What are the implications of the coronavirus on the PDC and the players at both ends of the rankings? Can the big events take place without fans? Paul Nicholson discusses all this plus plenty of positive talking points in the last week in darts.
In his latest Sporting Life column, major winner and leading pundit Paul Nicholson reflects on how the coronavirus outbreak is affecting the world of darts, including tournament rescheduling and players' livelihoods, while he also addresses the complicated issue of ranking points should big majors like the World Matchplay get cancelled.
However, in the midst of this current crisis, the Asset also has plenty of positive performances and dramatic matches to discuss from the last week of tungsten action...
KEEPING THE FAITH
It’s obviously a very difficult time for all sports right now and darts is no different.
The PDC are postponing all the upcoming events on the Players Championship and European Tour as well as the Premier League nights with the hope of staging them later in the year because they understandably don’t want to cancel anything yet.
They are working tirelessly with the venues and the governments of different countries to get these events staged at some point on the calendar and even if it’s tentatively for the time being.
However, the big televised tournaments like the Premier League, World Cup and World Matchplay may have to be cancelled if the crisis continues into the summer because I’m just not sure any of them would work without fans.
The noise and atmosphere they create, as well as their interaction with the players, is what makes the Premier League in particular so unique. Also, from an economical and business perspective, the Premier League is the PDC’s biggest earner for revenue and the money it makes helps funds the Pro Tour.
So if the Premier League nights end up being cancelled, it’s going to have a huge knock-on effect for at least 12 months and will potentially hit the players in the pocket.
Safety is obviously paramount but if a few weeks or months down the line it was deemed acceptable to host Premier League nights behind closed doors just to get the fixtures played and have some live sport back on the television, then it may have to be considered.
I think it’s more viable for a big major like the World Matchplay being played behind closed doors than the Premier League – if sporting competitions have the green light to be staged at all by then.
The only reason I say that is the importance of ranking money to players, especially for those like Gary Anderson who are trying to defend a lot of it on the Order of Merit.
From a television perspective, Sky Sports would probably still be keen to give viewers world class darts to watch even if crowds weren’t in attendance – a bit like with ITV when the UK Open was played behind closed doors in 2018 due to the completely different scenario of the freezing weather.
It would hit the PDC in the pocket big time from a ticket sales perspective and all the other revenues connected to staging an event that thousands of people attend over a week – but at least there would still be an audience to entertain at home.
ORDER OF MERIT POINTS FREEZE?
It may not seem the most important issue in the grand scheme of things right now but when it comes to prize money and Order of Merit rankings, we are talking about players’ livelihoods being affected.
Gary Anderson certainly won’t want to lose that £115,000 of ranking points if the World Matchplay is not staged and would love the opportunity to recoup as much of that to elongate his career at the top of the sport.
Ultimately the safety concerns have to be taken into consideration first but if there’s one thing I wouldn’t want to be a part of it’s the decision making about what happens to prize money and rankings if big events got removed from this year’s calendar.
The arguments and debates that would come of that would be huge because the system is so complex.
I know this is months advance and may come to nothing but it’s a potential nightmare for the rankings guys at the Professional Darts Players Association and the PDC to try and make it fair.
Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that because I just can’t imagine a summer without the World Matchplay.
HOW WILL PLAYERS COPE?
The world’s top players involved in the Premier League must have the mindset of maintaining their same practice routines and work ethic but in a safe environment, such as at home rather than down at your local club.
They all have to prepare as if they are going to be competing at the next night right up to the moment an event is cancelled or postponed. If it takes place but staged in a different environment, such as behind closed doors, then they’ll need to be ready to adapt.
For those players down in the lower echelons of the rankings it’s a much more worrying time.
They will have earmarked a lot of the upcoming events on the Pro and European Tours as opportunities to bank some cash and boost their chances of qualifying for bigger events or maintaining their tour cards later in the year.
Let’s not beat around the bush here – some of them are trying to keep their heads above water.
We’re also coming to the end of another tax year, which can’t be forgotten, and you’d hope everyone in the darts fraternity have saved their tax money so they’re not having to play for their bills.
But just like the top guys, they’ve got to keep the work ethic, stay positive, do the right things and adapt to the ongoing situation.
Whether you are one in the world or 127 in the world – they all have to approach this in exactly the same way.
Nathan Aspinall seems to live in that 100+ average zone at the moment and he’s very comfortable there. If any player can keep doing that then titles will come, so it’s no surprise he’s won two of them already this season.
I remember playing Nathan in a European Tour event a couple of years ago during a time when I was juggling commentary duties with playing and when I beat him I was shocked how easy it was.
But, he’s transformed himself into a confidence machine since then and I guarantee if we played that game again he’d make me look like a very small boy.
Players, pundits, analysts and fans alike adore watching him because he just wants to compete and wants to win in whatever way possible. I’d even go as far as saying he’s probably the most watchable player on the planet right now.
Nathan’s comeback to draw 6-6 with Gary Anderson in the Premier League from 5-1 down was the best part of a fantastic match and he carried that form into Saturday with his second Players Championship title of the season.
A lot of analysts will talk about how good a player’s B game is because there aren’t many times in a career when you’ll be able to blitz every game all day.
If you look at all the games he played on Saturday, he arguably produced two B games but he saved his best for when he needed to, like when averaging 104 against Chris Dobey, who posted a mark of 100.
In the quarter-finals, he didn’t need to reach such heights and a 93 average was remarkably good enough to beat Michael van Gerwen 6-1 – but you can guarantee it would have been higher had Michael come back at him.
