Dominic Dale watched Jamie Clarke engineer the upset of the World Snooker Championship so far but had a confession - he never even thought the world No.90 would make it as a professional, writes Will Jennings.
Qualifier Clarke toppled world No.4 Mark Allen 10-8 in the first round at the Crucible, impressing Eurosport pundit Dale who appeared at nine World Championships himself between 1997 and 2014.
The two-time ranking event winner is well-acquainted with the Welshman and says for all his early promise, he never backed him to even make it to the big time.
"I’m impressed with Jamie Clarke - he’s a player I used to know from his days as youngster in Llanelli,” Dale, 48, said.
“He had this sort of scholarship and used to play in Terry Griffiths’ Matchroom club and I used to see him there practicing away.
“I never thought he’d achieve the standard necessary to become a professional let alone compete at the level that he is now.
“He’s not going to experience the big atmosphere at The Crucible, that could help him. But the way he played in the qualifiers he’s going to be tough to beat, especially if he starts well.”
This year’s World Championships are taking place behind closed doors after the Government scrapped the pilot scheme to trial the safe return of fans at the Crucible.
Other events affected were Glorious Goodwood racing festival and domestic cricket matches but the sound of silence suits Dale just fine, whose insightful punditry accompanies the action on the Eurosport channels.
Another player who booked his place in round two was four-time world champion John Higgins, who beat Matthew Stevens in his opening round but trails qualifier Kurt Maflin 5-3 after the first session of his last 16 duel.
Jamie Clarke 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏. What’s a performance . #norabbitinthedeadligjtthere
— MARK WILLIAMS M.B.E (@markwil147) August 4, 2020
Dale has been keeping close tabs on the world No.5 and reckons you can never count him, or the likes of Ronnie O’Sullivan, Mark Williams and the tournament’s other experienced players, out after all these years lighting up tables around the world.
“John Higgins has been to the last three World Finals. They’re such great players with a wealth of experience,” he added.
“You can never count them out, particularly in a World Championships, they’re going to be right on it, they’ll have practiced hard.
“They’re just too good. They can roll out performances and if they can play 80 or 90 per cent of their best, which they tend to do, it’s normally good enough to defeat most of the players they come up against.”
Live snooker returns to Eurosport and the Eurosport app. Watch the World Championship from 31st July – 16th August with analysis from Jimmy White.