The world number one and player of the season is in the World Championship final and you’d be forgiven for not realising, given the attention his opponent is receiving.
Sport has the ability to catapult people from obscurity to superstardom in short order and that is exactly what has happened to 16-year-old Luke Littler in recent weeks.
The teenager has gone from the darts connoisseur’s hot tip for the future to a household name in a matter of three weeks and six games of darts.
The public has been fascinated by the world class skills of a young lad from Warrington who seems unfazed by the biggest test in a sport played by millions around the globe.
People who have not flicked the darts on for years or have never been motivated to see a single arrow thrown have tuned in to see Littler sparkle on the Alexandra Palace stage.
They may not have known what an average of 106 meant a month ago, but they do now, because the kid has shown them more than once and they want to see him do it again.
Littler’s semi-final demolition of former world champion Rob Cross drew a peak audience of 2.32m on Sky Sports and, just as The Nuke did to Voltage, that demolished the previous record of 1.65m set by Phil Taylor and Gary Anderson in 2015.
Surely the final will break that record again, chiefly because of Littler and his fairy-tale story, but the other man throwing tungsten has a tale to tell as well.
Humphries has been gradually climbing the ranks in darts over the last few years and finally made the breakthrough he had been searching for in 2023, winning his first major title at the World Grand Prix in October.
The 28-year-old followed that with two more major titles before the end of the year and such was his form that he went into the World Championship as favourite to lift the trophy.
A shaky start raised questions over Cool Hand’s hot streak, but he has hit his stride again and battered Dave Chisnall 5-1 in the quarter-finals before destroying Scott Williams 6-0 in the semis, guaranteeing a debut at world number one.
Littler has shown the public what a 106 average looks like, but Humphries chucked a 108.74 against Williams, the highest of the tournament.
This came after Littler walloped Cross 6-2 in view of the record-shattering audience and such was that display from the teenager that Humphries not only felt under pressure to win but win convincingly.
‘I needed to put in a statement performance because Luke was fantastic tonight,’ said the new world number one.
‘If I’d have put in an edgy performance, everyone would have thought it would be a one-sided final, but now I’ve allowed everyone to dream that it could be one of the best finals. Every aspect of my game was where I wanted it to be.’
Littler has seemingly not felt under any pressure to do anything at any point. He has strolled into the sport’s biggest tournament and done what he has already been doing for years – throwing his darts and watching them hit the intended target.
He has played with the calm of someone who knows he has 40 more chances to win this title if he wants them and for whom a £500,000 winner’s cheque can only buy so many Xbox games.
‘This World Championships I’ve got nothing to lose,’ he said after reaching the final. ‘It’s just a free hit for myself and here I am still standing.
‘I’ve just got to handle it myself. My friends, my family my manager just say relax. That’s all I’ve been doing all tournament.’
Whether the enormity of what he is doing will finally hit Littler in the final is yet to be seen. His arm could finally go heavy, his legs wobbly and his mind cloudy, but there has been no evidence of that just yet.
Humphries too could suffer that fate. He may be the seasoned pro in comparison to his foe, but this is his first World Championship final too and pressure will tell.
Cool Hand does not expect either finalist to wilt, and knows that whether it is the world number one or the world’s new favourite dart player that wins, their lives will never be the same again.
‘The way he handled himself tonight I don’t think there’s any nerves coming from him,’ said Humphries of Littler after semi-final success. ‘The way I played tonight I don’t think there’s any nerves coming from me.
‘In those really close edgy moments, no one knows what’s going to happen. One of us tomorrow, our lives are going to change forever.’
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