PDC World Darts Championship Preview: The Final

On Saturday March 5, 2016, a 26-year-old electrician from Hastings reached a career pinnacle. After defeating Ken MacNeil, Wes Newton and Jeffrey de Graaf in the UK Open, he stood witness to world number one Michael van Gerwen throwing 18 consecutive perfect darts. He notched up five legs against the eventual winner. It was an incredible run for a Riley’s qualifier.

But Rob Cross was far from done.

Now, Cross has completed his unbelievably swift rise to the top. By beating van Gerwen on the biggest stage of them all – possibly in the greatest game of all time – that electrician (now 27, and a retired sparky) could write his name in the history books. But he will have to defeat the writer of those books. For this is Phil Taylor’s last hurrah. The greatest career the sport of darts will ever see could only end this way. And so, on the Ally Pally stage, the PDC World Darts Championship is complete. 70 have gone. Two remain. And only one can be the most remarkable of champions.

The Final: Rob Cross vs Phil Taylor

On paper, this is the sixth seed taking on the 20th seed. It is clearly much, much more than that.

Rob Cross took on Seigo Asada in the first round in the knowledge that it would only get much, much harder from there. And so it has proved. Michael Smith, John Henderson, Dimitri van den Bergh and Michael van Gerwen – there isn’t an easy game from the lot. Cross lost more legs than he won against Smith, but rode out two match darts before progressing. He held off Henderson, a clinical double-hitter who accounted for Daryl Gurney. Van den Bergh, Mensur Suljovic’s conqueror, stunned Cross with a ridiculous resurgence. But again, Cross stood tall. And what more can be said about that semi-final? It was incredible. Yes, van Gerwen missed his chances. But Voltage knew exactly when to shock his more decorated opponent.

Cross goes into this final averaging around 100 for the tournament – he has been very consistent in that regard. His double-hitting has shown his versatility as well, with double 16 and double 18 both serving him particularly well. It is frankly insane to think Cross became a professional less than a year ago. His level of composure in high-pressure situations is something seasoned professionals envy. If he misses, it is not down to shaky hands or a lack of focus. That also means that he always has a two or three-treble visit in him, making him a major danger both on throw or against. He is the first rookie finalist since Kirk Shepherd, and could be the first rookie champion since Raymond van Barneveld beat Taylor in 2007. But Barney was 39 then, and had appeared in 14 BDO World Championships (winning four of them). Cross was in uncharted territory when he took on Asada. Should he win, he could easily lay claim to being the most incredible world champion in history.

Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

Similarly mind-boggling is the fact a player who no longer believes himself to be able to deal with the rigours of the PDC calendar finds himself in the final. But it’s Phil Taylor. The 16-time world champion always finds a way. He has been at all 25 PDC World Darts Championships, and this is final number 19. 14 PDC world titles are his. Taylor’s nerves of steel, and his unbreakable focus, have seen him through again. He grinds down his opposition, riles them up if necessary, and then strikes. In his semi-final against Jamie Lewis, he won nine of the 10 legs in which the Welshman was throwing for the set – including a 10-darter, an 11-darter and two 12-darters to break. He is a trophy-winning machine.

One thing that works against Taylor is the run he has had. Chris Dobey, a fine young player, but not much of a challenge on the night. Justin Pipe, more bothered with the crowd than the board. A clearly overawed Keegan Brown. Gary Anderson, plagued by back problems. And Jamie Lewis, who had a claim to every single set but could not find a ruthless streak. Taylor has not faced a challenge like the one he will find in Cross. The periods of going off the boil – one of which Anderson almost pounced on – will similarly be taken advantage of by the man three decades his junior. Taylor will try to use all of his experience against Cross, but focusing on the player and not the board could cause problems.

Truly, this is incredibly hard to call. Both are cool under pressure. Both have near identical tournament averages, and similar double success rates. Taylor has the experience, but the experience Cross has gained in the past fortnight is enough to prepare him for what is coming. With the storybook scenario of the departing master taking on the man he has tipped to succeed him, plus their obvious quality, this one should be one of the all-time greats.

Photo: Lawrence Lustig/PDC

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Author: Ed McCosh