Due to the cancellation of the World Professional Snooker Championships for 2020, at least for its usual date in April, the BBC chose to fill some of the resulting vacant time slots with re-runs of notable action from previous years. One of the offerings to be shown was probably the most famous of all frames, along with Cliff Thorburn’s first ever Crucible maximum perhaps, this was the final frame of the 1985 event between Steve Davis and eventual winner, Dennis Taylor.
A couple of things stand out from watching this blast from the past, one of which was how slow the play was and how much time was allowed for the players to come to the table after an opponent had failed to score or fouled and likewise how much was allowed for them to decide on a course of action. The eventual time taken to complete this last frame was 1 hour and 8 minutes, an extraordinary amount considering that these two players, while not especially known for their speed, were certainly not the slowest of their era and even considering that this was a very tense and dramatic final frame of the final.
The second and most obvious thing was that the use of rule 14 was conspicuous by its absence. Three times during this frame situations arose where it would be mandatory in the modern era for referees to call a miss and on two of those occasions when failing to make the call would not be an option or a matter of opinion. Both of these instances had at least one Red able to be struck, not just with full central contact but at both extreme edges, with the player concerned, once each for both of them, attempting to strike the ball at a very fine edge to play a safety stroke and failing. The third occasion was a stroke played by Dennis in attempting an escape from a snooker.
This was the lay of the table for that stroke with Yellow being the ball on and fully snookered and the scores close.
The stroke eventually played was with running side off the top cushion. This attempt saw the cue-ball rebound off the top cushion to run back down the table, not on the near side of the Blue ball in relation to the striker but on the far side due to the amount of side spin imparted. This resulted in the cue-ball missing the Yellow by at least, if not more, than a foot and would be called a miss by today’s standard each and every time in any professional match and would even be expected to be called by just about every modern-day amateur playing competitively.
The question then arises of why the misses were not called, at least for the two occasions where direct straight-line first contact was available. The answer is probably the simple one which is that it was not only not common practice at that time to use the rule, but it was so rarely invoked that it would have certainly elicited gasps of astonishment from the players, audience and commentators alike if it had.
It is my understanding that the rule regarding a miss was always part of the contents of the rule book and although I did once have a copy of the 1985 edition it has been sadly lost and I am unable to consult it for confirmation. What is certain is that the rule has only been enforced and consequently been the subject of countless debates, since this match was played. It is a rule that caused many bad feelings during its first usage in this era but has since been largely accepted and has now become a common feature of the modern game. It is also a rule that has had very little change over the years with its only major tweak coming in 2014 when it was decided that instead of leaving the decision of whether or not to replace balls moved but not integral to the stroke, to the discretion of the referee, to instead demand that any and all balls moved in such a stroke be replaced if the request is made for it to be replayed. The final tweak came in 2019 when it was decided that a call of ‘miss’ is the correct decision after any failure to first contact a ball on and when the amount of points remaining equal the amount needed to tie the frame, when it could not be called in such a situation previously.