It’s rare in any walk of life to be able so say in a meaningful way that somebody has achieved perfection. That is what snooker legend Stephen Hendry managed today when he scored a maximum clearance of 147 in the Betfred World Snooker Championships.
For the uninitiated, that means Stephen Hendry played 36 consecutive shots without error, potting 15 red balls, each followed by a black ball and then the six colour balls in sequence. His opponent Shaun Murphy played one slightly careless shot to begin the frame (game) and then sat in his chair for the next 12 minutes while Hendry cleared the table (TV viewers in the UK can see a full recording).
Maximum breaks in snooker are relatively rare but becoming less so. Hendry has now hit 9 of them, a record he shares with Ronnie O’Sullivan. According to Wikipedia, there were 8 breaks of 147 in the 1980s, 26 in the 1990s, and there have been 34 since the start of the year 2000. The gradual increase is evidence of rising standards of performance, partly motivated by the large bonuses on offer (Hendry was rewarded with £147,000 for his feat).
Sport is full of brief moments of perfection – any goal scored, any putt that goes into the hole, any ace in tennis – but it is rare to string them together in such a way. Stephen Hendry has won the world title 7 times so he knows more about perfection than most.
Snooker is popular in the UK and Ireland, although at a lower level than in the 1980s, and it has gained a valuable foothold in China, thanks to Chinese players creeping up the world rankings. If talented players from other countries could somehow emerge then it would have potential to expand considerably because it makes for compelling television that is cheap to produce. It attracts a diverse audience (a family friend aged 95 is an avid fan) when a couple of the biggest tournaments are shown each year on the BBC and Eurosport.
The development challenge is a considerable one: without major sponsorship it is hard to justify spending limited resources on an international programme which might not bear fruit for a number of years. And yet without leading players from a wider range of countries, snooker seems destined to remain primarily a British and Irish phenomenon.
Australian Neil Robertson is the only player from outside the British Isles in the quarter-finals of the World Championships this year. It might be best for the sport if he ended up the winner, or perhaps Chinese player Ding Junhui could win it next year. But first they’ll have to get past Stephen Hendry.