It occurs to me that if I write a review of the Hitchhikers film, then it will be one of about twenty in the Post this week, so I am going to depart from form and write a sports column instead. Many thanks to Shazz for filling my mantle over past weeks.
Completely ignoring the tight run-in for the end of the football and rugby seasons, and the start of the cricket season, I wish to share with you this week the most riveting sporting television there has been for many a year - snooker.
By the time this column goes to press it will already be well known who is this year's Embassy World Champion: either a dour Welshman called Matthew Stevens, or rank outsider Shaun Murphy, fluent both at the table and in post-match interviews1. But the best entertainment by far came from a quarter-final clash between Ronnie O'Sullivan and Peter Ebdon.
This match was far more than just snooker; it was a clash of personalities; it was sportsmanship in the supreme; it was transcendent into sheer psychology. It was sporting television at its very, very best, as we watched one man torture and overcome another.
A little background, for those not familiar. Ronnie O'Sullivan is regarded as one of the most naturally talented players ever to pick up a cue. He entered this year's Embassy with the shortest ever betting odds for an overall victory. But his fragility still shows - he has been mixed up on several occasions with crime and drugs; he gives incomprehensible TV interviews which show a degree of mental frailty; he plays at lightning speed and is constantly frustrated by any failings he shows around the table. Peter Ebdon was a wild-child when he entered the tour in the early 1990s: he brought huge emotional intensity to his matches which endeared him to crowds and frustrated his opponents. More recently in his career, he has been married, shaved his head and brought a very serious and thoughtful approach to his snooker which earned him the Embassy title a few years ago. He is currently regarded as one of the tour's leading strategists and most serious, focussed players.
Ebdon had fought his way through a 2nd round match with Stephen Lee - one of the players he had seriously frustrated previously through an emotional outburst at the Crucible - to meet Ronnie O'Sullivan, who had hitherto been nearly upset by hot prospect Stephen Maguire, but cruised past youngster Ali Carter in the second round. Ebdon knew he had to formulate a special plan.
The first two sessions went largely O'Sullivan's way; he was 10-6 in the lead before going into the final session of the best-of-25 match. But Ebdon was yet to play his trump card - his knowledge of Ronnie's inner demons and frailty. From the start of the third session, Ebdon slowed the pace of the snooker right down2. He was taking nearly 40 seconds over each shot (Ronnie O'Sullivan typically takes as little as 8 seconds) and in one notable instance took five and a half minutes to compile a break of 12 - more than Ronnie had once taken to compile a maximum 147 break at the Crucible.
O'Sullivan was beginning to visibly crack up. He started holding his head in his hands at frustration at his natural game being broken up. He laughed and joked with the audience; he played to the TV cameras in the hope of throwing Ebdon off his game. But Ebdon was not to be fazed. He refused to meet Ronnie's eyes; he did not rise to the bait of clowning; he even managed to get a somewhat biased audience back on his side by a series of dry gestures and - at one point - borrowing the referee's glasses to examine a nearly-touching ball. This was where O'Sullivan snapped and all and sundry knew the match was beyond him. Uninvited, he elbowed in on the conference between Ebdon and the referee. A good joke was made of it by all, but Peter Ebdon gritted his teeth and knew at that moment he had won.
Ronnie O'Sullivan won just one frame of the last 8. He had been outplayed by a master tactician; a supremo of sporting psychology. In a TV interview afterwards, holding a rapidly-diminishing cigarette, Ronnie did a credible job of upholding the excellent sporting name of snooker. He praised Peter Ebdon for employing the tactics he did and professed to be taking a break from the game. Inside, it must be common knowledge, he was fuming, but he had for once been beaten by a better man. The match will go down as Crucible classic.
Ebdon was beaten in the semi-finals by the up-and-coming Shaun Murphy, who played some immaculate snooker and made 4 centuries on his way to a 17-12 victory.
For those who still don't know what I'm talking about, there's a very good Guide Entry on snooker around here somewhere. See if you can find it...
Several A/K/A Random's 'sporting blues'
Oh My! The weekly AmSports report has certainly deteriorated and if it weren't for Our Esteemed Editor, the whole of the Post Sports column would defragment, which is what I think I should program this confuser to do, very, very shortly. My mouse tried to die and I managed to dislodge a hairball from its innards, and download a systems update and do the weekly system check from the anti-virus company, so this thing may be functioning better than I am.
I hope The Movie lasts another week at a theatre near me, but I have sad hopes that cinema can capture the flavour and texture that DNA was able to develop in his books and radio shows... meanwhile, I should try to tripe about AmSport, eh?
Pro basketball playoffs, ah yes... a coach got fined $100,000 for making rude comments about the referee and various other soap operas... the World Hockey Championships began in Austria, so I would believe the two would continue over the upcoming weekend... and then there's the Kentucky Derby... thus, I must digress.
