Crucible latest: Selby beats Ding in World Championship thriller

John Higgins at the table in his semi final match against Barry Hawkins.
John Higgins at the table in his semi final match against Barry Hawkins.
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Mark Selby pipped Ding Junhui as the duo produced a Crucible classic in their battle to reach the final of the Betfred World Championship.

World No 1 Selby edged out Sheffield-based Ding 17-15 in their semi-final encounter - lasting a gruelling 12-and-a-half hours - which will go down in Crucible history as one of the tournament’s great matches.

Ding was always behind, ever since conceding a 5-3 advantage early in the contest, and Selby proved a formidable opponent in his defence of the title he won 12 months ago.

Ding started the afternoon session locked at 12-12, after a thrilling fightback the previous evening.

He had trailed 12-10 to world No 1 Selby, but delivered back-to-back centuries to restore parity.

It offered hope that this could be finally Ding’s year, in the city which he has called home since moving from China over a decade earlier, but Selby was ruthless on the resumption.

Breaks of 74 and 96 saw the Leicester potter move 14-12 in front, needing just three more frames to clinch his place in Sunday’s final.

This match was a repeat of last year’s Crucible final, and it was a contest worthy of a climax, both players producing some thrilling snooker.

Ding has had his temperament questioned over the year, but he refused to wilt and once again cut the deficit with a 52 break to make it 14-13.

Selby was first in the balls, knocking in 41, but Ding pounced on an error and looked set to level when he missed a simple red to the corner - one a 34 break - and his opponent grabbed the reprieve with both hands.

Selby produced some nerveless snooker to take the next two frames - including a stunning long-range yellow in frame 29 - to go 16-13 ahead.

Yet, Ding, somehow clawed back the next two frames and looked set to draw level when in the balls, but somehow missed a clear blue to the centre pocket.

A rueful smile from Ding was telling, as he knew his chance had gone, as Selby crawled over the finishing line with a 72 clearance.

John Higgins was on the brink of his sixth World Championship final as he punished an out-of-sorts Barry Hawkins in the other semi-final.

The four-time champion moved from 10-6 ahead at the start of the day to 16-8 in front without playing anywhere near his best, and almost won through with a session to spare.

Instead he was left requiring one frame upon the evening resumption to clinch a shot at snooker’s most coveted trophy and the £375,000 reward.

Hawkins had an awful session. The left-hander felt he had been struggling in his quarter-final victory over Stephen Maguire and in a session where he needed to raise his performance level, instead it hit the floor.

He began well enough, with a break of 69 making an immediate dent in the Higgins lead.

The four-frame cushion was soon restored, but Hawkins should have pulled back to 11-8 only to miss pink to the middle pocket and let Higgins off the hook.

Kent cueman Hawkins has been to three previous semi-finals but his experience of those matches was undetectable in the manner of his display.

Coached by Terry Griffiths, Hawkins urgently needed words of wisdom from the Welshman at the interval after sliding 13-7 adrift.

Griffiths, the 1979 world champion, is also working with Ding, whose semi-final against Selby was set to resume in the afternoon. That contest was tied at 12-12, with its standard having been streets ahead of the tussle between Higgins and Hawkins.

Another missed pink was to cost Hawkins dearly after the interval. Leading 62-4 and urgently needing to get frames on the board, he missed to the right corner, sucking on his thumb afterwards as he stepped back in disbelief. And even though Higgins could not clear up in one visit, he soon made his labouring opponent pay.

Despite not making a 50 break over the first six frames of the day, Higgins won five in that sequence to pull 15-7 ahead, two short of victory with two frames remaining in the session.

When Higgins strung a fluent 90 together, that meant just one was required.

Hawkins gave a wry smile when after carefully plotting a plant, he sank the intended red but also saw the white drop in the opposite pocket. His race looked to be run, but against the flow of play he made a 58 break to extend the match into a fourth session.