Snooker - The six unknowns bidding to shock the world, part one

While the snooker headlines ahead of the 2013 World Championship have quite understandably been dominated by the return of defending champion Ronnie O’Sullivan, six relative unknowns quietly grafted their way to earn their Crucible debuts.

Snooker - The six unknowns bidding to shock the world, part one

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jack lisowski

Jack Lisowski, Ben Woollaston, Michael White, Matthew Selt, Sam Baird and Dechawat Poomjaeng will all line up for the very first time in the final 32-man field when the showpiece event begins in Sheffield on Saturday, and all six have hopes of replicating Shaun Murphy’s shock 2005 triumph from out of nowhere.

Nobody was in a better position to provide some insight into the World Championship’s 2013 underdogs than Matt Huart, owner of the Pro Snooker Blog.

Huart, as he has most years, attended the arduous qualification process which took place recently at the English Institute of Sport in Sheffield, and with the first round draw now set in stone, gave Eurosport-Yahoo! his thoughts on how far the six fresh faces can do in their maiden Crucible voyage.

In part one of a two-part preview, Huart takes a closer look at Woollaston, Baird and cancer survivor Lisowski:


Jack Lisowski

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While 21-year-old Jack Lisowski might be a name unfamiliar to many observers, he is a player long regarded as one of snooker's brightest prospects and three years into his professional career, he is now beginning to establish himself as a genuine threat.

Having already reached the final of one minor ranking event earlier this season, as well as having recently made it to the quarter-finals of a full-ranking event for the first time in his career in the recent China Open, Jack was expected to qualify for the first time and duly delivered, with wins against veteran duo James Wattana and Fergal O'Brien.

Producing some of the best snooker of the qualifiers against O'Brien in particular, with back-to-back centuries during a five-frame winning streak during the morning session, he passed the qualification test with flying colours and now faces a clash with Australian Goldfields Open champion Barry Hawkins.

I spoke to Jack shortly after his victory, and what struck me was just how calm and focused he already was on the task ahead of him the following week. For some young players, it is easy to see what qualification means to them, but in Jack's case, he had his 'business head' on and it is clear that for him the job is not yet done, which could make him very dangerous in the tournament.

Mature beyond his years, perhaps in part due to his battle with Hodgkin's lymphoma - which he was diagnosed with aged 16 and thankfully has now been able to overcome - Jack has clear belief in his ability, as demonstrated by his three victories over former flatmate Judd Trump already this season.

Having spent time in the shadows of the former world number one, Jack is now ready to make a name for himself in his own right - and with a fluent game which is easy on the eye, he will surely gain a number of new fans during the tournament.

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Ben Woollaston

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The latest in a line of players to emerge from Leicester, Ben Woollaston has shown steady improvement during the course of the past two seasons, climbing up to a career-high 33rd place in the rankings earlier this year.

Happily married to professional referee Tatiana, with whom they now have a five-month-old son Edward, Ben is in a good place in his personal life and this is clearly reflected in his results on the table, as last season he won his first professional title in Sheffield and more recently reached his first major quarter-final at this season's PTC Grand Finals in Galway.

It was no surprise to see him make it through to the Crucible this week and he did so in style with an excellent performance to defeat three-time Crucible quarter-finalist Ryan Day, making three century breaks along the way.

Lining up against two-time World Championship finalist Ali Carter, Ben can be encouraged by the fact that he won their most recent meeting back at the PTC10 event in 2011, although a match at the Crucible will of course be a different proposition altogether.

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Sam Baird

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A member of Paul Mount's 'pink army', 24-year-old Sam Baird performed brilliantly to win four matches to earn his debut. Having defeated promising Chinese youngster Chen Zhe in his opening match, Sam then claimed a dramatic 10-9 victory against the experienced Peter Lines, before recovering from 9-7 down to edge Rory McLeod by the same scoreline.

His best, however, was still to come in the final qualifying round as he overwhelmed former Crucible semi-finalist Joe Perry with a barrage of breaks, including a tournament-high 142 on his way to a brilliant 10-3 victory to qualify for the tournament.

A character who I have previously described as being so laid back that he is horizontal, Sam is perhaps best known by snooker fans for his run at the 2012 Welsh Open where he defeated local favourite Dominic Dale to reach the last 32 and set up a tie with Mark Selby.

Leading 3-2, Sam had a chance to clear the colours for victory, only to miss a blue which would prove to be a turning point as Selby hit back to claim a 4-3 victory.

It is however a measure of Sam's talent that following his relegation from the tour at the end of last season, he then became the first player to regain his place at the season-ending Q School by winning five matches without the loss of a frame, a feat achieved by no other player either before or since.

A player who is at times methodical, yet quick when in full flight and brimming with confidence, Sam will be hoping to spring a surprise against Premier League champion Stuart Bingham in his opening match.

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