World Championship 2021: Why Stuart Bingham is already a snooker great without 'Triple Crown' logo
2015 winner Stuart Bingham produced the highest standard of snooker at this year's World Championship with four centuries and seven breaks over 50 in a rousing 13-12 win over Anthony McGill in the quarter-finals. Desmond Kane explains why a second world title means far more to Bingham than the debatable career 'Triple Crown' – a marketing ploy that is insignificant compared to Crucible glory.
'Superb' - Bingham holds nerve to close out deciding frame against McGill
Amid the ongoing white noise of white ball thumping object ball at the Crucible Theatre, one of the more ludicrous suggestions in recent memory emerged after an emotional Stuart ‘Ball-run’ Bingham had concluded a 13-12 win over Anthony McGill, conqueror of defending champion Ronnie O'Sullivan, with a glorious 125 break in one of the finest quarter-final matches witnessed in the 45-year history of the sport’s blue-chip event in Sheffield.
“He needs to win the UK Championship to achieve greatness, but another world title wouldn’t be bad..” was the general thrust of the comment made to the seven-times Crucible winner Stephen Hendry. It was a fantastical statement bordering on fake news because it was so misleading and completely undermines the historical importance of the World Championship, the sport’s most coveted tournament since it was first staged at Camkin's Hall in Birmingham in 1927.
The theory being espoused in the Crucible media bubble is that because Bingham – who is the heaviest scorer left in this year’s event by some margin – has lifted the World Championship in 2015 and the Masters in 2020, he still requires to win the UK title, part of the BBC’s self-styled 'Triple Crown' series, to cement some sort of legacy which as a narrative is bewildering, and one of utter balderdash when you consider his pristine standing in the sport.
It is in the same realms as suggesting O’Sullivan – with a record 37 ranking events on his CV – somehow “needs” to lift another world title to be considered the greatest player of all time when widespread consensus and common sense dictates that matter was finalised when he carried off his sixth Crucible trophy at the age of 44 in his fourth decade performing snooker last August. If it was purely a numbers game, fellow Englishman Joe Davis would be heralded as the greatest with 15 victories between 1927 and 1946, but we know this is not true because he did not play to the same level or audience demands. Or in the same cut-throat field or era as O'Sullivan.
In terms of longevity, we also know the great Hendry could not lift an eighth world title outwith a congested Crucible lifespan between 1990 and 1999 when a 'Triple Crown' badge did not exist.
'Just can't wait' - Emotional Bingham on reaching semi-finals
If the technically superior Bingham was offered the choice of lifting a second world title on Monday night or a solitary UK title to make up a 'Triple Crown' – a series that has been marketed to include a logo these days on waistcoats – he would rather skip the aperitif and go straight to the main feast.
It is a bit like asking a rather florid Florentino Perez if Real Madrid would prefer La Liga or La Decima in the Champions League or wondering if Rafael Nadal would opt for the Monte Carlo Masters or another French Open at Roland Garros.
Without putting any top spin on the cue ball, the World Championship remains and always will be the most cherished prize in snooker, far ahead of any other tournament on planet potting.
It is snooker's version of The Hunger Games where the golden memories of Alex ‘Hurricane’ Higgins, John Higgins, Ray Reardon, Rocket Ronnie, Steve Davis, Joe Johnson, Stephen Hendry, Peter Ebdon, Shaun Murphy, Judd Trump or Bingham among other cue ball contortionists are forever preserved in technicolor. The list goes on and on, a who’s who of men who ruled the world, handed down through the decades to create the mythical status which the World Championship in televised Babylon has enjoyed since 1977.
Conversely and perversely, it also created the legend of Jimmy ‘Whirlwind’ White – who made off with the Masters in 1984 and UK in 1992 – but will forever by celebrated and commiserated for finishing second six times at the Crucible. It has merely added to his achievement, however unfortunate his well-documented final demise eventually became between 1984 and 1994.
'Superb' - Bingham holds nerve to close out deciding frame against McGill
In other individual sports, the four tennis grand slams and the four golf majors have been created in the absence of an annual World Championship, an issue which snooker has never had to confront.
"We have to remember that there is only one World Championship a year. It is not like winning majors in golf,” Davis told me during the 2014 World Championship.
Majors are always around the corner in tennis and golf, but in snooker you have to wait another year, and another year. I know from personal experience, it is difficult when you go a few years without one.
When Bingham claimed the top prize as a 50-1 outsider with an 18-15 win over Murphy six years ago in one of the most absorbing and exacting finals of all time, all his lifetime achievements crystallised at the Crucible. He could retire a content figure before facing tournament favourite Mark Selby in the semi-finals knowing his dreams came true in the sport when he became the oldest first-time world champion aged 38 since Walter Donaldson in 1947.
If he does not win the UK title, it matters not.
It should be also noted that the 'Triple Crown' in snooker was not even invented before Bingham first turned professional in 1995 and has been encouraged at some stage in the past decade before terrestrial TV stopped covering the old Grand Prix, LG Cup and finally World Open as the self-styled 'Grand Slam' based solely in the UK morphed slowly into the 'Triple Crown'.
“This is what we all play for, we grew up watching this tournament above the rest. It’s the pinnacle," the 1997 world champion Ken Doherty told me about the time-served challenge of the Crucible in 2019.
In golf, you get four goes at it in the majors, but that’s what makes this harder to win because it only passes this way once a year. For these guys, it would be a cherry on the cake.
The Masters and UK are prestigious tournaments on the green baize, but so are the International Championship, the German Masters and Home Nations Series broadcast by Eurosport. Every tournament has a rich narrative, but there can only be one World Championship. The clue is in the name.
Bingham has won 52 frames to reach this stage after enjoying two victories in the qualifying stage. He requires being the first man to win another 35 frames over the next five days to emulate Hurricane Higgins as a double world champion. With 14 centuries (four in qualifying) he is in the form of his life as he squares up to the three-times winner Selby in a blockbuster semi-final that looks perfectly matched.
Watch dramatic finale as Murphy closes out victory over Trump
The unassuming Basildon player is bidding to become the first qualifier to carry off the tournament since the resurgent Murphy, who meets Kyren Wilson in the other semi-final, triumphed as a 150-1 outsider at the age of 22 in 2005. Bingham is aiming to achieve the double on the cusp of turning 45 on 21 May, the same age Reardon became the oldest world champion of the professional era in 1978.
"Stuart Bingham rocks," said watching tennis great Martina Navratilova after Bingham's heroic holding of his nerve at 15-15 to clamber over the line six years ago in a final that saw him compile four centuries, four breaks over 80 and nine over 50.
"I was gutted I didn't get to meet her," he told Eurosport. "There was one time we were in the same building when she was commentating on tennis.
It would be great to meet her. I was a massive fan of her in the 1980s and 1990s. It was surreal she was watching that match.
Perhaps he will meet Martina this year.
Bingham's win over McGill produced the highest standard of this year’s World Championship. The gold standard will be delivered if he clasps the old pot again on Monday night. Nothing else would compare. Nothing else in snooker has ever come close.