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In awe of the Crucible

Rishi Persad | 18:52 UK time, Friday, 17 April 2009

I have just arrived in Sheffield for the start of the Snooker World Championships and despite being calm and relaxed on the journey up the M1, now that I am here the nerves are beginning to surface.

One of our programme producers, Ali Witkover, took time out to give me the grand tour of the famous Crucible as this is my first time at the hallowed venue.

I stood speechless in between the two tables in the main arena as the final nuts and bolts were being screwed in before I was taken to our studio, which is just a long pot away from the practice tables where seven-time world champion Stephen Hendry was fine tuning his game - as he drilled a red in from distance I made a terrible gag about him being a good bet for the tournament - he laughed politely.

We skirted around all the options for 'in vision positions' where I may appear and there was more than one occasion that I just nodded at what Ali was saying without truly listening, simply because in my head I was slowly realising the enormity of this event in the British sporting calendar.

For any sport, bar football, the chance to showcase just what makes it so special is rare in these days of increasing competition for terrestrial airtime and this is snooker's big moment.

The defending champion and the foremost player of the modern generation, Ronnie O'Sullivan, suggested earlier this year that snooker is 'dying', but I think the Rocket himself recognises that he has a huge role to play to prevent that.

Ronnie O'Sullivan

Despite what some marketing people may say, the very essence of what makes a sport attractive is the action it provides and the men and women who provide it.

Watching the Masters last Sunday was pure joy with Phil Mickelson and Tiger at the heart of an enthralling final day's play. We all remember last year's Wimbledon final as Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer both played like the champions that they are.

Perhaps golf and tennis, like football, are also exempt from needing to sell itself to the general public but both sports would have received an enormous boost as their top talents delivered on the big occasion - or at least when most people were watching.

Is it unreasonable to expect or indeed hope that Ronnie may find himself in the final against the enormously gifted number two seed Stephen Maguire and both players find it within themselves to produce one of those showdowns that people still remember decades later?

In fairness, there are a number of players who may not have all the magic of Ronnie but would light up any event if they were on song. Mark Selby and Ali Carter are two players who could arguably get to the final and that would be something worth tuning in for.

Personally I reckon Selby has a huge chance. Finalist here two years ago, he has shown good form as recently as January when he finished runner-up to Ronnie at The Masters and though he exited in the second round of the China Open last time out he is a player who always seem to be full of confidence.

Indeed I wish I had some of that confidence as I approach my first time presenting this particular event. My honest appraisal of why I am nervous is that though I have always enjoyed watching and following snooker and know about the exploits of the leading players I am not as comfortable as I would be on horse racing or cricket.

The groundwork for those sports were done as a child whereas I came to snooker a bit later. I am going to be out of my comfort zone, but it is a challenge I am looking forward to and naturally I hope my preparation pays off and I don't look like a complete fool.

For those of you wondering why I am up in Sheffield, it is because the lovely Hazel Irvine has only recently given birth to a beautiful baby girl, Gina, so is understandably unavailable.

I phoned Hazel for some advice on what lies in store for me for the next couple of weeks and she suggested that I sleep whenever I get the chance, I should eat healthily and get some exercise when I can. Hmmmm......


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