Is the standard of darts at the top dropping? Paul Nicholson hits back at James Wade’s verdict

Paul Nicholson on this week's hot topic

Paul Nicholson gives his damning verdict on James Wade’s assertion that the standard of darts is not as high as it once was.

The Machine recently sparked a lot of debate on social media by claiming those at the very top of the game aren’t firing to the same levels as when Phil Taylor and Michael van Gerwen were operating at their peaks, and this is subsequently giving the improved lower ranked players more chances at titles.

However, in the latest edition of his Sporting Life column, The Asset couldn’t disagree more and even feels Taylor at his peak may not even be at the top of the rankings.

Wade out of this, James!

James Wade’s sample size when it comes to his argument is the size of a petri dish and he's trying to put massive cells in it.

I don’t even understand why James is trying to bring this up because he doesn't care about this sport at the same level that some others do. So, the only possible reason I can think of is that he’s trying to get in people's heads.

Over the course of the last 15 years, James Wade has been playing at a very, very high level and his achievements should never be underestimated. When you look at the amount of titles he’s won – and some of them repeatedly - he could retire now and be considered one of the best players of all time, certainly in double start.

However, everyone who has spent time with James knows that he plays the game in a somewhat ignorant way, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory sense. He knows he's good but doesn't get bogged down by social media posts, statistics or even calling up commentators to ask what his average was.

He goes up there as a mercenary to win titles, to win money to provide for his family and for himself and there is nothing wrong with that. So for James to come out and say that the standards over the last few years have not been as good as previous ones is quite mystifying.

Anyone is free to make statements like that but please back it up! I don’t think he has any evidence. For example, does he not know how many nine-darters have been hit this season and how many huge averages are being registered?

To say the standard has gone down, well I don’t know where he’s coming from because more people are averaging higher on a more regular basis than ever before and we are seeing more people win big titles spread around the top cluster of players than ever before - for that reason. Everybody as a group is getting better and as far as I am concerned, I couldn’t disagree with James more.

Power pointer?

If James Wade is coming at this from a Phil Taylor angle in the sense he was achieving better levels on a more regular basis, then I can see what he’s trying to say.

Let’s look at the evidence against that. Dimitri Van den Bergh has just broken his Grand Slam of Darts average record this week, while Peter Wright, Michael van Gerwen and Dave Chisnall have all gone past his old world record average of 118 mark in recent years.

I don’t think Phil has actually got many average records left! I think he's got the best average in a world championship final and the best overall world championship average back from 2009, which was inflated by the average in the final against Raymond van Barneveld.

But as far as other averages and performances are concerned, we've seen more from other players in the last five years than ever before. We're seeing more 180s, more nine darters, more 170 checkouts, more creative use of the board from a bigger scope of players from around the world. If someone put statistics in front of me and says otherwise I'm happy to study that and give an opinion but based on my organic feeling of this discussion, I disagree.

Ranking a peak Taylor now

If you dropped a Phil Taylor in his prime into today’s era, then he’d definitely be ranked top five but I don’t know where in that top five. It’s easy to view it with rose tinted specs and say “Of course Phil would be number one” but you’ve got to bare in mind that these days you have Gerwyn Price winning Players Championship titles with a 106 average for the whole day! You've got people coming out in round one like Ryan Meikle – the left hander from Ipswich – with an average of 111!

Then there’s a 121 average popping up from Dave Chisnall! There’s no guarantee Phil would come through these types of games, let alone when the titles are on the line.

Players may have been intimidated by Taylor in the past but these days they are made of stronger stuff. Nobody cares about intimidation factors or reputations - they care about titles and money and they don't care who they have to trample over to get these things.

The Dart Connect system of today is giving us accurate statistics as to what people are doing at every tournament. Those players from yesteryear who used to embellish their statistics are no more. Whether James believes all those stories is up to him now, but now we have factual evidence that will continue to be improved upon year by year.

I stand by when I said Gerwyn Price is one of the best players we’ve seen in the last 25 years based on what he’s already achieved performance-wise, not to mention the titles that he’s stacking up.

To say he isn’t one of the best is a crock. It’s all about how people perceive popularity and view the past differently. The standard Peter Wright and Gerwyn Price are producing stats wise is as good as – if not better – than Phil Taylor because they’re doing it at the 110 to 115 average level more often.

We’ve got to remember Phil Taylor was doing his brilliance over a very long time and Gerwyn Price and Wright for example, obviously haven’t been able to yet.

I think some people are looking at this from the wrong perspective.

To be fair, today’s standard might have brought even more out of Phil Taylor because he perhaps wasn’t pushed very hard too often in the early stages of tournaments. And by the time you get to the longer formats of the latter stages, it was even harder to stop him.

And that’s still true today when it comes to the star players – the best time to beat them is early on, whereas the cream rises to the top at the business end.

Look at when Rob Cross defeated Phil Taylor in the World Championship final and averaged 107 – it was one of the greatest performances ever seen. You can’t tell me the long format standard is going down on that evidence!

MVG in the doldrums

Michael van Gerwen’s struggles this season potentially fuels James Wade’s fire about the standard drop.

The players in the top 10 right now aren’t reaching the level MVG found in the previous seven years and because he isn’t either, that paints an inaccurate picture.

There are many more players getting closer to his previous levels than there were back then – so it’s just a matter of time before we see new boundaries broken.

As for Michael, he’s the only active player who knows what it’s like to be world number one and the pressures and responsibilities were always going to weigh heavy at some point when the chasing pack got closer.

Stats don’t lie

I’ve been watching the Dart Connect system closely for the last two years and all I see is the numbers going up across the spectrum.

We also have statistical analysts such as Carl Fletcher who are invaluable to dissecting the information and showing us other interpretations of how players are performing in all areas of their games.

This is what we should be listening to in debates like this and not James Wade, who simply isn’t a student of the game. He has every right to say what he thinks, but it doesn’t mean he’s right.

He doesn’t care about the game in the same way as many others do, and certainly doesn’t know about it from a statistical point of view.

So why criticise things you don’t know or care about?

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