Sport on TV: Shafts of wit save darts from Shepherd's final breakdown

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The Independent Culture

Fearlessness is clearly a desirable quality in sportsmen and women, although there surely has to be an accompanying sense of the magnitude of the task at hand. I remember watching a coltish Ryan Giggs, in a penalty shoot-out early in his career, taking the ball from the centre circle to the penalty area playing keepy-uppy. You looked on in smiling awe at the Copacabana Kid what coolness and composure! What a young god! He then missed the penalty.

It was the same for Kirk Shepherd in the PDC World Championship darts final on New Year's Day (Sky Sports 1). Rather than looking like the 500-1 outsider he was, the sheet metal worker only recently acquainted with the big time, the Ramsgate lad looked as though he'd done it all 180 times before, playing with the slightly distracted air of someone washing the dishes while listening to the radio. He also threw like a man in Marigolds. In Sky's preamble he was compared to North Korea in '66. They meant the Italy game, but it was Portugal Shepherd came up against.

He entered the arena to "20th Century Boy", waving the flag of St George Part is Canadian and accompanied by a dolly bird in hotpants. Part, or "Darth Maple", as he is known to the civilised world, did the Star Wars schtick with Chewbacca leading the way, Princess Leia by Part's side and a stormtrooper bringing up the rear, as it were. "Eat your heart out, Cecil B DeMille!" Sid Waddell remarked during the opening fanfare.

We look to the mighty Sid primarily for his embellishments, his verbal curlicues and frantic phrase-making. But he's good on the technicalities, too, rapidly identifying Shepherd's "ballistical problems" the angle of entry of his first dart into and around the treble 20, which was making it difficult to get the next two in there. "That dart could cost him the match!" Waddell warned as Part was forging his way into a 4-0 lead in sets and a 7-2 victory. "He's got to get that marker into the bed or to the side. It's about geometry."

As usual, Waddell had all the angles covered, though one or two lines might have been worked out in advance (as a critic mentioned four times in his recent book I'd better be careful here). "The sort of lad who does his own laundry," he observed of the underdog, setting himself up nicely for "and Shepherd washed his socks by night".

His colleague Dave Lanning had also clearly been thinking about what he was going to say. "He wants to be a world-beater," he said of Shepherd, "not a panel-beater." You could almost hear Waddell grimacing. "I wish I'd said that," he conceded.

Shepherd was never in it. "Hair standing on end," Waddell observed. "Is it gel or is it tension?" If it was tension it didn't show; and Shepherd didn't gel.

In a remarkable development, the most Waddellesque line was Lanning's. "It's a sauna bath of emotion," he roared. "This atmosphere is hydroelectric!"