Thursday, 30 April 2009

Nicknames and snooker's identity crisis

As cricket’s ‘sexed-up’ alternative, the Indian Premier League, begins in its temporary home of South Africa, another quintessentially British sport has faced calls to reinvent itself.

Thousands of miles away from Twenty20’s pyrotechnics, the World Snooker Championships have been progressing to the calmer sounds of rustling sweet wrappers and coughing pensioners.

The Crucible’s gentle atmosphere, however, belies the tumult of the sport’s identity crisis. Those in charge at World Snooker have announced plans to trial a shorter format of the game, using six red balls instead of the conventional ten.

The decision is perhaps a reaction to Ronnie O’Sullivan’s request in January for the “entrepreneurial skills of Simon Cowell” to help inject some life into what the world number one claims to be a “dying” sport.

After all, the closest snooker has ever come to sexy is Kirk Stevens’ Saturday Night Fever-inspired white tuxedo.

O’Sullivan may have had a darts-styled introduction of a pub venue and bikini -clad women in mind but it seems that he had overlooked the unique glamour which snooker offers.

Tournament emcee Rob Walker is the man given the dubious responsibility of stirring excitement in the arena. If his cry of getting “the boys on the baize” fails to stir, however, he can turn to a rich source of nicknames.

Quarter-finalist Mark Selby has been dubbed the ‘Jester from Leicester’, a moniker which suggests a maverick cueman with a penchant for practical tricks at the table. In reality, though, Selby is a pale, wiry Midlander whose expression seldom changes from a look of deep gloom.

One of the sport’s newcomers, meanwhile, is the proud owner of a feistier pseudonym. Mark ‘The Pistol’ Allen has been referred to as a ‘street fighter’ by commentators but his contrived fist pumps make ‘Tiger’ Tim Henman’s self-motivational exercises look like the growls of an irate Romanian weightlifter.

There is one player who seems above the frolics of novelty alter-egos. According to the BBC, Ronnie O’Sullivan is a man so enigmatic that his profile pieces are required to be shot exclusively in slow-motion with the accompaniment of incongruously serious classical music.

O’Sullivan’s routine threats of retirement at the end of defeats are predictable but, without indulging in his melodramatic reflections, the BBC would have no icon on which to focus their coverage.

While snooker may have a dearth of brooding enigmas, we can be content with the plethora of wilfully naff nicknames, such as Stephen ‘The Wonder of Wiltshire’ Lee, Ali ‘Captain’ Carter and the, er, unforgettable Alan ‘Angles’ McManus.

As written for Leeds Student

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