It is always fun but rarely valid to compare sporting greats across the ages. Was Jack Hobbs (1882-1963) as fine a batsman as Sachin Tendulkar (born 10 years after Hobbs’ death and still very much alive, if no longer playing)? Was Sam Snead (1912-2002) as good a golfer as Tiger Woods (born 1975), who is still winning majors at 43? Was Juan Manuel Fangio (1911-95) as fast in the 1950s as Lewis Hamilton (born 1985) is now?
In each case the answer, relative to their opposition at the time, is ‘yes’; in absolute terms it is ‘no’. But it is often difficult to judge, because sport is usually so full of conflicting variables. In Hobbs’ day the bowling was of a very different order from that which Tendulkar faced; golf balls, clubs and even courses have changed enormously between Snead’s pomp and Woods’ current glorious Indian summer; the cars that Hamilton races bear no recognisable relation to those that Fangio powered to victory.
But snooker is different. OK, the balls have changed slightly but they have been made of phenolic resin for a very long time (they ceased to made of ivory in the 19th century); the cues and tables have changed barely at all, although the cloths and cushion rubbers are more responsive now than they used to be; but the changes are comparatively small.
Besides, snooker is one of those games that abounds with stats (and stattos), and one crucial conflicting variable is absent. Although you battle your opponent, by golly you do, you play in turns. So when you are out there, on the table, among the balls, the task you face is the same whether you are playing Ronnie O’Sullivan… or me.
So it is that we can say with some confidence that this year’s World Snooker Championship final, which was played by Judd Trump and John Higgins yesterday and Sunday, showcased the greatest exhibition of all-round snooker brilliance in history, and that their playing eclipsed what Joe Davis, who won 15 World Championships between 1927 and 1946, ever achieved; ditto Ray Reardon, who dominated snooker in the 1970s, winning six World Championships in that decade. We have the stats to prove it. Reardon scored 53 competitive tournament centuries in a long career. That stat – 53 centuries – puts him exactly 100th on the all-time list. The current world No1, O’Sullivan, has scored 1002.
Yesterday’s match was won by Trump, our new World Champion therefore. He beat Higgins 18-9, despite Higgins’ playing brilliantly. The 43-year-old four-time-World Champion made four centuries and five half-centuries during the match, but Trump, who at one point reeled off eight frames in a row, made seven centuries and 11 half-centuries. A watching Steve Davis, a six-time World Champion himself, said: “I’ve seen some astonishing snooker here, but that was a different type of astonishing. I’m in shock. Judd is making a lot of very difficult shots look very easy.”
Has snooker ever been played better? It has not. Bravo, Mr Trump.