Luke Littler blasts Luke Humphries away to win Premier League Darts title

We are now through the ­looking glass. We’re over the frontier. We’re not in Kansas any more, Toto. For a 17-year-old kid is now a major darts champion, and it feels totally ­inevitable, and it still makes ­absolutely no sense. Whatever Luke Littler goes on to achieve in this sport, somehow ­nothing will ever quite match the sheer tidal wave of shock and wonder he has inspired in his first six months as a ­professional, an ­explosion of ­talent and coolness and colour and attitude and ­showmanship that is, quite frankly, beyond comprehension.

Littler beat Luke Humphries 11-7 to claim the Premier League title, clinching victory courtesy of a ­stunning and irresistible surge after the interval that left the world champion and world No 1 gasping. Along the way Littler hit a nine-dart finish – 180, 180, 141 – that brought a crowd of 14,000 to the very brink of rapture. For a player of his tender years, he already instinctively grasps the first rule of big-time darts: give the people what they want.

There was a tear in the eye as he ­celebrated this win with his family and partner, a rare crack in a facade that thus far has been built on an arch and unshakeable self-assurance. “I’ve been practising really hard,” he said in a small voice. “You could see on the oche I was dead focused, I didn’t want to blink. I can put myself in the hat. I’m a major winner.”

At 9.33pm, the pair emerged from the dressing room after the break with the score tied at 5-5. The standard had been good not spectacular, a couple of breaks each, Humphries just about hanging on to his own throw and ominously threatening the big acceleration. What followed in the subsequent 12 minutes will be replayed and relived for years by everyone who saw it.

Both players began the 11th leg with 180s. Littler hit another maximum. Humphries bailed out after four perfect darts. Up stepped Littler, nailing the treble-20, an expert adjustment down to the treble-19, and finally – with a racing heart, a dry mouth and an arm of pure fidelity – pinned the double-12 to finish. Somehow, it was the emphatic crowning moment this achievement deserved: not just this win, or the semi-final triumph over Michael Smith that preceded it, but this whole Premier League campaign, a competition that – as many people suggested – he might not quite be ready for.

As laughable as it now seems, this was not an outrageous or deeply unorthodox opinion to hold at the time. Even after Littler’s fairytale run to the world championship final, we didn’t really know what this was yet. Moreover, we didn’t really know who he was and the Premier League – a brutal travelling schedule ­encompassing 17 consecutive Thursdays – is as much a test of character and resolve as of darting ability.

But of course he was ready. In a way, he was born ready. That much has been evident over the course of the past six months, as Littler has taken to the professional circuit as if this was his destiny all along. A first world series title. A first Pro Tour title. A first European Tour title. Top of the Premier League table by a distance. A nine-dart finish to crown each of them.

“I was trying to stick in there,” Humphries said. “But he just played much better. Me and Luke are the two greatest players in the world at the moment. I love playing him. I know I lose a lot, but it’s a great battle.”

This was the third time in five years the Premier League finalists had been debutants in the competition, which gives you some idea of the spectacular flux that has defined the sport of late. Now, though, a more definitive landscape appears to be emerging. These are quite clearly the two best players and even if the predictions of a two-decade rivalry feel a little premature this is certainly how dynasties begin.

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Luke Littler signs autographs before his semi-final victory over Michael Smith. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Certainly the two men they defeated in the semi-finals feel further away from the summit than ever. Smith, demolished 10-5 by Littler, was never really there, a man vaguely dead behind the eyes, like someone who has been dragged to a nightclub against his will. The seven-time champion Michael van Gerwen was also beaten 10-5. ­Everything looks hard for Van Gerwen at the moment. The 60s look hard and the 180s elicit a grimace.

He is 35 and the memory of his imperial age is still fresh. It is barely a decade since he stepped on to this very stage, having just lost a world final, and conquered the Premier League at his first attempt. Now, in front of a UK record crowd, the mantle has passed. This is the world Van Gerwen helped to build. But it belongs to others now.


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