The White Stuff: Stars need to take centre stage regularly for snooker to emulate rival sports

It was the final snooker richly needed.

Mark Selby celebrates with the Betway UK Championship trophy after victory over Ronnie O'Sullivan (Photo: PA)

Following a week of intense scrutiny over the lack of quality throughout the 128-player draw, Mark Selby and Ronnie O’Sullivan served up a Sunday treat in the UK Championships final to restore decency to the elite level.

Selby, often criticised for his slow play, demonstrated his characteristic grit and immense break-building talent to complete the World and UK double.

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But perhaps of greater significance for the world No 1 was yet another scalp over O’Sullivan and another win to suggest he could dominate the sport in a similar fashion to his beaten opponent.

Snooker has taken its schedule worldwide in recent years but the top players have criticised the quality of players outside the top 64 (Photo: PA)

For the sport in general, however, the future of its expansion across the world remains unclear. And this was shown during the tournament in York more so than ever.

There is discontent among the top players who are unhappy with the standard of lower-ranked players on tour. And the lower-ranked players are unhappy about pay, which chairman Barry Hearn gave a blunt response during Sunday’s final on the BBC. The sentiment of his rant was “if you’re not making enough money, you’re not good enough.”

O’Sullivan’s comments over Hearn’s approach to flog the sport to the mass market - likening it to a car-boot sale - drew closest attention, however. And it is quite easy to see his point.

Having opened up the draws to lesser-known players, the connection between supporter and player has been diminished. And there are too many nothing matches being aired on television.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has yet to win a world ranking event in 2016 (Photo: PA)

When there was a solid top 16 playing in television tournaments across the year, there was a narrative to understand the tournaments. There was an engagement towards players’ quirks. And there were long-standing rivalries.

Other than the new-found O’Sullivan-Selby clashes, and the intriguing brilliance of O’Sullivan, there is little else connecting an enthusiastic supporter and the game.

Hearn’s ambition at first was to latch onto the success of darts, his other venture, and create player profiles that the fans would enjoy. And popular announcer Rob Walker has delivered this in part.

But the loud walk-ons, the shortened tournaments and the quick-fire quirks were a turn-off for many a snooker enthusiast and failed to capture the imagination of the casual sports viewer.

World snooker chairman Barry Hearn told BBC if players aren't making enough money, they aren't good enough (Photo: PA)

Now the sport appears to be replicating the successful models of tennis and golf in its bid to make a success of its world expansion.

There are distinct similarities in the rankings system, tournament structure and 128-player draws to suggest that long term, the model can work.

But at the moment, as O’Sullivan and other leading names have pointed out, the depth in the draw is not sufficient to produce the quality required to entice viewers on the box - certainly from 64 to 128.

The unpredictable nature of results is causing a disconnect with the wider viewing public who cannot get to know a player’s characteristics.

Snooker has taken its schedule worldwide in recent years but the top players have criticised the quality of players outside the top 64 (Photo: PA)

Of course, there are positives to lower-ranked players working their way through the draw. Not least for Yorkshire father and son partnership Oliver and Peter Lines at York.

But for an avid snooker watcher like me, it’s quite clear the constant battle between higher-ranked and lower-ranked players is harming the overall quality of the competition, with frames turning into a battle of attrition with ball after ball missed.

For me, the long-term success of snooker hinges on creating the rivalries of bygone years. Ask a casual snooker watcher if Barry Hawkins is left-handed or where Stuart Bingham is from and the answer probably won’t roll off the tongue. There lies the problem to bringing a sport that once had 18 million people tuned into its world championship final back onto the screens of households up and down the country.

The viewing public needs to know the quirks and qualities of players. This can only be understood through regularly seeing those players.

Andy Murray, Novak Djokovic, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal have unquestionably taken their sport to new heights. But in reaching the latter stages or tournament after tournament, the big four have developed a connection with the audience - whether that be in admiration, patriotism or awe.

Plenty of snooker players have such capability. The genius of O’Sullivan is already there while Selby’s tenacious approach, Judd Trump’s ‘naughty’ snooker and Shaun Murphy’s showmanship have tickled the interest. But over the last 12 months, how often would the casual snooker fan have watched each of those players? Ask yourself the same question about Murray, Djokovic and Federer.

Ronnie O'Sullivan has yet to win a world ranking event in 2016 (Photo: PA)

Hearn does have the framework in place for snooker to find its spot back near the top of the sporting agenda. But for it to captivate the audience like the Hendry, Davis and Higgins eras of the past, the top eight players must play each other regularly - like in tennis.

In the ten world ranking events this season alone, there have been eight different winners and throughout 2016, that number jumps to 11 in 15 events.

In York, there were only six matches that pitted two players in the top 16 against each other - a 40 per cent drop from ten years ago.

The solution, as suggested by Selby during the mid-session features on the BBC, is to separate snooker into an A and a B tour, with 64 players in each and promotion and relegation.

Tennis works in the 128-player draw because the seeding structure largely plays true to the form book and the very best are involved at the latter end of nearly every tournament.

By its own running of the ball, snooker does not have this luxury. The scrappier the frame, the more level the playing field. Thus there will be more shock results and less of the top players finding their way to the latter rounds.

And without a core group of top players regularly reaching semi-finals and finals, snooker will be left in a viewing mediocrity.

World snooker chairman Barry Hearn told BBC if players aren't making enough money, they aren't good enough (Photo: PA)