Former world champion Ken Doherty tells a story about a young Chinese player at Sheffield’s Victoria Snooker Academy, who was proudly showing off a new, custom-made cue.
“He told me it had cost £1,000. One thousand pounds, sterling,” Doherty said.
John Parrott, his co-commentator on the BBC, would want the cue to pot the balls for him for that money, he said. Which is exactly what they do, of course, but you get Parrott’s point.
Doherty had with him the cue that he used throughout his entire professional career. It was a little warped from time, but served him well from a boy of 11 to Crucible champion in 1997. And, best of all - he reckons it cost him two quid!
The story came to mind yesterday afternoon when, entirely by chance, your columnist bumped into a snooker expert - not, as you’d think, at the Crucible but at Hillsborough. Conversation turned to Ding Junhui, the Chinese superstar who practices at Star Snooker Academy in the city.
Not so long ago. Ding won five ranking events in a single season and was world No.1, but a dismal run of form saw him drop out of the top 16. Last year, he lost in the first round of six successive events.
He came through Crucible qualifying with the minimum of fuss, and found some resolve to beat the excellent Martin Gould in the first round. And the difference in fortunes? It’s all down to the cue, you know. Apparently, Ding used the same cue he had as a young lad until recently, he outgrew it. Replacements were sought, tried and rejected - including one of Parrott’s - until an ingenious suggestion was made: why not lengthen the original?
Bingo. Ding made the sixth 147 of his career against Neil Robertson at the Welsh Open, and he reached the semi-finals of the World Grand Prix before losing to eventual winner, Shaun Murphy.
Seven-time Crucible champion Stephen Hendry apparently won all his titles with a basic cue - although he had a bit of natural ability, too - and Mike Hallett once smashed his into four pieces after losing a game. And, according to six-time world champ Steve Davis, the 58-inch, 17oz cue isn’t even the most important thing to consider; it’s the 9mm tip. Crazy game, eh!