With pub leagues struggling to get teams together and walk on girls going the way of the F1 grid girls, there are those who have been sounding the death knell for darts as a 20th century phenomenon that’s time has been and gone. But last weekend’s Champions League of Darts proved that this is a sport that is as capable as any of adopting the instant gratification, bitesize entertainment format that is so core to 21st century values.
For two days, the UK left the Premier League on the back burner. It put aside its smartphones and eSports, left its casino games for another day and switched on BBC2 for the darts equivalent of a T20 cricket finals weekend. When the eight best players in the world and come together for a short, sharp tournament like this, it has the potential to be something special, and that’s exactly what happened.
Given that the event was over almost before it began, it is remarkable how many takeaways it has given us. The fact that the British public still loves its darts, particularly when the sport is laid out before it on one of the major channels, is one. And another is that while Michael van Gerwen remains the man to beat, and is likely to be so for the foreseeable future, he is not invulnerable.
Such is the format of the tournament that on the second day, he was actually defeated by both finalists. Gary Anderson beat him in their group stage, nailing an incredible 140 checkout to set up a fairytale semi-final berth when he had looked dead in the water. But it was the semi-final against Peter Wright that everyone will really remember.
Prior to the game, Wright spoke with that quiet, measured assurance that always seems at odds with his blue mohawk and his on-stage antics as he plays the crowd. “I can win this,” he told the pundits. “I know how to beat Michael. I’ve worked out what I have to do. I’m not telling you what it is, though!” As the game got underway, there were those who thought it was just bluster. MVG was imperious, finding 140s and 180s at will to power into an early lead. Any other opponent’s head would have dropped, and thoughts would have turned to getting back to the dressing room, having a game of Starburst to see if any better luck could be found there and then preparing for the next tournament.
Wright had other ideas. He was following his plan, quietly hanging on to the Dutchman and crucially, taking every checkout opportunity that came his way, including three bullseye finishes. Slowly, the tide turned and from 8-5 down he clawed back to win 11-9.
After that, the final itself was something of an afterthought. The battling Scotsmen, both in their late 40s, had each squared up to the mighty MVG and come out on top. As they took to the centre stage, the battle scars were showing. Anderson’s back, which had been giving him trouble all weekend, caused all present to wince in sympathy whenever he had to bend to retrieve a stray flight, while Wright had only had 20 minutes to recover from the semi-final, win, and was clearly a spent force.
As it was, Anderson managed to put his physical discomfort to the back of his mind. His performance in the final was clinical and included no fewer than three 10-dart finishes. It’s been a whirlwind weekend, but it has left us with as many talking points as any two-week tournament. Here’s to the next one!
|Gary Anderson||11 - 4||Peter Wright|
|Mensur Suljovic||11 - 5||Gary Anerson|
|Phil Taylor||18 - 10||Michael van Gerwen|