DAVE GILBERT once supplemented his meagre snooker earnings by working for his father’s farming business so even a defeat to John Higgins in the International Championship final in Daqing on Sunday is preferable to long hours out in the field.

Gilbert will be hoping to pull up a few trees of his own and land the £125,000 first prize. Remarkably, he had never been past the last 16 of a full ranking event before this week.

This is surprising because Gilbert is one of those players long regarded as someone capable of realising his potential. It never quite happened but now, after just three weeks with a new cue, he has followed up his Ruhr Open semi-final with a place in a big money final.

The problem he has is that he’s playing a John Higgins producing snooker of the quality he conjured when at his very best during his 23-year professional career, which has yielded four World Championship titles.

The 40 year-old Scot, already Welsh and Australian Open champion this year, looks focused, confident and mentally sharp. He has gone on the attack all week, his tactical game is as sound as ever and, perhaps most importantly of all, his concentration has held out. He deserves to start as big favourite for the best of 19 frames final.

If the worst case scenario for Gilbert is that he now comes home with £65,000 rather than the winner’s prize then it isn’t so bad. He will shoot up in the rankings regardless.

But having come this far, he of course wants the trophy as well. His run, as with that of Rory McLeod in Germany, follows victory for Kyren Wilson at the Shanghai Masters and final placings for Ben Woollaston at the Welsh Open and Gary Wilson at the China Open.

Some of the sport’s star names are not firing at the moment – or even playing – and players further down the ranking list are taking their chances.

Many of these players have long possessed good enough games but some are now proving they have the temperaments too.

As for Higgins, he will tie Steve Davis in second place on the list of all time ranking event winners with 28 titles if he wins the final.

This would make him very proud. Higgins is the modern version of Davis: the all round master cueman who never knows when he’s beaten.


Photographs by Monique Limbos.