The latest instalment of Premier League action in Nottingham provided plenty of thrills and spills, as Fallon Sherrock stole the headlines on a dramatic evening to hold three-time BDO world champion Glen Durrant to a draw at the Motorpoint Arena.
Sherrock made history by becoming the first female to feature in the Premier League and she came agonisingly close to causing another sensation in a bid to become the first ‘challenger’ to beat a regular Premier League player.
Michael van Gerwen moved to the top of the table with another dominant display, as Rob Cross recorded his first win of this year’s competition. As the dust settles on another action-packed night, I’ve picked out five key talking points…
Sherrock shows she’s no flash in the pan
Fallon Sherrock’s remarkable rise shows little sign of relenting. The 25-year-old was elevated to global stardom following her groundbreaking exploits at Alexandra Palace and on her latest big stage appearance in Nottingham, she rose to the occasion once more to hold Durrant to a 6-6 stalemate.
There was a record worldwide media interest ahead of Sherrock’s latest big stage escapade, as journalists from L’Equipe and Bloomberg were among those in attendance at the Motorpoint Arena to see if Sherrock could create yet another slice of history.
The 25-year-old was under considerable scrutiny but amidst the frenzy, Sherrock was the epitome of composure. Her opponent Glen Durrant – one of the most proficient finishers in world darts – struggled on the outer ring and Sherrock took every opportunity she was presented with.
The Milton Keynes ace came within touching distance of becoming the first ‘challenger’ to register a win in the Premier League but for those doubting her credentials, she gave another timely reminder of her quality with a clinical display against the three-time BDO world champion.
Sherrock has only suffered the solitary defeat in her four televised outings against Evetts, Suljovic, Dobey and Durrant and having come through a field of over 200 players to qualify for the UK Open a fortnight ago, her ability is not up for debate.
Sherrock is set to feature in all six World Series events in 2020 which gives her further opportunity to showcase her potential on a global scale and the ‘Fallon fever’ will continue to grow. Her profile, and indeed the profile of the sport of darts – has arguably never been greater.
Durrant displays his class
Glen Durrant was forced to recover from 6-4 down against Sherrock to salvage a share of the spoils in a contest he described as the ‘toughest’ of his career, although the three-time BDO world champion showed his class both on and off the oche in Nottingham.
‘Duzza’ is one of the most likeable characters on the circuit, yet he was under no illusion that he would be cast in the role of pantomime villain on Thursday night, as the crowd sensed the prospect of more darting history involving Sherrock.
Durrant has built a reputation as one of the most efficient combination finishers in the game since crossing the darting divide to join the PDC twelve months ago and his devastating doubling was in evidence against Michael Smith last week, where he boasted a 78% checkout success rate.
However, this was no ordinary game of darts. Sherrock received vociferous backing from the 8,000 capacity crowd in Nottingham and Durrant displayed uncharacteristic profligacy on the outer ring, only to register successive 15-dart legs in the closing stages to avoid a painful defeat.
It would have been easy for Durrant to attribute his struggles to the partisan atmosphere yet he was full of praise for the crowd and refused to detract from Sherrock’s display. He’s a huge advocate of the women’s game and his post-match comments are testament to his class as a human being.
Irrespective of his disappointment at failing to maintain his 100% record, three points from a possible four marks an impressive return and Durrant has acclimatised well to the unforgiving nature of the event. It won’t be easy, but the debutant has outlined his intentions from the outset.
Clinical Cross going under the radar
Rob Cross has not been anywhere near his best over recent months but talks of his demise were ludicrously premature. He won the World Matchplay and European Championship in 2019, whilst losing out in the UK Open and Premier League final. Not bad for a crisis!
It’s incredible to think that a former world champion ranked fourth in the world, with two major titles to his name in 2019 would be considered such an underdog in both his opening two fixtures, although this was a reflection of the insipid performances Cross has served up during recent months.
‘Voltage’ appeared a man bereft of confidence at the Masters which led to many voicing their concerns about potential elimination from this year’s Premier League, yet despite performing well below-par thus far, he’s claimed three points from his respective tussles against Price and Aspinall.
Despite appearing to lack rhythm last week, Cross still posted a 100 average as he shared the spoils against Price in Aberdeen, whilst two timely ton-plus checkouts saw him prevail in a topsy-turvy tussle against Aspinall. For a man struggling for confidence, he’s defying the odds to some tune.
The most pleasing aspect for Cross will be his timing. Aspinall was the better player for large periods of their encounter although when the situation demanded it, Cross delivered, reaffirming the notion that his B-game is still good enough to overcome several top stars.
In an elongated tournament where consistency is paramount, it’s crucial to pick up points when you’re not performing at the peak of your powers. Having qualified for the play-offs in his previous two Premier League appearances, who would bet against him completing the hat-trick?
Van Gerwen fires ominous warning
There were question marks surrounding Michael van Gerwen heading into this year’s Premier League roadshow, although any doubters have been silenced in emphatic fashion with ‘The Green Machine’ topping the table with maximum points following the conclusion of Night Two.
There was a sense of fallibility within the Van Gerwen armoury as he suffered a shock opening round exit at the Masters, but the world No 1 revels in sending out statements and back-to-back ton-plus averages in wins over Wright and Gurney has provided the necessary tonic.
His win over Wright in a repeat of last month’s World Championship final was a huge confidence boost for the Dutchman. ‘Snakebite’ stormed out of the blocks to lead 2-0 but the Premier League champion fought back superbly, firing in four ton-plus checkouts to prevail 7-5.
His triumph over Gurney was far less eventful. The Northern Irishman wasn’t given a sniff as Van Gerwen romped to a 7-1 success with a 105 average and a 60% checkout success rate. The most worrying aspect for his rivals is that he looked exceedingly comfortable in hitting those heights.
The 30-year-old insisted that he would be giving himself three months to become accustomed with his new darts, having recently joined a new manufacturer in Winmau. Nevertheless, the three-time world champion already looks at ease with a tournament average approaching 105.
Van Gerwen’s Premier League record is staggering. He’s topped the league phase in each of his seven appearances and for him it’s a hugely significant ambition – vindication that you’re the best, week in week out. He’s already looking poised to top the tree for an eighth successive campaign.
Relaxing is the key for ‘Bully Boy’
Michael Smith has made immeasurable strides over the last few years. His prodigious talent has never been questioned but he’s added maturity to his game and is now consistently considered a contender in every tournament he enters. The key now is crossing the finishing line.
Smith recently suffered his fifth straight defeat in a televised final, spurning three match darts to defeat world champion Wright at the Masters. Ironically, there were intriguing parallels between ‘Bully Boy’ and the Scot, although ‘Snakebite’ has now learnt how to cross the finishing line.
Smith showcased his limitless potential in the early stages of his clash against Price, firing in two ten-dart legs as he opened up a 4-2 buffer with an extraordinary 120 average. He was finding the treble 20 with effortless regularity and was threatening a world record average for large periods.
The world No 5 punished missed doubles from Price to guarantee a share of the spoils at 6-2 although with victory seemingly in his grasp, he surrendered a sizeable advantage as the Welshman reeled off four consecutive legs to salvage a share of the spoils.
The St Helen’s star candidly admitted in his post-match press conference that he tightened up in the closing stages and his frustration will be compounded by the fact that he whilst he performs well for little reward, others are collecting points whilst performing far less spectacularly.
Smith came of age in the 2018 Premier League, displaying his battling qualities to reach his first major final. However, mentally he’s suffered his fair share of darting heartbreak since. The key is going back to basics and letting his natural ability flow, but it’s easier said than done.
Photo Credits: Lawrence Lustig/PDC