Passion simmers constantly beneath the surface in championship snooker, but seldom erupts in such bizarre fashion as it did when the ordinarily phlegmatic Scot Chris Small conceded the seventh frame against Alan McManus with 14 reds still remaining. Trailing 7-1 at lunch, Small conceded the match on the opening day of the Embassy World Championship here in Sheffield.
Six turgid frames, one of 42 minutes, none short of 20, which took two hours 54 minutes in total, saw McManus 5-1 up, having won two frames on the black and one on the pink. Little had gone right for Small and, after potting the opening red in the seventh, his frustration boiled over.
An unfortunate kiss left the cue ball in among the remaining reds. Small had line of sight to the black, but even with the spider and all available attachments this was impossible to hit, as he had to bridge over so many balls.
Still with the spider, he failed to contact the brown via two cushions, and in his fury threw the cue ball into the reds to concede the frame with the all-time lowest score in tournament play standing at 1-4.
There is only so much a man can stand. Small's degenerative back condition demands regular injections of steroids, and his specialist warned him that these are thinning his bones and exposing him to considerable risk in later life. He has tried injections of mouse extract, magnets in his shoes and under his mattress, but on top of everything has problems with his neck and a trapped nerve in his skull. A recent injection into the base of his skull left him with problems focusing his eyes. While having a steroid injection into his spine last Thursday, he was warned of a build-up of fluid behind his eyes.
These physical problems were cited as his reason for not continuing this morning, but having come to the Crucible 14th in the provisional world rankings, this pluckiest of players is guaranteed a place in the top 16 in the end-of-season rankings for the first time.
When Mark Williams, the defending champion, led his fellow Welshman, Dominic Dale, 6-1, a mid-evening return to Cardiff to see his fiancée Joanne and their day-old son, Connor, seemed likely. Instead, he came under pressure as Dale levelled at 7-7 before managing to respond with a timely three-frame winning streak to prevail 10-7.
Recently the world No 1's concentration has lacked its edge. He was present for the delivery on Friday and had only half an hour's practice after travelling to Sheffield and another half-hour yesterday before the 10am start.
"It's the worst preparation I've ever had but I wouldn't have changed it for the world. I'd've been very disappointed to lose but I'd have got over it because Joanne and the baby are coming home tomorrow. Even at 7-7, I didn't feel any nerves. I don't think this was a good thing."
Generously fed with chances, Williams made breaks of 105, 69, 68, 57, 64 and three more over 30 in setting up his commanding lead before Dale came to life with 85 and 63 in the last two frames of the morning. Dale also won four of the first five of the evening, which took him to 7-4.
Even though Dale's highest break was 54, he was scoring regularly enough to suggest that Williams might have no need to return to Sheffield.
A quintet of Crucible champions, John Spencer, Terry Griffiths, Steve Davis, Dennis Taylor and Stephen Hendry, have all failed to clear their first fence the following year but Williams reduced the possibility that he was about to suffer a similar fate with a late 47 to regain the lead at 8-7 before building up early leads in the remaining two frames.
TODAY'S ORDER OF PLAY
10am: J Perry (Eng) v R Milkins (Eng), A McManus (Scot) v C Small (Scot) to finish.
2.30pm: J Higgins (Scot) v R Day (Wal), Q Hann (Aus) v A Hicks (Eng) to finish.
7pm: M Stevens (Wal) v J Wattana (Thai) to finish, K Doherty (Ire) v J Swail (N Ire) to finish.
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