Tricks to Count on
Sid Waddell reckons Phil Taylor would love to bump into Ted Hankey and his box of clever tricks.
Last Updated: 18/11/11 2:09pm
One of the seminal moments in darts history was the sight of Alan Evans leaping off the Ally Pally stage in 1972.
He'd just beaten the reigning champion Dennis Filkins in the semi-final of the News of the World Championship to send 200 Welshman with plastic leeks and red and white scarves into a frenzy. This little guy was jumping around the stage and screaming with delight, as the sport witnessed fan mania for the first time.
The story of the game back then, when I first started watching, was guys in moth-holed cardigans like Filkins taking on young whippersnappers with mullets like Evans.
That moment came to mind as I watched the Ted Hankey v Michael van Gerwen match in Wolverhampton; a clash between a wily old campaigner and a talented young kid.
The Dutchman has been winning titles since the age of 15 and I couldn't wait to see what he'd do against The Count. The veteran was trying every trick in the book to slow down his opponent, short of tying him up in chains and locking him away!
At first it didn't work and Van Gerwen pulled ahead, but in the end he was "old manned". That's a phrase they use in cricket when an old slow bowler chucks a few dolly drops for a young batsman to knock out of the field, only to get caught on the boundary on the second or third dash.
It was like watching the The Hustler or The Color of Money with this darting chameleon pulling opening his box of tricks and leaving the lid off. Ted knew that the boy would over-try and while he threw some brilliant darts, he sometimes missed by half an inch. Van Gerwen sometimes overbalances when he's trying too hard (he needs to study some widescreen tapes of Phil Taylor's technique) and his opponent knew those flaws would come through.
Just like Eric Bristow, who used to cup his ear to the crowd, Hankey thrives on winding the crowd up and as I said on Twitter, he was working his gob like a guppy with a gumboil.
But while he was very clever throughout he could always fall back on his classic arc throw. Like Scott Waites or Collin Lloyd, he doesn't force the weight through and he has a metronomic action. Even when he's playing mind games and gurning at the crowd, his style does not suffer.
It was a classic game and it had just about everything. Afterwards I was pleased to receive a call from The Power, who asked me what I thought of Hankey. He clearly has a healthy respect for him and I suspect he'd love to take him on.
In fact, the story of the night on Thursday was a triumph of technique, style of throw and consistency. The players with the best action and the most inner confidence seemed to come through.
It didn't surprise me to see Mark Walsh do well because he's always had a lovely throw. He has come back from dartitis within two years and that's because he's able to fall back on his seasoned technique when he's up on stage.
We also saw Terry Jenkins continue his reputation as the Comeback King against Wayne Jones, but his technique was the key. Whenever he goes for 60 or double top, the dart is parallel to the floor and that means he doesn't block the bed. The angle of entry was excellent and that helped him to control the last few legs.
We also saw Gary Anderson beat James Wade and I've rarely seen the Scotsman looking so calm. I think he was worried by the short distances in the group stage, but once he knew it was best of 19 he looked very cool.
That was nice to see because he's usually as nervous as a bagpipe player whose left his instrument near a nest of hedgehogs. He has forearms as big as Popeye's, but the control he has over his darts was absolutely amazing.
I don't have a clue why Wade only got three legs, but I don't think you could see a bigger contrast in darts than the one between him and Anderson. The Scot is a meticulous practiser who over-thinks everything, but James tends to rely on his natural talent and sometimes he'll just accept it's not his night.
That's not a criticism. In the old days of county cricket, some of the best knocks I ever saw came after a night of partying instead of a night of meticulous preparation. However, Anderson likes to prepare well and I think he'll be very dangerous in the rest of the tournament.
On Friday night I anticipate wins for Paul Nicholson (probably the calmest player in the whole tournament), Phil Taylor (I don't think Wes Newton has the spark to beat him) and Adrian Lewis, who could be the star of the night.
I expect ten 180's from the world champ because he looks as fresh as he's been for some time. We could see the real Adrian Lewis as this tournament progresses.
Keep an eye on my Twitter page for my thoughts over the weekend and I'll review the whole tournament on this website next week.