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Page last updated at 14:25 GMT, Thursday, 4 March 2010

Snooker's bruising battleground

Jimmy White
The 'Whirlwind' survived to fight another day in Sheffield

By Mark Ashenden
BBC Sport in Sheffield

The careers of Jimmy White and John Parrott were on the line, and they fought as though their lives depended on it.

An ecstatic White, 47 and six-time world finalist, strutted off the baize past midnight to huge cheers in Sheffield's EIS Arena after stumbling past part-time postman Mark Boyle 10-8 in a gruelling encounter.

"That was a massive win," said a relieved White in the aftermath of his late-night victory.

Meanwhile, Parrott, 45, was left to contemplate a full stint as a BBC TV pundit at the Crucible next month after a demoralising 10-6 defeat to China's 18-year-old Anda Zhang.

The 1991 world champion admitted he had fallen out of love with playing the game and revealed: "If I lose my card, that's me gone."

606: DEBATE

It was a day of supercharged emotions midway through a qualifying tournament that began with 108 players and ends next week with 16 joining the world's top 16 at the World Championship.

Forget the romance of snooker's biggest stage in April - a top-64 ranking is everything for most players as it means a place on the main tour and automatic competition invites.

Following Wednesday's results, Parrott, who beat White in the final 19 years ago, has been replaced by the Londoner in the provisional rankings and falls off the circuit for the first time in his 27-year professional career.

"I'm not going to carry on playing to try to get back on the tour," declared the Liverpudlian, who has come through World Championship qualifying a record 10 times but has not potted a ball at The Crucible for three years.

He was still numb after seeing 6-5 lead become a 10-6 defeat as Zhang - one of seven Chinese stars in the qualifiers - reeled off five successive frames.

The teenager, in his debut tour season, even seemed to leave a half-chance on purpose for Parrott on the blue at the end of the final frame as if to say: "Go on, do you still have the bottle for the big shots?"

John Parrott
Parrott feels his time among the game's elite has run out

The ball was potted, but the weary Englishman fluffed the pink and it was game over.

After moving from Prestatyn two years ago, the qualifying stage is now at the EIS, home of the World Snooker Academy in Sheffield, and a far cry from the TV cameras and noisy reception of the main championship arena one mile across the city centre.

Watching matches on six tables, 300 spectators sat high up away from the action, inside a large gymnasium with the constant hum of an air-conditioning machine interrupted by the occasional cough and even more occasional ripple of applause, is a novel experience.

It's intense, quietly deafening and you almost feel sorry for the players who squint under the bright lights after every poor shot scanning the crowd for a familiar face to share their pain.

Having a birds-eye view of all the tables was like having the perfect multi-screen digital television showing nostalgic snooker highlights from 20 years ago.

From the left there was Malta's 'tornado' Tony Drago, a few pounds heavier than his world quarter-final in 1988 but still racing round the table, to White on the middle table, replaced by Parrott in the afternoon, and Andy Hicks - the 'toast of Tavistock' and 1995 world semi-finalist - desperate to relive old glories.

Following Parrott's demise and a relatively swift conclusion to the evening's games, it fittingly left White and Boyle as the last two to battle it out in front of a mesmerised crowd wondering if the sport was about to wave goodbye to a second legend on the same day.

With a season starting with miserable defeats in the Welsh Open and China Open qualifiers, White played like a man who knew everything was riding on it and struggled to deal with the snail-like pace of Boyle, the unranked Scot who earlier in the week beat Patrick Wallace 10-7 after trailing 7-3.

But as the 28-year-old from Glasgow became increasingly ruffled after changing his cue tip at 7-7, the former world number two eventually battled through with the help of endless bottles of water and constant head-scratching.

"Boyle takes his time and it was frustrating," he admitted. "He's a quality player and a contrast to me but I knew I had to win. I dug very deep. If I can play like in practice then I'm looking to win the competition."

Ken Doherty
Former champion Doherty says he's still hungry for the Crucible limelight

For White, 1997 world champion Ken Doherty and two-time Crucible semi-finalist Joe Swail now stand in the way of a first return to The Crucible since losing to David Gray in the first round four years ago.

However, the former UK and Masters champion will not be receiving any favours from Doherty, his close pal from Dublin.

The 40-year-old, whose loss in last year's qualifiers ended a 15-year run at the Crucible, is another player desperate to recover his top-16 place.

"When you don't qualify and you have to watch it on TV it's tough," said the Irishman. "But that's the sword we all live and die by.

"It's a culture shock returning to the qualifiers. It's like starting your career all over again. It's a very different pressure here.

"The Crucible is the carrot that dangles for us all. Having been king there was special and it relieves some of the pressure.

"I'm still just as hungry as ever to go back there and do it again - it's not beyond the realms of possibility."



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see also
Parrott looks set to quit snooker
04 Mar 10 |  Snooker
Snooker greats eye Crucible spot
01 Mar 10 |  Snooker
World Championship qualifying results
09 Mar 10 |  Snooker


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