From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.32 :: NO.38 :: Sep. 19, 2009

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COVER STORY

Hungry and ambitious

Pankaj Advani’s victory in the 2009 World Professional Billiards Championship needs to be applauded, celebrated and romanticised. For it has been a victory which reflects the youngster’s growing confidence, increased knowledge of the game and, most importantly, his by now well-documented and proven strength of mind. By Geet Sethi.

Pics: K. Murali Kumar

Pankaj Advani… remarkable feat.

By defeating Mike Russell in the final of the 2009 World Professional Billiards Championship, Pankaj Advani has proved to the world, and perhaps more to himself, that he is indeed the best player in the world of billiards today. Following his victory, the Bangalore-based player, who is not yet 25, has the distinction of simultaneously holding the World Professional billiards title, IBSF World billiards title, the Asian Games billiards gold, the Asian billiards title and the Indian National billiards title. Perhaps the only international title he does not hold is the Asian Indoor Games — he lost to Praprut of Thailand in the quarterfinals of the tournament in Macau in 2007.

Mike Russell inarguably has been the greatest cueist the world has seen in the last 60 years. Having appeared in 17 finals of the World Professional Billiards Championship, he has converted nine of them into title victories.

But more than the title victories it has been his ruthless competitive instinct coupled with talent and touch — which borders on the divine — which has made him the greatest cueist of the modern era.

Against this backdrop, Advani’s victory gains huge significance. To assume that he has displaced Russell as the greatest cueist may perhaps be a little too presumptuous and premature.

However, it is a victory that needs to be applauded, celebrated and romanticised. For it has been a victory which reflects the youngster’s growing confidence, increased knowledge of the game and, most importantly, his by now well-documented and proven strength of mind.

When one looks back at history and studies the profiles of great achievers in various sports, one gets a sense that athletes are more often than not born with mental fortitude. And ever since I first laid my eyes on a nine-year-old Pankaj practising on a mini billiards table at the Karnataka State Billiards Association (KSBA), I had seen a quiet strength and intensity in his eyes, which has manifested itself in such glorious results. He is one of those rare breeds, who consistently and effortlessly convert hopeless and tense situations into enjoyable victories.

Advani had won his first IBSF World billiards (point format) title in Malta by converting a 0-4 deficit into a 5-4 triumph against Australia’s Robby Foldvari in 1995. At the Northern Snooker Centre in Leeds he again displayed this trait against David Causier in the quarterfinals and then trailing by 70-odd points with only 10 minutes to go in a crucial four-hour semifinal, he compiled a 142 unfinished break to edge out compatriot Dhruv Sitwala.

Winning from bleak situations induces a self belief which in Advani’s case got further reinforced in the final against Russell, thanks to an explosive start which saw him enjoy a 600-point advantage at the conclusion of the first session in the five-hour contest. Russell, who had compiled two breaks of over 500 in his earlier matches but had also shown signs of inconsistency against B. Bhaskar (in the quarterfinals) and Rupesh Shah (in the semifinals), failed to reproduce the game which had won him his nine World professional titles. And the rest, as they say, is history.



The world champion with the trophy he won on annihilating Mike Russell in the World billiards final in Leeds.

In the case of minority sports in India — which basically means sport other than cricket — only those disciplines which have produced consistent performers at the international arena eventually gain the attention of the media and subsequently some amount of mass awareness.

Proof of this hypothesis can be found in sport like tennis (Ramanathan Krishnan, Vijay Amritaj, Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupati and Sania Mirza), chess (Viswanathan Anand), golf (Arjun Atwal and Jeev Milkha Singh) and shooting (Abhinav Bindra and Gagan Narang).

Billiards has constantly given the country consistent, high-calibre performers, and therefore, despite being a sport that is not played by the masses and is difficult to be understood by the layman, it has still managed to retain a share of the public’s attention.

We must of course thank Wilson Jones, who won Independent India’s first World title in any sport in 1956, then Mike Ferreira, who won three IBSF World titles in a remarkable 30-year career wherein he shattered many world records. By the time I arrived on the international scene in 1985, I had already played against Mike Ferreira and defeated him in the 1981 Nationals. The subconscious belief helped me in winning eight World titles — five professional World titles and three IBSF World titles.

Against the backdrop of such a rich tradition, when a 20-year-old Advani won the first of his IBSF World billiards titles in Malta in 2005, Mike Ferreira and I made identical predictions that the wonder kid would win at least 10 to 12 World titles in his career.

But the manner in which he has gone about his job, winning a total of six World billiards titles in the last four years (2005 IBSF World billiards point format and time format, 2007 IBSF World billiards time format, 2008 IBSF World billiards point and time format and now the World Professional title and the added luxury which he has today of playing in three World Championships every year — two IBSF World billiards championships, point format and time format, and the World Professional Billiards Championships), I think it would be prudent for both Mike and me to redefine that number for a hungry and ambitious Advani to about 20 World titles.

I end with a euphoric thought. Going by the upward trajectory of World titles won by each generation of Indian cueists — Wilson Jones 2, Mike Ferreira 3 and myself 8 and let’s say a possible 20 by Advani — how many World titles would Advani’s successor end up with? It is a thought that makes me smile.



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