Twelve months ago MVG reasserted his dominance, over the Darting World, with another Premier League triumph. Our reader James Smith gives us his revisionist view:
Today, Thursday 21st May, would have been the day of the 2020 Premier League Darts Play-Offs at the O2 Arena, London, following a rigorous 17 nights of darts which began on 6th February in Aberdeen.
Sadly, the unfortunate and tragic situation we find ourselves in, means there will be no darts tonight. To fill the void, here is a look back at the 2019 Play-Offs.
12 months ago, Michael van Gerwen, Daryl Gurney, Rob Cross, and James Wade made the trip to London for the final night of action. Gurney was the only member of the quartet to have never made it to Play-Offs night previously and was the underdog. Cross had made the semi-finals at the first attempt the year before, losing 10-6 to van Gerwen in the semi-final.
James Wade had also made the Play-Offs night on his first attempt. Way back in 2008 he lost in the final 16-8 to Phil Taylor. He went one better the year later with a 13-8 victory over Mervyn King to lift the prestigious title.
Van Gerwen’s Premier League pedigree cannot be understated. Since he first appeared in the competition in 2013, he has made the final every year. After winning at the first attempt in 2013, van Gerwen lost back-to-back finals to Gary Anderson and Raymond van Barneveld. His subsequent three consecutive titles meant that in 2019 he was a strong favourite and brimming with confidence. Quite rightly too, as his performances in each final, even when he lost, were sublime. His lowest three-dart average in any Premier League final came in 2014 where he recorded an excellent 102.98; whereas in 2018 he had brushed aside Michael Smith with a staggering 112.37.
This did not quite translate in his 2019 semi-final performance, where an inconsistent and patchy performance led to a 96.48 average, which was only just enough to sneak past Gurney 10-7 in a below-par match.
Cross looked much more assured in a comprehensive 10-5 victory over Wade, where the 2018 World Champion recorded an average of 100.31.
Going in to the final, one would have been forgiven for considering van Gerwen the clear favourite. The head-to-head of the two players was very much in the Dutchman’s favour, having lost only three times to Cross in 18 previous meetings. That being said, one of those three defeats was in a World Championship semi-final, so there was little doubt that Cross could produce high-quality darts against van Gerwen on the big stage.
In the Premier League, however, Cross had enjoyed no such luck. The Englishman’s first-ever game in the competition came in 2018 and resulted in a 7-2 loss to van Gerwen in Dublin, followed by a 7-2 loss in Birmingham and then the aforementioned 10-6 loss in the semi-final. En route to Play-Offs night in 2019, Cross and van Gerwen had alternated between first and second place in the league table from week six onwards, but the results between the two players had been similarly one-sided; van Gerwen enjoying another 7-2 victory in Dublin, and an emphatic 8-2 victory in Cardiff. Despite those results, with the dominance of the two players throughout the tournament so clear for all to see, this was the final that the majority of darts fans wanted and expected.
The final, however, went along with the form book. Van Gerwen started the final with a fifteen-dart break of throw, before moving in to a 5-1 lead; a run of six legs in which Cross only had three darts at a double. It wasn’t until leg seven where Voltage got his game together, hitting his first maximum and taking the leg on his favourite double eighteen. Cross then won the next two legs as both players pushed their average over 102.
Perhaps the turning point of the match came in the tenth leg where Cross uncharacteristically missed three darts at double eighteen to level the match, allowing van Gerwen to swoop with a crucial checkout of 74 to take a 6-4 lead at the break.
Cross never recovered and was to take only one more leg in the match, ultimately going down 11-5. Mighty Mike raced to his fifth Premier League crown in quick time, hitting a 130 checkout on double eight to guarantee the £250,000 winner’s cheque.
Despite another defeat at the hands of the world number one, Cross could be proud of his performance. Whilst he missed some key doubles and failed to pressurise van Gerwen’s throw at times, he did manage an average of 100.98. Moreover, at 5-1 down, when he looked almost out of the match at a very early stage, he managed to turn his game around and all but level. Needless to say, he showed all the class that has pushed him in to the top five of the PDC Order of Merit, but, like every other player in the world, he’ll need to show more to topple the dominant Dutchman.
Thanks to James for another excellent read.
Additional editing – James Lincoln