CRAIG NELSON: Grinding out results in snooker is not past its Selby date yet
11:00pm Saturday 10th May 2014 in Sport
WHEN Ronnie O’Sullivan described his World Championship tormentor Mark Selby as the modern-day Cliff Thorburn, I couldn’t have imagined a worse insult.
As a young lad with a burgeoning interest in the sport, for years Thorburn was the comic book villain to my cue-wielding heroes Steve Davis, Jimmy White and Alex Higgins.
Describing Davis as a hero is stretching it a bit, but for a sport littered at the time by dismally dull characters like Neal Foulds, Terry Griffiths and Ray Reardon, Cliff Thorburn was the leader of the mind-numbing pack.
As a youngster trying hard to foster an interest in a sport that for two weeks dominated one of only three TV channels at my disposal anyone with a nickname like “the Grinder” was clearly going to be a hard sell.
What made it even worse, apart from his disturbingly prominent moustache, was the fact he seemed to have the beating of my favourite players.
The Canadian triumphed over Higgins by two frames in the 1980 final and then, in 1983, became the first man to score a televised maximum 147 break.
How could a man so dull achieve something so remarkable?
Thankfully, Davis put Thorburn back in his place in that year’s final, allowing him to win just six frames on his way to the title.
Thorburn never made another world final and as the sport lost some of its yawn factor with the rise of dashing break-builders like White, Stephen Hendry and O’Sullivan, my one-time villain melted into the background.
So imagine my surprise when, researching this article, I discover the “Grinder” was fined £10,000 by World Snooker in 1989 for using cocaine.
I never realised he had such a wild side, but I doubt that was the aspect of his character O’Sullivan was referring to when he drew comparisons with Selby.
Ronnie’s rocket start to this year’s final was blown off course by Selby’s determined pragmatism, as the Leicester Jester – I assume that’s supposed to be ironic – ground out frame after frame to eventually win the title 18-14.
O’Sullivan admitted he was left numb by his opponent’s deceptive counter-punching, jabbing him with safety before unleashing a knockout long pot to steal the initiative.
What I realise now, and what Ronnie was alluding to, is that, just like in boxing, styles make snooker matches.
While the world may have been gearing up for a Neil Robertson-O’Sullivan showdown, what they actually got was a better contrast and, with it, one of the most competitive finals in recent memory.
And while I was not rooting for the modern-day Thorburn to win, my appreciation of snooker has evolved enough over the years to understand the merit of Selby’s victory.
I just hope he doesn’t make it a habit.