadow, the once-mighty fire reduced to embers that would flare for a few shots before fading again.

White's talent has been expiring for much longer but these veterans possess a lengthy star-trail, one that takes them well into middle age. With Hendry leading 60 points to 1, White needed the remaining four reds, four blacks and all the colours to tie the frame. But, inevitably, when he had little to lose by going all out for them, White ignited. He potted the first red and sent the ball round the table, off four cushions, to land beautifully behind the black. He then generated tremendous backspin off the final red to get down for black again. His was an incandescent talent in its prime.

With just the colours remaining, Hendry left a simple yellow; the green however was jammed on the right cushion.

Thorne: "So, just roll the yellow in, Dennis, and play the snooker?"

Taylor: "Absolutely. Pot the yellow and try and get up behind that blue and pink. Just roll it in and get that snooker."

White rolled the yellow in alright, but instead laid up for the green. A tough shot was made even harder by the need to stretch for it using the rest.

Thorne (puzzled): "Do you think he'll take it on? This is only 50-50 if he takes it on." White gets down on the shot. Taylor (alarmed): "Is he going for it?" He goes for it. Taylor (deflated): "He did, and he may have thrown the frame away there." He had. It was 8-8 and we knew in our bones what would happen next. The fates were aligned again. Each player was about to fulfil his role in this preordained drama. White's

break-off told a familiar tale. He left a loose red. It would be his last shot. It was the 1990s all over again, Hendry's frayed nerve suddenly turned to steel.The game's greatest player summoned his old power from the ether and went to work. He split the pack of reds and cruised to a winning break of 73.

As he did so, White sat in his chair shaking his head.

His career shouldn't be defined completely by those traumas at the hands of Hendry back in the day. To reach six world finals, he needed to produce hundreds of brilliant shots under mind-bending pressure.

It's just that there was another level with which he couldn't cope. Other players, just a few, had less natural talent but more natural fortitude.

Maybe they are right, maybe these things are decided long before a snooker player picks up a cue, or before anyone does anything.

"Gutted," said Jimmy afterwards. "I really felt comfortable that last frame," said Hendry. "Soon as I split the pack, the match was over."

Sunday Independent

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