About the same time Tyson Fury was taking care of business against Dillian Whyte at Wembley there was another rather longer battle going on between Yan Bingtao and Mark Selby at the Crucible – and that was just the struggle to complete the 22nd frame, which became the longest in the famous snooker history of the iconic venue.
At an hour, 25 minutes and 22 seconds it eclipsed the previous longest of an hour and 19 mins and 31 seconds set by Luca Brecel and Gary Wilson in the decider in the first round in 2019. And having won it to go 12-10 up, China’s latest and perhaps best hope yet to become the first Asian player to win a world title then finished the contest far quicker with a superb break of 112.
The 22-year-old Yan, one of many talented Chinese players based in their second home of Sheffield during the season, just kept on winning key and tight frames at vital moments, and in the end that was enough to end the reign of defending champion and four-time winner Selby.
Winning the last frame of the second morning session saw him take a 9-7 lead into the evening, and Yan then pinched the first two frames to lead 11-7 when he could easily have been level at 9-9. The pink Selby when poised to close to 9-8 was criminal.
And the 18th frame proved controversial as with Yan unsure if he could see past the blue enough to pot the final brown he asked referee Rob Spencer to clean the cue ball…something that might possibly have seen the white ball replaced in a fractionally different place. The official refused, triggering heavy ‘gamesmanship’ criticism from the Eurosport studio.
When asked later and directly for the first time about the incident, Yan insisted that he had been joking – which at best was highly plausible, and at worst impossible to disprove. Selby afterwards, also, while backing the referee’s action, did not join in the condemnation.
Snooker legend and six-time Crucible runner-up Jimmy White had earlier said: “Bingtao is not sure if he can pot it or not. He keeps getting down to pot it and then he asks Rob Spencer [the referee] whether he can clean the cue ball.
“Now that is an unwritten rule amongst professional snooker players. Fair play to Rob Spencer for saying ‘No, I'm not going to clean the cue ball’ in this situation because he could put that cue ball back slightly wrong and then Bingtao can have an easy shot at this brown. As it turns out he could pot the brown.
“It is something you don't do. It might have been Bingtao being under pressure and thinking of anything to win, but you don't do that in snooker.”
However the two most important things to emerge from this titanic tussle were that Yan is now a genuine contender for the biggest prize in the game – and that Selby, who has been very honest about his mental health challenges this year and had taken time away from the game before this event, is once again enjoying his snooker.
There was a moment several weeks ago when the world No2 was seriously considering not playing in Sheffield. So to have enjoyed a family holiday and then played two good matches at the Crucible having started treatment to help his condition all seemed like very positive news.
Selby, 38, said: “On the cue ball situation, Rob was right to say no…but it’s definitely not gamesmanship, and Yan is one of the good guys of the game. He always says ‘good shot’ to you even if it might lose him the frame or the match.
“There were five or six scrappy frames and Yan won all of them – and I think that was the difference. Obviously I am disappointed to lose but from where I was a few months ago, I didn’t really know where I was going to be, wasn’t in a great place mentally and not enjoying snooker.
“I hadn’t played a match for six or seven weeks and didn’t know what to expect. But I have felt some positivity here and started enjoying it again, so that is a huge and the biggest bonus for me. I feel like I am on the right path, and will look forward to the summer, play some golf and keep seeing up my treatment with the doctor.”
Yan said: “It is an incredible win for me, everyone knows how difficult it is to beat Mark Selby in a best of 25 frame match at the Crucible. I was just telling myself to play as well as I could. When he was feeling the pressure, he missed a few pots.
“The longest frame…that was nearly an hour and a half for a single frame. The reds all went on the cushions and we just kept potting single reds.
“With the brown in frame 18, I was just joking when I asked the referee to clean the cue ball, it was funny – I knew that he couldn’t do it at that time. Next it is Mark Williams who has been so strong in the first two rounds and if I play like in this match I have a chance of winning.”
*18+ | BeGambleAware