The Betway UK Championship quarter-final between world No1 Mark Selby and the in-form John Higgins delivered on every level – and also sparked a new storm over how live snooker is covered on the BBC.
Starting at just after 1pm the players, including an interval and breaks between frames, had held the audience spellbound for almost five hours at York’s Barbican Centre.
Reigning world champion Mark Selby surged into a 3-0 lead, before letting Higgins off the hook and allowing the recent China Championship and Champion of Champions winner to claw his way back.
So successful was Higgins, a three-time UK winner, at this he took the lead at 4-3 and 5-4, before the 33-year-old Selby, the 2012 UK champion, forced a decider.
This gripping, gruelling denouement lasted over 46 minutes but with two reds left on the table and Selby seemingly on the brink of victory the BBC2 coverage left the action, to go to the schedule Strictly: It Takes Two programme hosted by Zoe Ball.
The fact that it was after all Musicals Week on the smash hit light entertainment show cut little ice with furious snooker fans who took to social media to voice their ire.
Comments such as “BBC cutting away from the snooker literally two seconds before Selby plays the matchwinning shot at 5-5. Take all the sport off them”, and “BBC You are an absolute joke cutting off the snooker at this moment” lit up Twitter.
Now this is not the first time this has happened, with coverage previously disappearing for an eclectic mix of programmes including Coast, Eggheads and The Hairy Bikers.
And it should be pointed out that the on-site production company IMG, who provide in my own view excellent coverage and production values, would not have wanted this to happen. When you work as hard as they do on the ground for nine days in York, you don’t want the match of the tournament taken off air with minutes to go with so many viewers gripped.
Ultimately though it is not their call, but that of the network bosses and schedule controllers at BBC2, and for them this decision appeared to be a no-brainer. Replying to one angry viewer on Twitter, BBC presenter Jason Mohammad said: “Never easy Chris but we had to leave for Strictly. Thank you for writing.”
But it isn’t what Jason wanted, what IMG wanted, what the commentators wanted, or the television audience wanted. Everyone has been let down.
It should be noted coverage continued on the red button, but not everyone watching has access to that.
And one key question is, of course, would the same thing have happened if it had been an Andy Murray match in tennis. I suspect not.
A fuller response was requested from the BBC press office by this correspondent and another colleague.
When it arrived it shed little light on the decision. A BBC spokesperson said: “We are obviously disappointed that we weren't able to show the conclusion of this match on BBC Two but after extending coverage for a few minutes we had to switch to the scheduled live Strictly It Takes Two so we continued coverage of the snooker on the red button.”
Back to the match and Higgins was in no mood to chat afterwards, replying sarcastically to one question and noting: “I’d rather have lost 6-0 than 6-5 like that. How do you think I feel after that end to the match? Who cares if I showed fight, I still lost.”
Selby, who now plays Shaun Murphy on Saturday afternoon, said: “John might be disappointed, but I’m not sure I’d be too disappointed in his position if I had won well over £300,000 in the last month as he has.
“I don’t know about 33, I feel about 53 after that. And frankly if I had been the BBC I think I’d have taken it off after that long!”