Man of steel Mark Selby has substance to topple Stephen Hendry as King of Crucible
Mark Selby can be the man to usurp Stephen Hendry as the King of the Crucible after his latest world title triumph, writes Desmond Kane in Sheffield.
Just yards away from the Crucible Theatre at Sheffield’s Tudor Square, a lone busker performs daily with his flute as his dog nods off like one of the hoary old regulars at snooker’s World Championship.
His favourite tune tends to be Dirty Old Town, an apt melancholic ditty for a northern city built on the sweat, grime, memories and heavy industry of yesteryear.
A bit like 40 years of potting balls inside the Crucible.
In many respects, Mark Selby is a similar nod to harsher and harder times. And not just because of his match garb that looks like he got dressed below stairs to serve dishes to tables rather than dish up on the table.
He might be a prolific performer and the undisputed number one earner in his sport having snagged £1,298,425 over the past two years, but Selby is also one of life’s good guys, a grounded working class lad who has become world class at cue sports despite being hampered by life’s unrelenting cruelty.
He became a three-times world champion on Monday night set against the backdrop of his mother walking out of his life when he was eight and his father David, who encouraged his eloquent snooker brush strokes, losing his battle with lung cancer when he was 16.
Such achievement should always be recognised when discussing Selby's personal qualities because it is a greater feat than climbing the north face of the Eiger. Or making a maximum without a cue.
Selby became a man before he was allowed to enjoy being a boy as he was forced to put away childish things. Apart from the snooker cue that has acted as a baton to a better life with wife Vikki and daughter Sofia Maria.
Selby sat inside the clammy Crucible on Sunday and Monday visibly telling himself to believe as he fought back from trailing 10-4 to usurp John Higgins 18-15 in a match that illustrated why attempting to unseat ‘The Jester from Leicester’ is no laughing matter for the chasing pack of men in bow ties. Selby has never stopped believing. He is an advert for believing in yourself.
Are we at the start of the Selby snooker dynasty? Or are we at the end? There is every chance we are slap bang in the middle of this Selby upsurge.
Four-times champion Higgins said on Saturday night he felt Selby, 33, had a real chance to track down Stephen Hendry’s landmark haul of seven titles at the Crucible set in the 1990s.
He was in no mood to alter his mind after seeing Selby, who looks like he is built to run marathons rather than play them, mount an astonishing recovery to win 14 of the final 19 frames to enhance his collection of pots won in 2014 and 2016.
The rest of snooker can only look on green with envy about how one man is raising the bar on the green baize in a sport that is supposed to be impossible to conquer. This was his fifth ranking victory of the season as he prepares for a seventh straight year at the summit of the sport, a world champion number one.
Will he win more than three world gongs? If he stays fit, focused and healthy there is every reason to envisage a repeat of these goings on in a year’s time. Who is going to stop him? You could take the best of Higgins and Ronnie O’Sullivan to form a prototype potter that might not possess enough dynamite to rattle him.
He is only the fourth man to defend the world title at the Crucible after O’Sullivan, Hendry and Steve Davis. He is standing on the shoulders of giants unafraid of such lofty heights.
"If you want to win events you need to play like Selby. It's the new modern way of playing..," commented O'Sullivan on Twitter.
Whatever is said, Hendry's seven does not make him the greatest. He is one of the greats alongside the longevity of five-times champion O'Sullivan and Higgins, who narrowly missed out on a fifth world title 19 years after his first. The single-minded Selby is moving into the discussion with more to come in his cannon.
Seven is a long way to go, but Selby is far from finished. His cue is only marginally fatter than his frame in a sport he looks built to play.
He can win in all sorts of ways: attacking the weakness of wilting opponents, fighting back after poor sessions and mixing safety with long pots and lashings of pile-driving break-building. Selby has it all and more.
If Higgins remains an iron man of the game, Selby was very much the steel man in the Steel City over the past 17 days.
Iron bends, steel doesn't.
Nothing should be deemed impossible in Selby’s world. Not after reaching his perch against the backdrop of personal tragedy.
"I smelled the spring on the smoky wind," goes a line from Dirty Old Town.
Spring is a time of the year when Selby prospers in Sheffield. He is very much in the summer of his golden years. It looks like being a long hot one.