White believes he can reward the public will

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You only have to look at the bookmakers' odds to discern the mood at the Embassy World Championship. Mark Williams, next season's No 1, is a logical favourite followed by John Higgins and Matthew Stevens and it is only when you get to the fifth name on the list do you realise that sentiment is taking over from hard-headed reasoning and that prices are influenced by the weight of money they attract.

Jimmy White at 12-1? This is a man who last won a ranking tournament eight years ago, who last prevailed at any event in June 1993 and who has made it to the final at the Crucible six times and not won the thing. He can't win here. He can't, can he?

In the realm of popular will he can and the emergence of White in the quarter-finals has substantially compensated for the loss of Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O'Sullivan in the first round. Even his car, sponsored by a garage and with his name emblazened on the door, attracted crowds outside the Crucible yesterday. "I do hope he can win," one elderly passerby said, acting as a spokeswoman for most of the nation judging by the goodwill messages being received by the venue.

Quite why White, someone who has never had the commitment to match his talent, should be loved by the British and winners like Stephen Hendry and Steve Davis distrusted is a subject to sustain a convention of psychologists but there is no doubt the sentiment is sincere. The public do not like White; they adore him.

Whether the 37-year-old White can triumph when the average age of players is creeping towards the lower 20s is highly debatable, but he believes so because yesterday he was offered the option of swapping all his prizes for one world title and he declined it. "Because I'll win it one day," he reasoned.

With Hendry and O'Sullivan ejected from his side of the draw this is possibly his last great opportunity as the highest-ranked player barring his way to the final is Stevens, who is provisionally seventh for next year.

"I'm improving as I go but I have to start scoring a bit heavier to go on and win it," White said. "I'm just concentrating on that.

"When I was young I didn't prepare properly, I enjoyed myself too much off the table. This year I have just been practising and having early nights."

That last statement would only have been bettered in terms of a surprise if he had announced he was doing Bible readings in the local church, but if White is being disciplined it is because he genuinely believes he has a chance.

If that is one thirty/forty-something believing the unlikely, he is not alone. Yesterday you could imagine you had gone back 10 years. On one table was John Parrott, 35, taking a 9-7 lead over Joe Swail and on the other Steve Davis, 42, was locking cues with John Higgins.

Parrott, the 1991 champion, is another beneficiary of the seed cull and he will not meet a member of the top 16 until the semi-finals at least. He despaired about his form after beating Gary Wilkinson 10-9 in the first round, but yesterday was cueing far more fluently and he probably went to bed last night disappointed that he needs as many as four frames today to reach the quarter-finals.

Ahead 5-3 overnight, he won the first three frames yesterday with breaks of 30, 102 and 45 and at that point he had collected seven in succession since he had trailed 3-1 on Saturday night.

Players ride these surges because they never know when they are going to end and from being unstoppable Parrott suddenly was halted as Swail compiled a run of his own with four successive frames. Just when it appeared the swings would lead to end-of-day parity, however, Parrott took the 16th frame with an 80.

Davis was lambasted by Graeme Dott for his slow play in the first round, something that concerned the six-times champion so much he raced round the table against Higgins yesterday. He did what? If anything he moved more deliberately as he tried to trap the 1998 champion in a web of meticulous safety play.

It worked, too, and if Higgins had not nicked the first frame of the day with a 62, Davis would have taken a 3-0 lead. But fully restricting one of the game's great potters is a near-impossible task and by the finish the second seed had a 6-2 lead.

* Kelly Fisher, the world No 1, took her third successive women's World Championship at the Crucible yesterday, beating Lisa Ingall, a part-time model in her first final, 4-1. "I was a bit nervous beforehand but as soon as I got on to the table I relaxed and really enjoyed it," Fisher said.

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