Sport On TV: Peculiar poetry of O'Sullivan

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The Independent Online
KEITH ALLEN reached the height of his powers a while back in the Comic Strip when he played the twin roles of a yuppie and Millwall-supporting builder, each of whose character begins to take over the other. The scene where he stands in front of the bathroom mirror, his face registering every blow in the battle raging in his head between the two personae, was more disturbing than funny, and left an indelible impression.

This week I've been wondering if a similar process hasn't somehow occurred with me and some snooker fan out there. When Ronnie O'Sullivan began the semi-final of the World Championship against Stephen Hendry on Thursday (BBC2), I found myself in the hitherto inconceivable position of caring about the result of a game of snooker. (As is the way with these things, he was well and truly stuffed in the first session and already facing defeat when this paper went to press).

I guess it's partly to do with Rocket Ronnie's exotic background, and to his complex personality, the way he's often a victim of his own mental processes - those things that make him, snooker aside, the most interesting character the sport has to offer. But it's mostly about watching him play.

He moves so crisply and cleanly, a bit like James Fox in Performance as Chas Devlin, the most stylish fictional hood ever to intimidate a witness or extort a bit of protection money. Not a joule of energy is wasted, every muscle and synapse in perfect harmony. Most people, when putting a cue on a rest then playing a shot, would place the rest, then put the cue on the rest, then bend down, then have a look, then play the shot, then stand up straight. O'Sullivan brings rest and cue together in one fluid motion, bending as he does so and barely pausing before executing a perfect pot, the white barely away from the cue before he's straightening himself, contemplating his next move almost before the colour is in the pocket.

I admit I have been unreasonably fascinated by the players' body language. Hendry is businesslike but not clipped, so smooth he's almost not there, while Mark Williams seemed to be sleep walking his way through his semi against John Higgins, like a young curate creeping round after mass snuffing out the candles.

These distractions aren't indulged in because the snooker is boring - indeed, for the likes of myself, to whom it's a foreign country, there's the continual pleasure of discovery. On Wednesday night, however, watching the Hungary v England game (Sky Sports 1 and ITV), all excuses not to concentrate on the football were gratefully received, and though making fun of foreign surnames is a cheap shot, I couldn't help wondering if Matyus drinks rose, Dombi has a son or Sebok endorses Reebok. And as for the England goalkeeper...

Is it all Michael Palin's fault, this celebrity travelogue rubbish? I've generally managed to avoid it - for which I am truly thankful, if all specimens are as banal as David Gower and Rory McGrath driving up Queensland's Bruce Highway (howls of derisive laughter) in a camper van for Boys on Holiday (BBC1, Tuesday).

We saw them fixing a hose-pipe to a tap, buying a hat (trying on matching Ruud Gullit wigs was especially side-splitting), eating in a restaurant, emptying the chemical toilet. The only antidote to the resultant narcolepsy was the traumatic distress caused by the sight of McGrath wiping his blotchy, sweaty face with Gower's underpants (sadly, Gower wasn't in them at the time) while cooking a fry-up that looked to be teeming with pathogens.

Fortunately, life has more to offer than this. Otherwise I think I'd have to lie in the path of the nearest steamroller.

Last week I ripped into Frank Skinner's treatment of Alan Hansen on his chat show. It would seem that Hansen wasn't best pleased, either, appearing on Match of the Day two days later with bruises to his face. He and the alleged comedian must clearly have had a barney afterwards (I'm told they have a bit of previous). I hope it was a case of "you should have seen the other guy".

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