Enough class amongst qualifying ranks to ruffle four of top 16
Half of the field of 32 is made up of qualifiers and odds of 8/11 that four or more of those make it past the first hurdle could prove to be fantastic value once the dust settles after the opening round of matches.
A traditional mix of old heads and young talent made it past the notoriously nerve-wracking qualifying stages, but only Dechewat Poomjaeng and Sam Baird were forced to come through the entire four-game gauntlet. It is encouraging that the majority of the 16 only needed to suffer one examination before booking further accommodation in the Steel City as history has shown those qualifiers with the longest journeys to the main draw also have the shortest stays.
As mentioned Poomjaeng and Baird have already achieved much in getting to this stage, but with the draw handing them massive tests against world number five Stephen Maguire and number eight Stuart Bingham respectively they cannot be expected to contribute to our required tally of four.
Alan ‘Angles’ McManus had to beat three opponents to make the Crucible and although certainly not lacking in experience at the top table, the draw has probably ended his challenge before it’s begun with a first round match against Ding Junhui.
However, our selection comes alive with players who entered qualifying at the halfway stage and beyond, starting with the man the snooker world has been whispering about for some time, 21-year-old Jack Lisowski.
World Snooker’s Rookie of the Year two seasons ago, the popular cueist reached the quarter-finals of the China Open this season and has victories over Mark Selby and Judd Trump on his resume. He can secure the first ‘W’ against Barry Hawkins. The world number 14 has improved a great deal over the past couple of seasons, but Lisowski is potentially a future winner of this title – Hawkins is not.
It’s very difficult to make case for either Matthew Selt, who plays world number one Mark Selby, or for Ben Wollaston, who will need a minor miracle to get the better of two-time finalist Ali Carter over 19 frames.
Michael White is the last of the two-game qualifiers and could add a second win to our selection before the big guns are even considered. Although White appears to be at the wrong end of a mismatch against double world champion Mark Williams, the languid world number 10 has not been at his best this season and could be vulnerable to a player full of confidence.
The more established players below are naturally the ones to look for to get the selection over the line, and between them they could easily get four wins themselves.
Those who cannot expect to help the cause are Marcus Campbell, Dominic Dale, Mark King and Robert Milkins, who have all been handed challenges that appear beyond them.
Much has been made of which Ronnie O’Sullivan will appear in his first match for almost a year, and although Campbell will be trying his best to convince himself this is his best chance to beat the champion, the reality is far different. O’Sullivan will outclass the Scot, a fate that seems certain for Dale against Trump and King against an in-form Mark Allen. Robert Milkins is also horribly mismatched against 2010 winner Neil Robertson.
The remaining four of Peter Ebdon, Marco Fu, Martin Gould and Michael Holt all have excellent chances of progressing, even though not all should be required to do so for the bet to land.
Ebdon faces Graham Dott in a repeat of that infamous, everlasting 2006 final, and despite the odds, this is an evenly balanced affair. Ebdon has been practising with O’Sullivan in Sheffield recently, and is reportedly in fine fettle.
As mentioned previously, Fu has strong pedigree at the very highest level and should be favourite against an inconsistent Matthew Stevens.
Martin Gould will have to beat another world champion in Shaun Murphy, and although the 2005 victor deserves to be the jolly, Gould has shown in the past that he holds no fear for the big stage having progressed past the first round twice before.
Finally, confidence can be found in Holt in his match against Ricky Walden. Holt is having a decent year, reaching two semi-finals, and although Walden has shown more consistency at this level, he could be an unexpected addition to the tally.
All odds and markets correct as of the date of publishing