THE KING is dead, long live the king. Whatever happens in 2018, the year is unlikely to witness a more remarkable sporting story than this week’s end of one legendary career and beginning of what could well be another.
For three decades, Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor has dominated the sport of darts, winning an astonishing 16 world championships among a record 218 career titles plus over £7m in prize money.
But all good things come to an end and, at 57, Taylor, no longer the dominant force he once was, but still capable of mixing it with the very best, has called it a day.
How do you follow that? This would have been the key question, but for an extraordinary rise over the past 12 months of the new kid on the block, Rob Cross.
Born a few months after Taylor won his first world title, in 1990, Cross turned professional less than a year ago and collected his first prize money – £250 – last February.
He made his world championship debut in the Professional Darts Corporation tournament, which ended on New Year’s Day, and went on to lift the Sid Waddell trophy, thrashing Taylor 7-2 in the final.
It was reminiscent of 1990 when Taylor, a virtual unknown, stunned the then-greatest in history and his mentor, Eric Bristow, to claim his maiden world crown.
Cross failed to qualify for the 2016 British Darts Organisation world championship and watched last year’s rival – and superior – PDC event on television. His rise since then has been meteoric. Having won four tournaments in 2017, he beat defending champion Michael van Gerwen in an epic semi-final at Alexandra Palace and then did to Taylor what ‘The Power’ achieved against so many opponents in the past, crushed his spirit.
Cross averaged 107.67 for every three darts thrown, hit 11 maximum scores of 180 and was successful with 60 per cent of his shots at a finishing double.
He looked utterly at home on the big stage and even some gamesmanship from the old master – who averaged 102.26 – failed to disrupt his rhythm.
He was like me 25 years ago, he was relentless and didn’t stop putting you under pressure. That is what I used to be. He is a lot like myself, he is dedicated, he has listened and learned.Phil Taylor on Rob Cross
Taylor, gracious in defeat, said: “He was like me 25 years ago, he was relentless and didn’t stop putting you under pressure.
“That is what I used to be. He is a lot like myself, he is dedicated, he has listened and learned.”
Victory for Taylor in his last match would have been the perfect ending, but also a problem for the PDC, leaving them without a champion throughout 2018.
Instead, Cross’s triumph will surely inspire thousands of hopefuls to take up the sport.
Still widely mocked for its long outdated pub game image, PDC darts is thriving, with the top players performing in front of sell-out crowds at arena venues and able to win massive prize money – Cross receiving £400,000 for his triumph.
Though a sometimes controversial figure, on and off the oche, Taylor will be missed as Cross was quick to point out.
“He’s an absolute phenomenon,” he said of the Stoke-born superstar. “You will not see another sportsman like him.”
True, but darts can and will thrive without Taylor.
Van Gerwen seemed to be his natural successor, but the standard is higher now than ever and the likes of Cross, Jamie Lewis and Dimitri van den Bergh – among a growing list – are all capable of reaching heights that seemed unobtainable just a decade ago.