Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The great balls of China

China: Saviours of Snooker, Radio 4

Martin Kelner is one of only the very few regularly decent columnists in the Guardian, writing an unheralded and generally funny Monday column on what he's watched on TV sport. So finding out that he's made a radio show about the rise of snooker in China had me hoping for some of that good stuff. Kelner didn't actually travel to China, although it's always hard to tell on radio, but he did interview a few snooker players who have been there, along with Barry Hearn, who organised the first snooker exhibition in Shanghai in the 1980s. Snooker is huge in China, and the far East generally, and growing rapidly. One of the players recalled an early trip to Beijing and finding a snooker table being used on the Great Wall. Another remembered playing an exhibition for geriatric government officials, and having to stop every few minutes so they could go to the toilet. Recently 100 million Chinese watched coverage of a match between the two best Chinese players, Deng Junhui and Liang Wenbo, a far cry from when the Maoists made snooker illegal.

Snooker is suffering on its home turf, the days of Davis/Taylor are long gone, the lack of characters has sucked the spark out, and the banning of cigarette advertising has sucked the money out. So the Chinese fascination has pleased everyone, not least the players, who get treated like superstars out there. They were also effusive about the Chinese players, although, despite several opportunities, none of them seemed able to list any beyond Ding. It was left to Martin Kelner to mention Liang Wenbo by name. Marco Fu got a mention, but he was from Hong Kong and grew up in Canada. Ding himself was interviewed alongside his translator - who also got an interview all to herself - and was snooker-level articulate about the pains of moving to England to pursue his career.

Martin Kelner, funny as a muffin in his weekly column, didn't raise much of a smile in this show, just as I suppose I haven't in this review. The most notable moment from him was when he asked Ding if he'd eaten a Yorkshire Pudding, and received a confused burst of Chinese in reply. He was workmanlike, or I suppose professional, without ever making the topic gripping. Hearing the show did cause me to discover his blog, on his fairly impenetrable website. In any case, I wish him luck, since anyone who is able to make a living out of watching Sky Sports is some sort of hero.