Context is everything.
Without context, we are unable to fully appreciate anything – in darts, in sport, or in life in general.
At the start of the World Championship, the bookmakers believed only three people were more likely to win the title than the two Target finalists we eventually had: Phil Taylor and Rob Cross.
As we now know, Cross went on to life his first world title with a stunning display, averaging 107.67.
If someone told you that the fifth-favourite went on to win a tournament with a field of 72 players, you might not be that surprised – but this is where context is important.
Rob Cross was not even playing on the full tour during last year’s World Championship; he was sat at home in his front room in Hastings, watching it on the television. Rob Cross had only played a few months on the Challenge Tour, and had still be working a full-time job as an electrician that year.
And yet, Rob Cross managed to beat the world number one and the sport’s most successful player, back to back, in the semi-finals and the final.
In that context, Rob Cross has achieved something remarkable – a rags to riches story, having produced the greatest debut year in PDC darts ever seen (you can read more about that here)
But his opponent had achieved something remarkable too – a whole career, spanning decades, of astonishing feat after astonishing feat.
“The Power” genuinely did not believe that he could reach the final of the World Championship at the start of the tournament, but after an unconvincing display against Chris Dobey in the first round, he grew in confidence with each game.
Having seen-off Gary Anderson (a man who had made the final for three years running) and then the tournament’s surprise package Jamie Lewis, Taylor knew he only had one game left in his career before retirement – and it just so happened to be the biggest of the lot, the World Championship final.
Again, a 16-time champion making the final might not surprise anyone, but the context is key once again.
Taylor is 57 years old, and had not made the final for three years.
“The Power” had only played 12 tournaments over the course of 2017, and had admitted himself that his practice regime and dedication had waned – he simply did not have the hunger and energy for it anymore.
And yet, he went all the way to the final of the biggest tournament in the world, and then nearly produced his first ever World Championship nine darter – only missing double-twelve by a fraction.
We had a fairy tale final, irrespective of the outcome: either Cross completed his improbable ascent to the pinnacle of world darts, or the greatest player of all time signed-off with one last title to end his career.
It felt in the hall like the crowd were hoping for the latter – every 180 and leg won by Taylor was greeted with the most monstrous of roars from the Alexandra Palace audience.
It seemed that the majority of those who bought tickets for that historic night wanted to be able to tell people for years to come that “they were there” when Taylor won the biggest game in the world, in the final match of the greatest darts career in history.
It would have been quite the story.
Maybe seeing a man win his first world title does not seem quite so appealing.
Or maybe, it just needs a bit more context.
When Phil Taylor won his first world title in 1990, nobody could have predicted the vast success he would go on to achieve, or the new heights to which he would take the sport. It was that which followed from “The Power” that made his incredible debut tournament even more significant…. it was the start of a special career.
Taylor says he sees a lot of himself in Rob Cross: the same dedication, hunger, and drive to win. Target’s five-time World Champion Raymond van Barneveld has described Cross as “the new Phil Taylor”.
Personally, I don’t think anyone will get close to matching Taylor’s record of 16 World Championship titles, but from what we have seen from Rob Cross so far, I believe he could add further major titles to his collection.
It is now down to “Voltage” to give us some more context around that incredible victory at Alexandra Palace.
Maybe we have already seen the start of something very special, but none of us really realised just how special… after all, this is only the beginning.
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