Preview: The Qualifiers
Over the next fortnight, we’ll be running previews written by journalists David Hendon and Phil Yates, building up to the Cazoo World Championship. To start with, Phil considers the prospects of Pang Junxu, one of the best players yet to make a Crucible debut.
During the current sustained spell of on table unpredictability, forecasting anything is a perilous occupation.
Yet there is no dispute. Pang Junxu, industrious, ambitious, and brave in the crunch, has the right stuff to secure his debut at the Crucible.
This season has already been one of firsts for Pang, a 23 year-old from Bozhou, who immediately created a favourable impression on tour when, through his unstinting work ethic and steely nerve, was named Rookie of the Year for the 2020/2021 campaign.
Steady improvement has followed but, since the turn of the year, Pang has been turning heads, repeatedly venturing into uncharted territory and, once there, looking entirely at home.
Pang consolidated on his first ranking quarter-final at the German Masters by taking a step further at the Welsh Open but that personal best stood for only a month thanks to a spirited run to the WST Classic final where his fighting qualities played a huge role.
Going deep three times in quick succession transported Pang to a career high 35th in the world rankings and arms the talented youngster with enormous confidence entering the Cazoo World Championship qualifying competition.
Given his seeding, Pang must negotiate two rounds with Hammad Miah or two world champions, Ken Doherty and Reanne Evans supplying the initial opposition. No doubt, Pang will be installed favourite whoever comes through.
Due to the inarguable fact that the mid to lower reaches of the rankings are populated by finer players than ever before, the list of potential story authors at the Crucible has never been lengthier.
The likes of Stephen Maguire, a former UK champion, Sam Craigie, a tremendous cueist, Graeme Dott, the 2006 kingpin, Jordan Brown, conqueror of Ronnie O’Sullivan in the 2021 Welsh Open final, and Martin Gould, a multiple tournament winner, all lurk with intent.
And that is merely a select group equipped to cause a stir. So many more could create headlines too.
Yet, those of us of a certain age, of a sentimental disposition, would, as the tabloids say, love to see at least one clock turned back. So, ‘Come on Jimmy’. You all know who I mean.
Tickets for the qualifying rounds are on sale for just £10 per day – for details click here.