Darts history was made today, writes Patrick Chaplin.
Just after 12.30 on the afternoon of Thursday 20th December, Ashfaque Sayed stepped on to the stage at the Alexandra Palace, London, and became the first ever Indian darts player to represent his country in a World Darts Championship.
Before his match against the Chinese Qualifier, Shi Yongsheng, Ashfaque said, “I am very proud to be here representing my country in the sport of darts.” Over and above any other sport, darts is Ashfaque’s passion and he was ready to take to the world darts stage.
Cheered on by an appreciative crowd Ashfaque and Shi were the opening match for the afternoon session. In the match, where the first to five legs was the winner, both men started hesitantly, Shi with 40 and Ashfaque with 59. However, it was Shi, appearing in the World Championships for the second year in succession, who settled in more quickly and hit 100, 121 and 100 with his next three throws. Ashfaque replied with 59, 60 and an impressive 140, but Shi had done the damage and took the first leg on double top (double 20).
In the second leg Ashfaque threw first and begun with a score of 140. Shi replied with the same score, but it was Shi who again edged ahead and took the second leg against the darts in a close-fought game. The turning point was the third leg. Ashfaque left himself 112 to win the leg and successfully hit the treble 20 (60 points) with his first dart. This left 52 points which is usually achieved by shooting for single 12 and then double 20. At any other time, I am certain Ashfaque would have won the leg but, possibly because of the pressure of being a first timer at the world championships, he missed the single 12 completely and Shi stepped up and stole the leg.
In the fourth leg, Ashfaque threw first and scored 100, which Shi copied and then consecutive 140s from the Chinese qualifier left Shi on double six with Ashfaque, still battling but way back on 256. Shi took out the double 6 and was 4-0 up and had the first throw in what turned out to be the final leg. Shi started with 125 and 140 which Ashfaque could not reply to and he shot out on double top to win the leg and take the match 5-0.
But as so often is the case, the final score line did not reflect the effort and skill that Ashfaque put into the game. If he had secured the 112 out-shot in the third leg and had hit the double 16 in another, rather than it be deflected into a single 16, the game could possibly have been turned in Ashfaque’s favour and we might have witnessed a victory for the pre-tournament 7500-1 outsider.
But it was not to be.
After the match, a disappointed Ashfaque was clear that he had not played his best darts. He told me, “In the past I have played so much better against better opposition but today I just did not hit the doubles. It was as simple as that.” Ashfaque was, of course, gracious in defeat and wished Shi well in the next round.
But despite his defeat, Ashfaque, who only the day before the competition had secured a sponsorship deal with the prestigious UK-based WINMAU Dartboard Company, has proved that India has a place in world darts. Even though the result today went against him, my guess is that, as a result of Ashfaque’s appearance in the World Championship and on global television, darts in India (and darts on the world stage) will now go from strength to strength as will Ashfaque himself.
India should be proud of its first national darts hero.