Touching or Not
During the course of the second round match of the 2019 Ron Atkins Pot Black Open between Darren Sager and Kurt Dunham, the cue ball came to rest close to or touching the blue ball after a red had been potted, so that an almost straight line could be drawn from the left centre pocket, through the cue ball and the blue together in the middle of the table to the right centre pocket.
This made it almost impossible for the referee to determine whether or not they were touching whilst making every attempt to complete that observation. Both players were invited to inspect the balls with one holding his hand above the balls to block out the overhead lights with the other attempting to get as close to the balls as possible by leaning as far as he could over the baulk cushion.
The next stroke played was by Darren Sager who simply played away from the blue without contacting any other ball and as no foul was called it must be inferred from this that a touching ball had been called. It was impossible from watching the stream to hear the call. It was also impossible to know if the referee had called for a declaration by the striker as to which of the colours was the ball on as demanded by Section 3 Rule 8 a).
The question then arises of how to be sure whether or not balls are in contact if they are in such an inaccessible part of the table. I would suggest that climbing onto the table to get close enough to the balls should not be an option that is condoned and that it should be eliminated as an alternative at the outset. Getting the tallest player or referee in attendance to make a determination that is satisfactory to both players and the referee, might be considered but this would not be fool proof as a person of the stature of Kelvin Small would not be guaranteed to be in attendance and the tallest person available might still not be tall enough.
I would suggest that in such an instance and with the final outcome being so critical that it would be acceptable in this situation to use a smart phone camera which would take an image that could then be enlarged to show the relative positions of the balls exactly and whether there was a gap between them or not.
It is true that this would delay the procedure of the frame slightly but not unacceptably and it would ensure that the correct decision is arrived at with no unfair advantage or a disadvantage to either player, which is much more important.
It also true that modern technology takes extended time to intrude on the traditional way of playing and administering the games of Snooker and Billiards but I believe that this would not detract from those values and would only enhance the quality of refereeing that is required and demanded.
It has been suggested in the recent past that smart phone photos could be taken where the potential was that a miss may be called after a stroke so that the balls may be replaced exactly if that should happen. I would be averse to that for two reasons, the first being that the future is impossible to predict and it may be the case that the striker will not fail to first strike a ball on or that a miss might not be called even if a stroke is unsuccessful in that objective and would therefore be a waste of time. The second reason is that the table would have to be viewed from the exact position the photograph was taken as the perspective would change otherwise, which would make it difficult to determine exact ball positions using that method. It would be even more of a waste of time if a miss was not called for whatever reason and that it happened several or many times during a frame.
These comparison photos show the blue and cue balls in close proximity which at first glance and at life size, would seem to indicate touching balls. With the image enlarged x 2 some doubt is introduced at to that assumption and at x 4 all doubt is removed with a clear gap showing between the two balls. If this was the dilemma faced with the two balls lined up with the centre pockets and in the middle of the table, the only way a positive determination could be made is with just such a photograph.
As Sec. 3 Rule 8. (touching ball) states, the striker is entitled to know if balls are touching, whether they are balls on or not and as this was a situation where the blue could be a ball on it would therefore be the correct procedure in this and similar instances to show the evidence to the striker and even the non-striker if there is any dispute.
This is not the only instance where the balls may be touching but that close scrutiny is difficult or impossible, I have personally had times where the cue ball has come to rest in the middle of the pack of reds where all angles of approach were obstructed, either by the reds themselves or by the pink and/or black and/or other balls obstructing the optimum position at the table to lean in and get the best view and would be another instance where a photo and the ability to enlarge it, would have been an excellent aid to a correct decision.
It is not recommended that this process be used except in situations where the balls are in an inaccessible position to the viewer such as the ones described.