What an incredible night of darts at the SSE Hydro in Glasgow! Gary Anderson made a victorious return to home soil for the first time since being crowned World Champion, agonisingly missing D12 for a nine-darter in the final leg. Michael van Gerwen preserved his unbeaten record by beating Dave Chisnall 7-4; James Wade and Adrian Lewis both averaged 103 in a superb 6-6 draw, whilst Peter Wright snatched an unlikely share of the spoils against Stephen Bunting, having trailed 5-1 at one stage.
However, the match of the night was unquestionably contested between two of the greatest players in darting history, Phil Taylor and Raymond van Barneveld. It is notoriously billed as the ‘El-Clasico’ of darts, and it certainly lived up to the hype. Van Barneveld has endured a difficult Premier League campaign, due to a combination of missed chances and inspired performances from his opponents. Nevertheless, he demonstrated his class in Glasgow, defying an astonishing 115.80 average and nine 180’s from Taylor to secure a 7-4 victory. This game has altered the record books; Taylor’s 115.80 average was the highest ever losing average recorded. Incredible!
One of the most satisfying aspects of van Barneveld’s majestic victory was that it completely dispelled some of the lazy and monotonous clichés about the legendary Dutchman’s fighting ability. The pundits seem desperate to prophesise about how van Barneveld cannot claw back deficits in matches, but some of his most memorable wins have come from improbable positions. We all remember the historic 2007 World Championship final, where Barney trailed 3-0 before hitting 21 180’s, fighting back to win arguably the greatest game in history 7-6, in a sudden-death leg.
“Barney is class personified, and I’m delighted he has proven his critics wrong.”
However, there are other prevalent examples. He faced Taylor in last year’s Premier League semi-final. He had lost all 6 semi-finals in his career and trailed 4-1, but he showed great tenacity and belief to reel off 7 out of 8 legs to claim victory. There is also last year’s World Grand Prix clash against Dave Chisnall; Barney was on the verge of a straight sets defeat but produced some phenomenal finishes to shock Chizzy. There are too many more to mention. You cannot be a 5 times World Champion and have over 20 major ranking titles unless you have an unrelenting will and desire to win. Barney is class personified, and I’m delighted he has proven his critics wrong.
Credit must also go to Phil Taylor for a simply remarkable performance. His scoring was absolutely astonishing; the 54-year-old is not renowned for being a prolific maximum hitter, so his tally of 9 180’s just underlined how well he was playing. I genuinely don’t believe that any other player on the planet other than van Barneveld could have beaten Taylor tonight. MvG, Lewis and Anderson are all more than capable of blowing their opponents away with scintillating displays, but Barney’s timing was impeccable, he hit some crucial 180’s when required and his finishing under pressure was flawless.
The turning point in the contest came in the third leg. Taylor had established an early 2-0 lead, after hitting a fine 12-dart-leg to break Barney’s throw. Taylor was poised to secure a double-break for a 3-0 advantage, but with 50 remaining with his last dart, he declined the chance to go for the bull, with the Dutchman sat on 144, opting to leave D16 instead. Some call it a calculated risk; but I think it’s slightly foolish and disrespectful. A player of Barney’s pedigree is more than capable of taking out a 144 checkout, and this finish was the catalyst for his comeback victory.
As I referred to earlier, his timing was superb. He hit a fantastic 91 checkout for an 11-darter to restore parity in the fourth leg, before Taylor again broke the throw. However, the 47-year-old was unflappable, taking out 82 with one dart at D20 to once again halt Taylor’s progress. Considering the immense pressure on van Barneveld given his league position and the fact that his old foe was performing at such a high-level, his composure was all the more remarkable.
From the 6th leg onwards, van Barneveld was so dominant on throw. In two successive legs with the throw, van Barneveld left 181 after just 6 darts, giving Taylor no opportunity to make inroads, despite his stunning exhibition of scoring. Barney held his nerve on the doubles in the closing stages, hitting finishes of 18, 25 and 46 with his last dart. They might not be the most crowd-pleasing checkouts, but they’re the type of finishes that play an instrumental role in the final outcome. These finishes illustrate the player’s confidence and ‘bottle’, and the regularity with which van Barneveld hit the crucial double with his last dart was indicative of his determination and clinical display.
” The Dutchman has proven to everyone, but more importantly to himself, that he can beat the best players in the world, even when they are producing stratospheric standards.”
The Den-Haag ace admittedly has endured an indifferent Premier League record against the Power, but his fortunes have changed for the better over the last 18 months. He’s now won their last two Premier League meetings and has only lost 1 of their last 6 PL meetings. Taylor is always an extremely difficult opponent to beat, but last week he was visibly affected by nerves against van Gerwen. However, this was a vintage Taylor performance; the 7th highest ever average on television, so the Dutchman has proven to everyone, but more importantly to himself, that he can beat the best players in the world, even when they are producing stratospheric standards.
Van Barneveld still has more work to do in order to avoid elimination. It’s been the closest ever group phase in recent memory; just two points separate 9th place Adrian Lewis and 4th place Phil Taylor. One more win ‘should’ be enough for RvB to avoid relegation; with MvG and Gary Anderson left to play. They don’t come much tougher than the World Number 1 and the World Champion, but Barney’s confidence should be soaring.
After a performance like that, it would be a travesty if he were to get relegated. But, irrespective of league positions, it was just refreshing to see van Barneveld playing at the top of his game and enjoying his darts. Last night’s magical performance simply underlined why he is adored by the darting public, and why he is, and always will be, my darting idol.