A grand double for Pankaj Advani

KIRTI PATIL

IF the future is what worries most of the sports administrators, cue sport can take pride in claiming that for years to come talent is something it has in abundance.

Pankaj Advani completed a double - winning both the junior National billiards and snooker titles.-PARAS SHAH

Though it was a one-man show led by Pankaj Advani, the junior National billiards and snooker championships provided a window to the emerging talent.

The 16-year-old Advani completed a hat-trick of titles in billiards, his forte, what impressed was his equally dominating show in snooker. By completing a double Advani proved that he was at ease playing both forms of the game.

If Advani inscribed his name indelibly as the future of the Indian cue sport, there were host of others who should make it to the top sometime in the near future. Outstanding among them was Sourav, son of former world champion Manoj Kothari.

Though a direct entrant in the billiards draw, Kothari had to come through qualifying in snooker. He did considerably well to finish third in both the events, in the face of stiff competition from others in the field.

In billiards, Advani was unchallenged. For the 38-player main draw, Advani led qualifier Aditya Shah, Rishab Thakkar and Kothari, into the four-player final round-robin league. Maharashtra's Shah was another who deserves a mention. He won four matches in the qualifying tournament and another three knock-out rounds in the main draw, for a place in the final four.

Playing simultaneously in senior and junior category, Advani kept himself busy throughout the competition. In the final league, Kothari was the one who gave Advani some competition but, only just. In all the three league matches, Advani had scores in 1000 plus, in a three-hour-format.

What happened in snooker was startling. Advani had never excelled beyond number three position in the Nationals earlier.

As luck would have it, Advani was crushed 4-0 by Manan Chandra, in the pre-quarterfinals of the senior tournament. But, just a week later, Advani avenged that defeat and scored self-assuring 4-2 win.

For Manan, who dazzled in the seniors with an upset win over Ashok Shandilya before he lost to Alok Kumar in the final, a better performance in juniors was expected. Being the defending champion, Manan was the favourite. Advani, however, had something else in store.

Snooker being the preferred discipline, there was skirmish to get into the main draw. In the qualifying tournament itself there were 40 in the field for only two qualifying places. From the top half, Kothari made it while Kapil Punjabi of Maharashtra laboured his way into the main draw.

With Manan heading the first quarter, and Advani the fourth, there was hardly any prize for guessing who would reach the final league.

The remaining two spots were, however, up for grabs.

Talented Bengal player Mudit Poddar upset seeded player Vinay Katrela before he stopped the good run of Punjabi, in the second quarter. Bespectacled Kothari joined the three from the third quarter as the seeded players kept losing in the face of stiff competition.

The first league match of the final round, between Manan and Advani, was virtually the summit clash. Since both were expected to win their other matches, all eyes rested on the Manan-Advani contest.

In the best-of-seven match, both shared the first two frames and one thought it would go full distance. Advani though had other plans. He set aside the memories of the 0-4 whitewash and went about doing the job in a clinical fashion.

Nonetheless, Manan and Advani have a bright future. Already, the Ministry of Sport has sanctioned about Rs. three lakhs to Manan's U.K. scholarship. Besides this amount, the two would receive Rs five lakhs each under most promising sportsmen scheme.

The results: Junior billiards:

Final (round robin league): Pankaj Advani (Kar) bt Sourav Kothari (Ben) 1404-673; Rishab Thakkar (Mah) bt Aditya Shah (Mah) 785-484; Advani (Kar) bt Thakkar (Mah) 1247-656; Kothari (Ben) bt Shah (Mah) 926-656; Advani (Kar) bt Shah (Mah) 1021-694; Thakkar (Mah) bt Kothari (Ben) 786-610.

Final placings: 1. Advani, 2. Thakkar, 3. Kothari, 4. Shah.

Junior snooker:

Final (round robin league): Advani (Kar) bt Manan Chandra (Del) 93-6, 58-62, 68-27, 53-35, 55-81, 48-40; Kothari (Ben) bt Mudit Poddar (Ben) 18-60, 51-46, 16-57, 50-24, 24-70, 68-50, 78-34; Manan (Del) bt Kothari (Ben) 32-70, 129-0, 41-83, 67-12, 92-39, 78-7; Manan (Del) bt Poddar (Ben) 63-38, 67-15, 69-9, 64-63; Advani (Kar) bt Kothari (Ben) 57-15, 54-21, 33-55, 59-23, 114-23; Advani (Kar) bt Poddar (Ben) 74-42, 62-23, 54-39, 29-60, 67-48.

Final placings: 1. Advani, 2. Manan, 3. Kothari, 4. Poddar.