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JOKE'S RON YOU

Ronnie O’Sullivan bemused by fake crowd noise but dominates Thepchaiya Un-Nooh at World Snooker Championship

THE FIRST time he heard the Crucible’s controversial fake fans noise, Ronnie O’Sullivan cut a baffled and bemused figure.

Yet by the end of an astonishingly rapid-fire session,  organisers should have given him a fake standing ovation, such was the quality of snooker he had just produced.

Ronnie O'Sullivan looked baffled after hearing the Crucible's fake crowd for the first time
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Ronnie O'Sullivan looked baffled after hearing the Crucible's fake crowd for the first timeCredit: Rex Features

In his 99th  match at the event, the Rocket was in  exhibition mood in his first round Betfred World Championships clash with fellow speedster Thepchaiya Un-Nooh.

The Essex star hit two centuries in 82 minutes to lead 8-1 after the first  session.

Should he continue in this  fashion he will easily eclipse the shortest match here, last year’s 149-minute first-round tie when Shaun Murphy thumped Luo Honghao 10-0.

But the five-time world champion was surprised to hear some clapping at the start — despite no fans being in the iconic Sheffield theatre.

At 63-13 up in the first frame, O’Sullivan went for the rest but his motion was interrupted by something coming from the Matthews Stevens against John Higgins match next door.

To create some atmosphere amid the empty seats, snooker bosses piped in experimental crowd noise.

Whenever players entered the arena, finished a frame or achieved a century there was a ripple of ‘applause’.

German referee Marcel Eckardt asked O’Sullivan: “Have you not been informed? Once the frame  is finished or if there’s a  century, there’s going to  be applause.”

That left O’Sullivan, 44,  pulling the funniest of facial expressions in bewilderment.

The Rocket produced a brilliant display against Thepchaiya Un-Nooh
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The Rocket produced a brilliant display against Thepchaiya Un-NoohCredit: Rex Features

On BBC commentary was Dennis Taylor, the 1985 world champion, who  giggled as he said: “Ronnie was unsure what that was all about.

“Someone is pressing a button backstage!”

Higgins, who beat Stevens 10-5, welcomed the noise, saying the silence was like being at a church mass.

He joked: “Maybe there should be a button for a cough or packet of crisps opening. Normally when  Ronnie walks out, the place goes nuts. It was surreal.”

There is plenty of respect between O’Sullivan and  Thailand’s Thepchaiya, the sport’s two quickest players.

But the Rocket did not show any of it on the baize, blitzing his opponent  and forcing bookies to rehash their tournament odds.

There was a 101 break, achieved in less than six minutes, and a sublime 115 knock in the third frame.

At 6-0 down, Thepchaiya meditated for a few minutes and while he did not get any divine inspiration, he did put a frame on the board.

For O’Sullivan it was a case of no crowd, no problem. It was blistering work, his average shot time just 13.41secs.

The performance was in complete contrast to his first- round exit against rookie James Cahill last year, which he blamed on insomnia.

Refreshed and a stone-and-a-half lighter from running more, O’Sullivan had his foot on the throttle throughout.

With the tournament  behind-closed-doors, this could be the stage for him to thrive, improving his chances of equalling Steve Davis and Ray Reardon’s six world titles.

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