Saturday, 27 April 2013

Coping with the Crucible pressure

One of the greatest appeals of the World Championship is the pressure that surrounds it.

The heat is on from the very first ball at the Crucible and having never played at this great venue I can't even begin to imagine its full effect.

I don't get huge pleasure from seeing a player struggle under pressure but it helps to create drama and, ultimately, the players who find a way to overcome it usually enjoy greater success here.

Picture by Monique Limbos
Michael White and Shaun Murphy are the first two names through to this year's quarter-finals and have both dealt with the pressure well.

Murphy's press conference anecdote highlights just how excellent White has performed under the circumstances. Murphy lost 10-4 to Stephen Hendry here on his debut and told the media he was so nervous that he he missed his glass when pouring his water.

This is the behaviour of a man who went to win the title in 2005. So, compare this to how 21-year-old White has taken the whole experience into his stride and it speaks volumes about his ability to deal with pressure and the great future he might have. He has shown maturity way beyond his years.

Beating two-time champion Mark Williams on his debut is a fantastic achievement and requires great self belief. This is a memory that will stay with him forever but, in the second round, he required a different kind of professionalism.

While world number 70 Dechewat Poomjaeng was dividing opinion and letting his character on the loose, White kept his eye on the job in hand.

The eccentric Thai was clapping his own shots, constantly gesturing to the crowd, looking around for laughs and trying to talk to White throughout.

This isn't a pop at Dechawat. He's great for the game. So many people are talking about snooker that he
can't be anything but positive for this year's World Championship, but the show that comes with him could have been off putting because it's so unusual and excessive for a game of snooker so important.

White found a way to block it all out and won the match 13-3.

His performances so far at the Crucible suggest we have a real talent on our hands. He has bags of ability and a top class attitude to match. He is riding the crest of a wave this week a bit like his Welsh compatriot Jamie Jones did a year. He should continue to enjoy himself and could even go further but, as in Jamie's case, this run doesn't guarantee more success although it should inspire him to get back to playing on the big occasions.

This experience is brand new for White. Murphy on other hand has been here and seen it all before. He knows what it feels like to win these big matches but also has some scars from defeats.

Picture by Monique Limbos
After beating Martin Gould in round one, he was involved in a classic against Graeme Dott. He flew into a 6-2 lead after the first session but then was pulled back level before going into the final.

Murphy eventually won 13-11 and could even benefit from enduring such a battle of getting over the line.

No one ever cruises through to the final stages at the Crucible. A test like this could toughen him up for the one table format, should he get there.

People love the twists and turns that come with these longer matches at the World Championship. Murphy has lived through enough. He doesn't always win the easy way, but knows all about what it takes. He rightly said that you cannot replicate these pressured match conditions in practice. You have to roll with the punches and find a way to win at all costs.

Murphy has his level-headed attitude on his side. He will never stop giving it his all. He could face Trump next and it will be interesting to see if he goes out on the attack himself or instead tries to tame Judd.

Consistency has never been a problem for Murphy. Having lost 13 semi-finals, it's more likely that a little bit of killer instinct in big matches has stopped him winning even more. It will be interesting to see whether he deploys a more specialised gameplan this year to prevent another near miss.

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