The Kentucky Derby is a simple horse race, the first in a three-race series called the Triple Crown, including the Belmont and Preakmont races that is one of the top hyperventilated AmSports happenings. I cannot describe this as well as Hunter S Thompson did, but it is a gargantuan weekend in the state of Kentucky, at the very least. Thousands gather to camp out in the infield of the track, in the parking lots, hotels, motels and campgrounds in a three-state area for 20 thoroughbred horses and their entouranges (horses have entouranges!) to run in a circle.
The various media goes nuts, has been going nuts, will be going nuts that horses can run in a straight line around a curved track for two-plus minutes, but billion$ will be spend on alcohol, wagers, more alcohol, cookouts, food, more wagers and, of course, more alchohol, as well as cigarette smoke and other sundary items... that I am quite familiar with.
The party has been going on for 131 years and I forgot to mention the cost of charcoal and other fossil fuels involved.
Horse poop is decent fertilizer for tomatoes, though, and other gardens. If I had a tenth of one percent of the money spent, I would be set for the rest of my life, and probably some left over.
And so, being as I'm once again WAY past deadline, I shall conclude the AmSport section of the weekly Post and, in all likelihood, wait until The Movie is on one of the cable teevee channels and will still fall asleep about midway. C'est la vie.
This is random or several or a/k/a something, wondering if I can fill a tub with Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters, over and out.
Elsewhere, in a Small Place Called Europe
Well Northampton Saints avoided relegation from the rugby Zurich Premiership more by luck than design. The lead see-sawed throughout the match but a try by Worcester in the 75th minute was enough to see them win and leap-frog over Northants on the table. They were only saved from ignominy by the fact that Harlequins lost to Sale and so it will be Quins not Saints who play in the First Division. After this close brush with disaster I hope that Saints will pull their socks up and put on a far better show next season.
The top-of-the-tree matches were no less exciting. By a brilliant quirk of nature the top two teams faced each other for the right to play in the final. Sitting on equal scores and with equal bonus points Leicester and Wasps could both see the finish line. The Leicester team, however, was unstoppable and chalked up 5 tries, 4 conversions and 3 penalties on their way to a 45-10 win. They guaranteed their place in the final with a wopping +342 points difference. Wasps must now face Sale in the semi-final this coming Saturday (15.15). Teams given a second chance in the wildcard semi-finals are Saracens and Worcester (Friday 19.45) and Gloucester and Newcastle (Sunday 15.15).
Balls of a Different Shape
Having won the Premiership Chelsea were looking to put the icing on the cake and reach the final of the Champions League. It was not to be, though, as a controversial early goal by Garcia put Liverpool in the lead and it is they who go through.
Liverpool 1 Chelsea 0
Meanwhile, Dutch side PSV took on AC Milan at home in Eindhoven. It looked as if PSV were on top of the match as they lead 2-0 after an hour of play - just enough to force a draw - but Ambrosini headed one in at the start of stoppage time scoring a valuable away goal. PSV answered back with another goal from Cocu but it wasn't enough and Milan go through on the 'Away Goals rule'.
AC Milan 1 PSV 3
Yet More Balls of a Different Shape
Now to Sheffield and an interview with Batman and Robin...
'What?' I hear you ask. Two 'Fathers 4 Justice' staged a rooftop protest at The Crucible on Friday. They eventually came down and were arrested then released without charge by the police. I just don't think that they could compete with the general buzz going on inside the venue!
As Master B already mentioned higher up this column, the snooker this year has been rivetting. Those who dismiss this as boring really should give it another try. When Matthew Stevens and Shaun Murphy
walked out for their opening bout on Sunday the smart money was all on Stevens. After all, Murphy was the outsider. He had played qualifiers to enter the competition proper and had carried odds of 150-1 at the start.
Stevens ended the first session 5-3 up. The second session was smattered with mistakes and misses by both players with Stevens maintaining the upper hand and carrying a 10-6 lead into the second day. At this stage it really looked as if it was a formality for him to win the title once more.
Monday saw Murphy back on song although the earlier frames were won more on faults by the other player than skill. By frame 21 he had pulled back to just one behind Stevens and thrilled the spectators with a 137 break into the bargain. Frame 22 went down to the black and frame 23 saw Stevens back in the lead despite handing Murphy 20 points through a series of fouls - Stevens 12 - Murphy 11.
The final session started and I had company. A friend had 'just popped round for a few minutes' but, despite not particularly being a fan of snooker, he just couldn't tear himself away and we both sat there drinking English Beer and mesmerized by the small screen.
Murphy won the next two frames in style - if he was nervous it wasn't showing. Stevens pulled back level but Murphy forged ahead opening up a two frame lead. Stevens made a supreme effort in frames 31 and 32 to even the score once again. Undeterred Murphy stepped up and rattled in a 97 break to put him one frame away from the title. The clincher was in frame 34 as Stevens missed an easy red allowing Murphy to step back in and quietly post an 83. The unbelievable had happened. Murphy walked away with 18-16 win, the title of World Champion and £250,000 richer. Anyone who had put a tenner on him at the outset was also going to be considerably richer when the bookies opened their doors on Tuesday.