In an era where the notion of nuance has been replaced by the black and white of right and wrong, Gary Anderson’s withdrawal from darts’ Premier League has, at least, provided scope for a range of views, some rational, others less so.
First and foremost, Anderson’s absence because of a longstanding back injury is a loss to an immensely popular product, a weekly tournament with cumulative attendance that is well into six figures.
Quite simply, the popular Anderson is, after Michael van Gerwen, the world’s second best player. An abject display in December’s World Championship semi-final against the Dutchman should not take the gloss over a hugely successful year for the 48-year-old.
The identity of his replacement, however, has proven a deeply divisive subject. Between the initial announcement and the revelation that nine players would share the opportunity to replace Anderson, a range of names were chucked into the ring.
Simon Whitlock, perhaps the most worthy contender having played in the competition last year and remained in the world’s top 10; Adrian Lewis, a long shot but an immense talent on his way back after a troubled period, and Joe Cullen, who may well have secured an original spot with a stronger World Championship showing.
For what it’s worth, I think Whitlock merited the position. Anderson had qualified on the basis of his ranking and, as such, his replacement should have been the next highest from the PDC’s Order of Merit. That the Australian does not even feature among the nine one-off replacements is, at best, harsh, not to mention a lost financial opportunity.
Yet, to throw a dollop of nuance onto a tentatively held view, what the PDC has come up with is objectively interesting. It is unique as a solution to an issue that reared its head almost on the eve of the competition’s opening week. It is possible to disagree, but also to admire. It is tough not to sympathise with Whitlock or, indeed, Ian White.
Yet, the Premier League is an interesting concept and it has never claimed to be anything other than an invitational exhibition circuit, albeit serving up high-quality fare. Complaints of Raymond van Barneveld’s inclusion in his final year on the tour, too, have missed the point.
As a competition, it acts as a showcase of the sport; each match a race to seven legs, with the fallback of a 12-leg draw.
And as Chris Dobey prevented Mensur Suljovic from leaving Newcastle with a victory on Thursday, the decision-makers will have afforded themselves a wry chuckle. The talk of the competition has, for a couple of years, focused on stagnation and a seemingly never-ending group phase.
From Anderson’s misfortune, the PDC may well have found the ideal solution. Dobey’s walk-on carried a spine-tingling excitement as his hometown arena provided him with support, the like of which the former road worker will never have experienced.
It suddenly all made sense; less than ideal in the short-term, the new generation could reap the benefits.