Saturday 7 December 2019

Worlds 5/16 - Anderson, Dolan, Kumar, West, Searle, King

It's always difficult to know what to make of how Gary Anderson is playing, as he usually plays somewhat of a limited schedule - this year, like many previously, he has completely ignored the European Tour, however the injury that forced him out of the Premier League restricted him even further, with Anderson not playing a single event between reaching the semi final of the worlds last season and the UK Open, where he was on the wrong end of a surprising result against Steve Beaton. Anderson would pick up the World Cup with Peter Wright, but in between then he'd play a few Pro Tour events with bad results, going out early to Vincent van der Voort, Conan Whitehead, Geert Nentjes and a 6-0 tonking from his World Cup partner. He'd beat Noppert in the Matchplay before losing to King, beat Brown in Dublin but then lose to Dobey, then in the only other major he's played, he'd just win his group, beat Thornton in a surprisingly close game, but then lose heavily in a rerun of last season's final. A couple of OK Pro Tour runs in July and September aren't exactly confidence filling, but while his underlying numbers aren't bad, you do wonder whether we've already seen the last of peak Anderson and it's only downhill from here.

What Anderson probably didn't want was a test from an in form player, and in Brendan Dolan (if Brendan wins his opening match) you've got exactly that. You had some inkling that he was getting back to his best from his worlds run last season, where he got the scalps of Cullen, King and van de Pas, but I don't think anyone would have expected Dolan to claim not one, but two, Pro Tour titles. That's impressive stuff and they've both come at the right end of the season, in those events he beat de Zwaan, Dobey, Chisnall, Durrant, Wattimena, Price, Wright, White - these weren't fluke runs where you picked off one good player and had an easy draw, Brendan had to work like hell for these and got it done. It was all a bit too late in the season for Brendan to get into any of the majors that look at the Pro Tour - it was more than enough to get into Minehead, where he went out to Michael Smith in the second round in a scrappy affair, but it sets up 2020 really nicely as he looks to push back up the rankings. He did come through the Grand Slam qualifiers, but lost an effective playoff for a last 16 spot to Daryl Gurney, and of course he played the UK Open, winning his first game before what looks now to be a big upset win from Richard North put him out. He was quite close to getting into the European Championship, but couldn't quite rack up enough wins, only getting one win over a seed, but hey, Brendan's back and could do some damage here.

Dolan's opponent will be Nitin Kumar, who's back for another pop at the worlds after winning the Indian qualifier for a second straight year. We didn't know what to make of him twelve months ago, as data was very, very limited, and not a massive amount has changed, except we at least saw him open up proceedings against Jeffrey de Zwaan, not winning a set but at least picking up some legs and certainly not showing the sort of performance that many people might have feared would happen. Nitin stopped around for Q-School, an interesting choice but I suppose useful to see where you stack up against people fighting to get onto the tour, where he lost 5-3 to James Barton averaging 78, 5-3 to Chas Barstow averaging 77, he'd beat Rohit Rabadia 5-2 with a 78 average before going out 5-2 to Jason Askew averaging 71, then on the final day he'd have his best average, getting 82 in a deciding leg win over Barry Gardner, but then lost the next game to Nathan Rafferty back down in the mid 70's. I think it's fair to say we've got a good idea what Nitin's going to bring - if you let him have six visits to win a leg, he might nick it, give him seven and he probably takes it, but putting up the sort of performance that can trouble Dolan over a best of five set match isn't something he's going to be able to do.

It's been a year of regression for Steve West, I think it's reasonable to say - after a couple of year period where he established himself among the top 32 in the worlds and became a regular name in the TV majors, West has had enough decent scores drop off his ranking money that he just missed Blackpool, then if that happens you're almost certainly going to miss Dublin as well, and as a result he's holding a seeding position primarily on form from 2018, and this suddenly becomes an important event with him defending last 16 money from two seasons ago. It's not been a dreadful year, three Pro Tour semi finals and a quarter final as well isn't terrible, in the most recent one he beat Peter Wright and Gary Anderson, in the earlier semis he was able to eliminate Gurney and Aspinall, but a points per turn score under 90 isn't really where he'd like to be at. The floor form was enough to get him to Minehead, where he ran into an inspired Willie O'Connor, but he couldn't build anything else beyond that really - he'd not have a good run in Europe, missing out in the final round of qualifying was his most common result, and when he did qualify, he'd get tough draws - Mickey Mansell, Chris Dobey, Mervyn King and Jeffrey de Zwaan all put him out first round, the only time he got a fairly easy draw, he took out Daniel Larsson, then Jamie Hughes, but Richard North was surely a game he'll look back at and think what he could have done different. Of course, West played the UK Open, he beat Ryan Searle, but Ross Smith prevented West from making the last sixteen.

Speaking of Ryan Searle, he's one of West's possible opponents in round two, with the south westerner returning for a second appearance, where he'll hope to repeat his performance from twelve months ago with a notable upset victory over Mensur Suljovic. This season hasn't been too bad, although his form has soured somewhat with seven first round defeats in the last ten Players Championship events - not where Searle would like to be in the build up to the world championships. Searle started out the year well, making quarter finals three times in the first four weekends of the Pro Tour, in that spell taking out Ian White, Steve West, Jamie Hughes, Joe Cullen and Krzysztof Ratajski, and also have a qualification double on the European Tour, winning his first round game both times over Glen Durrant and Diogo Portela, and would benefit from a bye in the second event, but lose the next game on each occasion. That'd be the peak of what Searle did in 2019, his only other board win immediately preceded the qualification double, and he wouldn't make another European Tour event all year. He'd got enough on the board early to make the Players Championship finals, and had darts to beat Danny Noppert but couldn't take them - that left just the UK Open as Ryan's only other major appearance - Searle will hope to use this tournament to overturn his defeat to West in that event.

Searle will face off against Robbie King, who is making his World Championship debut following his win of the Oceanic Masters, one of the Australasian continent's premier events that's worked as a feeder to the worlds for several years now. Previous winners include both the Anderson brothers, Simon Whitlock and King is the latest, winning through over Mark Cleaver, Gordon Mathers and Steve Fitzpatrick in the later stages. King was averaging in the mid to high 80's in those games, a similar average to what he was able to manage overall in his three DPA tour wins - one in the low 90's over fellow worlds competitor Ben Robb, one in the low 80's the day after over Fitzpatrick, and the last one at 85 over another worlds competitor, Damon Heta. That's a bit better than what King was able to manage in his only TV appearance of the year, where he dropped into the 70's in a 6-2 defeat to Rob Cross, although what might have happened if King was able to nick three legs where he had a dart at double, then maybe it'd have been a different story. If it's the case where King simply had some TV debut nerves (understandable - King was in the World Youth Championship as recently as 2016 so is still fairly young), which have now gone, he may have enough to push Searle all the way given Ryan's recent form.

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