When Michael van Gerwen threw 18 perfect darts – including a perfect leg – at the 2016 UK Open, his opponent could only stand back and watch. Rob Cross, then a Riley’s qualifier with only a few months of professional darts experience, lost to MvG 9-5, overwhelmed by the three most spectacular legs ever thrown in Minehead. Yet after the match, he appeared to be in remarkably high spirits.
Upon reaching a second European Tour quarterfinal in a match in which he smashed up world number 38 Steve West, Cross remarked that his 2016 encounter with the world number 1 encouraged him to commit to playing professional darts in the PDC. “The belief went [into] me, and I thought, you know what? I can do this, I can play like him”, he said. His belief is now nearly a reality. Cross pushed van Gerwen to a last-leg decider in a thrilling Players Championship match last weekend, and moved into the top 32 on the Pro Tour just yesterday. The man from Hastings is no longer just the answer to an MvG-related trivia question – he is one of the toughest opponents a professional can face, whether on stage or on the floor.
Just ask Luke Woodhouse, Cross’ first-round opponent on the first day of action in Sindelfingen. Cross took a 5-0 lead over his Scottish opponent, averaging over 100 until the eighth leg of the match. Woodhouse was thus forced to check out 120 and 121 just to claw his way back into the match, but would have needed another 12-darter in the ninth leg to counteract Cross’ efforts on his own throw and further extend the match. Cross hammered out four maxima in his first five legs, building an insurmountable lead.
Or ask Simon Whitlock, who has now lost to Rob Cross in two Euro Tour events. After a slow start in which Whitlock broke his throw, Cross punished the Wizard’s careless double 17 leave and big-number bust in the very next leg with a 115 finish. The bewildered Aussie could only manage to hit five trebles in his next 33 darts, allowing Cross to accumulate a second break of throw and a second three-figure finish. By punishing Whitlock’s miss of double 20 for a 78 finish in the seventh leg, Cross again seized a huge lead (5-2) over his opponent, and pushed Whitlock to the brink of an early exit with consecutive 180s in the next leg, leaving 45 after nine darts. Whitlock recovered superbly, however, just missing the bull for a 170 finish and capitalizing on Cross’ bust to save the match. Under pressure from heavy scoring from Whitlock, however, Cross retained his composure after surviving a second missed dart at the bull to finish another match with an average above 95.
Or ask Steve West. West had set the standard for the match with an 11-darter in the third leg, but Cross was able to keep pace with him as he pounded out treble after treble. By producing multiple clinical 13- and 14- dart legs, Cross left no margin of error for his opponent. West threatened a 10-darter in the fifth leg and appeared to be set to narrow his deficit to 3-2 behind Cross. But six darts were not enough for West to hit double 8 for a 16 checkout, while his opponent needed only five to clean up 128 and push ahead to a 4-1 lead. Had Cross not needed nine darts to win the match from a score of 100 in the last leg, he might have averaged 110 rather than the 103 with which he finished. But even had West held his throw in that leg, Cross’ large lead would have demanded a level of excellence from West that he was not quite able to produce.
It took one of the most sensational scoring performances of the year from Dave Chisnall (8 180s, two nine-dart attempts, and a 121.5 average with his first 9 darts) to take Rob Cross down. In a match against the world number 5, Cross showed some room for improvement, especially on darts under pressure at doubles 10 and 5. Chisnall suffered from a bout of double trouble himself, but his heavy scoring gave him as many chances as he needed to find the double beds with his darts and capitalize on Cross’ misses in the first and last legs. The experience Cross needs to best Chisnall and van Gerwen will come soon, especially as he finds himself in contention to qualify for major televised tournaments. The casual darts fan may find himself intimately acquainted with Rob Cross come the summer if he can prove to Blackpool as he did to Sindelfingen that he too can be like Mike.