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Taylor triumphs again

July 27, 2010

Another tournament, another win - Getty

Phil Taylor frequently forces record-keepers to reach for their Tippex and biro. Two nine-dart finishes in the Premier League final earlier this year underlined his ability to redefine darting greatness, seemingly at any televised event he deems appropriate.

The nine-day World Matchplay, which concluded on Sunday evening, was not one of those events. Instead it was notable mainly for the resurgance in form of Sunday’s beaten Raymond van Barneveld who, despite his post-match protestations (“I’m back? From where? I’ve always been [world] number two”) has been out of form for the last eighteen months or so. Barneveld kept close to Taylor until the final few legs in Blackpool, finally going down 18-12.

Taylor, as always, had the grace to acknowledge the performance put in by his opponent. Yet Barneveld trailed in the match once he had been broken in the seventh leg. He threatened to break back twice – only to see his opponent hit three-dart, ton-plus finishes while he was sat on a double.

Instead, Taylor got the second of his four breaks of throw at 11-9 and from there, though Barneveld did get one back, the game was up. The consistency with which Taylor manages to be on a finish after throwing 12 darts and the inability of the best of the rest to stay toe-to-toe with him over an hour and a half is what leads to finals like these being branded “ordinary”.

Not that you’d know you were seeing any standard darting action from the commentary on Sky Sports. The sport suffers in the sense that its basic mechanics mean little can be said about the game itself. Therefore Dave Lanning, John Gwynne and Sid Waddell are forced to eulogise about the spectacle rather than enlighten the viewer on tactics or approach. It has none of the complexities of cricket or football or, indeed, any other sport, and so whilst it can be compelling viewing – a one-on-one battle, camera trained on the faces of the sportsmen as they hit or miss by millimetres – the commentary is often superfluous.

Sky’s coverage of the darts feels insecure – a sport that frequently attracts thousands of fans and yet that the broadcaster needs to justify its own existence by getting inordinately excited about a match of decent, as opposed to brilliant, commentary. Most of this is down to Waddell, whose manic utterances range from the inelegantly clever – his frame of reference frequently includes darts heritage blended with British history, geography, and classical mythology, which makes for entertaining metaphors – to irritating misfires (“Super…cali…non-fragile…ballistics!” was one such pronouncement on Sunday evening). Often they excitedly talk between themselves during a lull in quality about how great darts is.

The greatest player in the history of the game -

The sport yearns to be noticed – cameras train on soapstars who have come to watch, pre-match graphics include quotes from newspapers about previous events – when such things fill the void created by an insistence on wall-to-wall coverage. It is a basic, yet fascinating sport, that does not require commentary over every dart. Sensibly, the build-up – anchored well by Dave Clark and including Eric Bristow and Rod Harrington (both excellent) – is short and informative. The same cannot always be said of the commentary, though the pairing of Dave Lanning and Waddell is the best; they complement each other both in content and delivery. If only they each talked a little less.

Newspapers don’t cover darts because there is little insight that can be put into a text report of a match. This article has not described Taylor’s 135-checkout in detail because mere description is largely irrelevant and uninteresting. It is why the Barry Hearn-led PDC has introduced the idea that each thrower should be a character, with a nickname and entrance song. It is a sport to be watched, not read about. And that is unavoidable, but also a shame, since it means one of the most dominant sportsmen in the world is overlooked despite all his achievements.

Sunday night in Blackpool saw Phil Taylor’s 11th Matchplay title, to add to his 15 World Championships, 5 Premier League titles (out of a possible 6) and 9 World Grand Prixs. His achievements are extraordinary, and yet darts remains a sport sometimes belittled and dismissed. It is popular, and entertaining, game. Sky needs to let it speak for itself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Dean permalink
    July 27, 2010 11:22 am

    Surely a provisional favourite for Sports Personality of the Year along with Tony McCoy?

    • Ben Winstanley permalink
      July 27, 2010 1:39 pm

      By rights you’d think he’d have been up there most years in the last ten. I suppose the lack of coverage darts gets means he isn’t particularly high-profile despite his achievements and the fact he is one of the more genuinely interesting people to listen to about his sport.

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