Pots which were standard fare for Barry Hawkins and Stephen Maguire became agonising ordeals as they ground towards the conclusion of their World Snooker Championship.

Kyren Wilson lost the tip of his cue and his confidence as he went from all-square against John Higgins towards a 13-6 defeat as the drama continued at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. In the same match, Higgins' momentum was halted for some time as medical staff attended to an ailing spectator.

Players were bemused or agitated as the cue or object ball "kicked" on the green baize while a clutch of former players, now cast in commentary behind the microphone, was surprised at the level of housekeeping.

Some of the players seemed to be obsessive about dust or chalk marks while others, such as five-time champion Ronnie O'Sulli-van, barely made a cleaning request.


Those interested in the marathon exam of skills and temperament, like keen followers of surfing, are spoiled with hours of live action on Sky's pop-up channels.

For many, snooker may have the appeal of a slug sandwich but as a gruelling tactical battle of wills, technique and concentration, it's enchanting.

It's a sport which has deflected too much change and twins brilliantly with television. Overhead cameras are able to show us the difficulties facing players from behind the cue ball while expert comments from Steve Davis, Stephen Hendry, Dennis Taylor, John Virgo et al take us through the angles and options.

Possible escape routes from snookers are superimposed on the table as the experts debate the percentages around those tactics.

Some players, such as defending champion Mark Selby, are ultra-deliberate, chalking their cue, wiping the cloth and walking round the table while O'Sullivan is in rapid-fire motion, barely leaving the referee time to re-spot a colour before he is on to his next target.

If he's slightly out of position he will change from his natural right-hand action to a southpaw grip and be equally deadly.

His touch did desert him as he fell in the quarters to China's Ding Junhui but the "Rocket" still managed a glorious 146, one short of the maximum, in the later stages of that duel.

Until the 33-frame semifinals, rivals sat next to each other in cubicles as games were played simultaneously on tables separated by a partition.

There was no escape when frames finished and the cameras zoomed in on the contestants to catch their reactions.

No alcohol either. Those days have gone the way of big Bill Werbeniuk and his medical exemption which allowed him to drain pints to help calm a tremor. These days the players are on bottled water or energy drinks.

Chain-smoking, once the domain of Alex "Hurricane" Higgins and Jimmy "Whirlwind" White, has the red card, too, and White, a six-time runner-up, lost his tour card for the first time in 37 years after losing in a tournament qualifier.

But give or take a bow-tie or two, not much has changed.

Players carry extensions to butt into their cues and avoid using the rest, some like the unfulfilled talent of Judd Trump are fashionably coiffured and shod, others such as Marco Fu are remarkably impassive.

Surprises happen like the noisy gee-up the usually impassive Neil Robertson gave himself after winning a close frame or the flukes which invariably occur in a 23-ball trigonometry exam. Pressure rides with them all.

Higgins has a few more scars in his 42 years. The four-time champ served a six month ban in 2011 for failing to report an approach to fix a game but after a lean spell is back in the run to the crown and in a tough, relentless grind, he and world No1 Selby will be favoured this weekend. O'Sullivan was, too, but sentimentalism does not count on the Crucible scoreboard.