Kevin Garside: Apologies to my wife, but the two sides of Ronnie are a must-see
Ebdon and Dott a man can forgo; not so the Rocket with the choke out
The snooker World Championship is, for this junky, a guilty pleasure, stolen time out of sight of a vigilant wife. An old boyfriend's obsession with the baize killed whatever chance I had of a shared experience in front of the television in late April with Mrs G. The gentle echo of ball on ball floods her synapses with grim memories of waiting for a frame to end so life could begin. And here am I wondering, Masters Sunday apart, if there is a finer accompaniment to a glass of red of a spring evening than this green canvas and the dry, northern delivery of John Virgo?
Blame Pot Black. On Monday nights, my father and I would gorge on The High Chaparral and the half hour of televised snooker that followed in the company of Ted Lowe. The players looked like universal dads all with slicked back, thinning hair or, in the case of Graham Miles, none. It was tough to make heroes of Ray Reardon, John Spencer, John Pullman and Fred Davis, but whispering Ted managed well enough until his Christmases all came at once in the shape of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins. It was Ted who gave us snooker's greatest contribution to sporting gobbledegook: "And for those watching in black and white, the pink is next to the green."
The Two Ronnies was another of my father's favourites. Were he around to witness the start of the 2013 World Championships with Ronnie at the Crucible table, old Pops would have had two shows in one. We are to thank psychiatrist Steve Peters for keeping apart the two sides of O'Sullivan that, left unfettered, have had a catastrophic impact on his snooker. O'Sullivan acknowledges the dark moments and the role Peters has played in keeping him at the table when the world intrudes. Nevertheless, there is always about O'Sullivan a tension, a sense that drama is only a miscue away.
Interestingly, his preparation for his return to snooker has included practice sessions in Sheffield with Peter Ebdon, against whom he disintegrated so vividly in the quarter-final of 2005, sitting in his chair picking randomly at his forehead, unseeing eyes staring blankly in the direction of an opponent potting him into oblivion. O'Sullivan was undone from within and threatened to take a year off or even quit the game. Twelve months ago, this time after one of the great displays in a Crucible final, rendering Ali Carter a club player for two days, he was off again.
The drift lasted until November, by which time pig farming and running could sustain him no longer, and back he came, to a defeat, and then he was gone until deciding he fancied it again, announcing in February his intention to defend at the Crucible.
After the number of column inches dedicated to unravelling O'Sullivan's psyche it would be cruel to add my two-penn'orth. He is presented as a complex, troubled soul touched by a rare gift for intuiting the geometry of a snooker table. The truth is probably more prosaic, and will emerge one day when it dawns on him that his condition does not make him so different from the rest of us: we all have a story to tell, with too few caring souls to listen.
His return led to Crucible ticket sales hitting an unprecedented £1m. "It's all right practising," chuntered the great Virgo curmudgeonly, "let's see how he handles the Crucible collywobbles." Five minutes after a left-handed break against Marcus Campbell, Virgo had his answer. One-nil to the Rocket. It was stupendous theatre. "I told you he was rusty," chortled John Parrott.
O'Sullivan was off like a train again in the second frame, and the eulogies gushed. This is all part of the myth-building that accompanies any sport. He was, while the balls were dropping at least, Messi in a dinner suit. What Messi does not have is the dizzying array of facial tics; the forward thrust of the chin, the curled lip, the lizard-like flick of the tongue, all conveying a sense of where he might be on the emotional Richter scale. Messi can lose himself in the group. O'Sullivan knows the camera rarely leaves him. He is the story, win or lose.
A 10-4 flourish completed in Saturday's final session saw O'Sullivan into the second round, significantly testing the marital harmony in this corner of north Bucks. Ebdon and Graeme Dott a man can forgo. Not so the Rocket with the choke out. Sorry, love.
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