Crowd pulls White back from brink

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The Independent Online

It seems the Embassy World Championships is going to be plagued with surprises. First Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan were bundled out of the tournament in the first three days but, if they were shocks of grand proportions, they were nothing to whatoccurred yesterday.

Jimmy White won his first-round match against Billy Snaddon 10-7 and then astonished the Crucible by announcing he had spent the night in between the two sessions of the match sleeping. Not just for the normal eight hours either, but 14, which in his terms makes Rip VanWinkle's slumbers seem like a quick 40 winks in front of the television.

White, the bon viveur's bon viveur, has had whole tournaments where he has not slept that much in total. Indeed, he has made a career out of turning up for matches with his eyes as red as the first ball he pots after nights not so much on the tiles as on a city's worth of roof-tops. What his hangovers are like is anyone's guess but Caligula, no mean party-thrower himself, would have needed a week to recover from them.

White had to be ill to sleep so long and yesterday he revealed he was suffering from flu. "At 3-1 down at the interval I nearly passed out," he said. "If you have a head cold it's not so bad but when it's all over your body... I was shaking and felt horrible."

Most players would have succumbed to the symptoms but if there is anyone schooled in the art of performing while under the weather (even if it is self-induced) it is White, and from 6-4 down yesterday he won six out of seven frames for a second-round match against Hendry's conqueror, Stuart Bingham. There were no spectacular breaks - his highest was 66 - but he scored heavily enough to stagger across the line.

"I hung in there," he said. "I was prepared for 9-9 this morning, but I was getting stronger towards the end. I clipped in a good red near the end. That was a years ago shot. I'm delighted to win, it's better than being on the M1 isn't it?"

It is those years that are the key to White's enormous popularity. The public initially warmed to the loveable rogue from Tooting because of his scant regard to risk on and off the table and he has been elevated to the status of a sporting institution since because of his six losing appearances in the world final. There could only be one more popular winner of this event, but Nelson Mandela has declined to enter.

There is, however, a rowdy element to White's support and yesterday it upset Snaddon, who is a happy-go-lucky sort and has no reputation as a moaner. "I was 4-1 up and I let the crowd get to me," he said. "It was wee bit intimidating. I don't think there was anybody cheering for me."

The occasionally unfair clamour will grow if White gets beyond Bingham and into the quarter-finals because he is in the side of the draw that has been virtually stripped bare of seeds. "If I feel better there's no reason why I shouldn't start producing against Stuart," he said. "He's obviously a great player. You don't beat Stephen Hendry here if you're not."

While White was completing his first-round match, the world No 1, Mark Williams, was making quiet progress in the second round, establishing a 5-3 lead over Drew Henry. On paper it is a satisfactory start but on the table it was even better because Henry began with a break of 133 and was 3-2 up before Williams established his advantage with breaks of 79, 65 and 36.