WHEN Neil Robertson went on the attack over playing conditions following his Wuxi Classic quarter-final with Shaun Murphy, neither could be accused of sour grapes.

One of the two former world champions, Robertson, had won the match 5-4 on the black – while the other, who stayed silent at least in public, has been banging on about the issue of kicks and how to try and reduce their occurrence for years.

According to world No3 Robertson, who was attempting to defend his title in China, numerous kicks at key junctures ruined the contest as a spectacle – there was an uncharacteristically high error count - and made the pair look “stupid”.

Immediately after coming off the table Robertson said: “It wasn’t the greatest match, playing conditions weren’t great and we both got a lot of kicks which can prevent a match from flowing.

“I got a big kick on a black at 3-1 with a good chance to go 4-1, then in the decider I was in first and got another kick and was lucky to get another chance.”

Later still Robertson was more forceful on Twitter, adding: “Feel for Shaun though as we were both made to look stupid by the conditions. Don't know any other sport where this happens.

“It’s time for a change on the cloth we use. 6 reds last year played fine with out heaters and it's as humid as it gets there.

“All the players have had enough of this. Last year the conditions were great as there was hot non humid weather.

“But as soon as it rains once the humidity gets inside, the tables are so unpredictable. Sometimes you get away with it but a lot of the times you don't.

“And you get our favourite commentator saying ‘Wowwee he over hit that by 4 feet!’

“I cope with it a lot better than most, so maybe keep it how it is!

“And people saying ‘Well he played great in that match, he's adjusting!’ have no idea what they are talking about.”

World Snooker were quickly moved to respond to these comments.

A spokesman said: “We take Neil's comments on board but, as he knows, the weather plays a huge part in the way the tables play, and that is a factor we can't control.

“Atmospheric conditions change quickly and it has been raining constantly in Wuxi for several days so the humidity is very high. We will be re-covering the table tonight ahead of the semi-finals.

“We are relentlessly striving to provide the best possible playing conditions at every venue we go to around the world.

“We have the best manufacturers in the world and they work closely with us to produce the best conditions available.

“This is a continuous process and we fully understand its importance.

“We are also looking into theories on what causes kicks and unpredictable cushion bounces and whether any changes to the methods we currently use would be appropriate."

Hours of analysis and thousands of words have been devoted to the issue of kicks in snooker: what causes them, and what if anything can be done to eliminate them, whatever the weather conditions as high humidity clearly seems to make the situation worse.

As a journalist, being let down by things like faulty hardware or internet connections is incredibly frustrating, and means you cannot do your job properly. You could be Hemingway (I know that’s not an issue here) but if the email won’t go, no one will ever read your carefully crafted prose.

So by the same token I can see how losing a frame and potentially a match on a kick at an inopportune moment must be one of the most annoying things that can happen to a snooker professional, in a game as we know not short on doling out the mental anguish.

Murphy has expounded theories having off his own back worked with scientists in the field.

The gist of his argument and results of his investigations are that oil on the cloth breaks down the resin on the outside of the balls, brought on by ‘over-heating’ of tables, and that this breakdown of the surface of the ball leads to a far higher number of kicks.

Needless to say the official cloth manufacturers were not exactly jumping up and down to agree with this, but the point is this. No stone should be left unturned to give the players the best possible conditions, livelihoods and big money can be at stake in a close contest.

So what the authorities have to ask themselves is ‘Are we doing everything – and then some more – to ensure the best possible chance of the kick being minimised or even eliminated’, however fanciful a goal that is.

As stated above, World Snooker claim they are looking into theories of what causes kicks, but maybe they need to look a bit harder, and a bit quicker – as perhaps they might if it was their computer not working in the office. Or the WiFi in the media centre. Actually scratch that, we’re way down the pecking order…


Photographs by Monique Limbos