A fantastic final fight-back by Dutchman Michael van Gerwen in Dublin at the World Grand Prix on Sunday night rescued what had, until the closing match, been the least compelling PDC major tournament for some time.
Lacklustre crowds on the opening nights, high profile early casualties, and one-sided semi- finals gave the commentary team some serious work to do (and reminded viewers quite how much darts is already missing Sid Waddell). Just one of the 2012 Premier League line-up made it through to the quarter finals, and Pipe v Dolan and Newton v Nicholson in the quarter finals failed to tickle the taste buds in the way that Whitlock v Anderson and Wade v Van Barneveld would have done.
It seems, at last, as if the much vaunted strength-in-depth at the PDC has arrived. The last seven televised PDC tournaments have, remarkably, featured 11 different finalists, with just Phil Taylor (3) and Simon Whitlock (2) bucking the trend with repeat appearances. Although darts is dependent on an assortment of characters, however, viewers of sport need an on-going narrative, not one that changes every month. Too many different stars could become as problematic for the PDC as too few.
Sport works best when the giants of the era meet regularly on the biggest stages – take the current top four in men’s tennis. Darts in the 1980s was so successful not because of the plethora of stars, but because there were relatively few – every world championship final of that decade featured either Bristowe (8) or Lowe (5) , or both (3), their rivalry played out amongst victories for Jocky Wilson, Keith Deller and Bob Anderson, with cameos from Bobby George and Dave Whitcombe.
That darting era came to an end in disputes and disarray, and sport is once again on the cusp of another major change. The void left by the death of the ‘voice of darts’ cannot be filled, and neither can the hole that will be left when the finest ever player of the game retires in the next couple of years.
Fortunately, in Van Gerwen, the PDC has a new star capable of filling one of Phil Taylor’s boots. His talent has been apparent since 2006, when he stormed to victory against compatriot Raymond Van Barneveld in the final of the BDO world masters. Since then, Mighty Mike undertook a five year PDC apprenticeship, and up to last week he was still languishing on the wrong side of the world’s top 20, watching fresher faces leapfrog him in the rankings.
The last week in Dublin changed all that. His ultimately comfortable defeat of Mervyn King thrust van Gerwen into the top 10, qualified him for every tournament for the next year or so, and ensured he will have easier draws in the earlier (shorter) rounds of future tournaments. A pacey thrower who loves a big celebration, he’s great to watch, but the Dutchman and his throaty tones are also good to listen to: it’s hard not to warm to a young man with tears in his eyes telling a bunch of drunk Irishmen that this is the greatest moment of his life.
Van Gerwen is now established as a genuine long-term alternative to Adrian Lewis as the future World number 1. No doubt he’ll face some setbacks en route, but, after a sad summer for the sport, the crowning of a new star may well prove to be a seminal moment in the future of our game.