In the very next game he raised it by 12 against Danny Noppert, who averaged 103, which goes to further prove just how easily he finds the gears when required to win many different types of games.
I’d like to compare Nathan to Maverick from Top Gun. He can blow you out of the sky with a missile from 50 miles away but he can bring you in closer and beat you with a machine gun from 50 metres. He’s just Box Office and darts is lucky enough to have him right now.
Ian White is like the modern day Mark Walsh.
In around 2007 and 2008, Mark was regarded as one of the best players in the world because of the amount of floor titles he was winning against the likes of Raymond van Barneveld and Phil Taylor.
He could beat everyone but was always told he was a floor guy and not a stage player. When the TV cameras were on, Mark was accused of not producing his best and it was all a bit of a mystery.
The same has been said of Ian but I still think it’s going to happen for him on TV because you can’t continue to play this well and beat the players that he has with these crazy stats and not do it one day.
I really hope he does it just to shut his critics up!
At 49, Ian is probably playing better than he ever has right now and from a consistency point of view over the past 12 months he’s been sensational.
He’s won multiple European Tour events against the best players in the world but like Mark, it’s on the floor when we expect to see the best of him.
On Sunday he made James Wade look tired in the Players Championship final with a 102 average that looked pedestrian compared to his other performances during the tournament.
He’s just got so much energy and is able to channel it really well throughout a full day of play, whereas others seem to run out of steam.
Kim Huybrechts, for example, unbelievably thrashed Peter Wright 6-0 but then couldn’t reproduce the same levels against Ian White, who only needed to average 89 in the semi-finals.
There were so many other great stories from the weekend, including Derk Telnekes who made the quarters and semi-final to put himself in the mixing pot in terms of qualification for other events later on in the season.
He’s been a good BDO player over the past couple of seasons, making his Lakeside debut in 2018, and you can tell from his uncomplicated action that there’s a lot of talent there.
It’s very natural and easy on the eye and while his averages aren’t mind-blowing at the moment, these runs of victories will build his confidence and potentially help him reach the next level.
FROSTY BUT FABULOUS
We were treated to another brilliant night of Premier League Darts in Liverpool despite the slightly subdued atmosphere, and the latest instalment of Michael van Gerwen v Gerwyn Price didn’t disappoint.
You could see how disappointed Gezzy was to lose yet another close match by initially refusing to receive Michael’s offer of a fist bump.
He’d lost the UK Open final by the odd leg as well as the Players Championship Finals by the odd leg last November, so he’s reached that point - like many others do - when you’re just sick and tired of being edged out by the same guy.
It really grinds on you as a sportsman.
In the early part of his career he was beaten quite easily by MVG on a regular basis and it took him a while to figure out how to get close.
When he finally got one over on him at the Grand Slam of Darts, a lot of people thought he’d soon get more wins over him but there’s no guarantee in any sport that when you break a period of dominance, the floodgates will open.
We’re going to see them play each other so many times over the next few years because they’re going to remain two of the very best, so there’s plenty of time for him to get some wins in his column.
Even so, the overall head-to-head record has to be taken with a pinch of salt right now because if you look closer at the last six to nine months it tells a different story, especially the scorelines being so tight.
The controversy of Gerwyn almost hitting Michael with his darts also highlighted the exclusion zone issue.
Since it was included as part of the oche, I don’t think it’s been enforced enough. Referees do a fantastic job but they have enough to do on stage such as looking at the scores, the markers and floor managers.
The job of the second referee backstage to enforce the exclusion zone isn’t done enough and this match proved it. You can be as eager as you like to get to the oche but when you’re touching another player on their way back from the board against someone who is fast, then maybe you need to take a step back.
Some players will disagree and want a nice quick circle of retrieving the darts and then going straight back in, but when you’re throwing over someone’s shoulder – like Price did to MVG – then that’s a bit too close for me.
Van Gerwen does handle flashpoints on the oche better than most and deserves credit once again for his conduct.
It’s not actually the first time this has happened in the Premier League – with Mervyn King once throwing over Phil Taylor’s back after he’d bent down to pick something off the floor – but to happen twice in one match, the referee should be having a word.
Elsewhere, Glen Durrant continues to prove why his selection was completely warranted by maintaining his spot at the top of the table with another two points against an improving Daryl Gurney.
This was a very difficult game to call but ultimately it was Glen on his doubles again, finding enough to get over the line in a hard-fought contest that went the distance.
More often than not we talk about his powers of being clinical at certain times but if there is any player that scraps and fights more than him, please show them to me.
Daryl has got to keep his chin up so to speak because points will come if he keeps playing like this, but at the moment his bad start looks as though it might prove costly in the battle to avoid elimination at Judgement Night, whenever that might be.
Meanwhile Michael Smith looked as positive as he did in recent weeks but he just seemed to be ending up on the wrong side of the wire. It was just one of those performances you just can’t have against Peter Wright, who was that little bit more accurate, composed and sharper.
There haven’t been many games in the Premier League that have made me feel flat this season but the draw between Rob Cross and Stephen Bunting was one of them.
It wasn’t helped by being sandwiched between two great games in MVG v Price and Gary Anderson v Nathan Aspinall but the battling point does at least keep Rob in the thick of top four race for when the season finally resumes.
Related Darts Content
- Paul Nicholson: Column six
- Paul Nicholson: Column five
- Paul Nicholson: Column four
- Paul Nicholson: Column three
- Paul Nicholson: Column two
- Paul Nicholson: Column one
- 2020 Premier League venues & dates
- 2020 PDC event calendar & results
- 2020 World Darts Championship results
- 2019 PDC event results
- Sky Bet's darts odds