Advani adept at this, too

The victorious Pankaj Advani.-PICS: K. MURALI KUMAR

“There is little to choose on the basis of reputation or form. One need not necessarily be brilliant in potting or safety play to win this format…. one only needs to be alert to seize one's chances,” said Advani about the new concept. Over to Avinash Nair.

Pyjama cricket and now pyjama snooker. Sans the stiff collars, bow tie and waistcoats, 6 Red Snooker National Championships that was held at the ‘new look' KSBA hall was an instant success.

“This format is akin to Twenty20 cricket,” was the comment from the seasoned pros as well as the fledglings. And the inaugural O. B. Agarwal Memorial Trophy champion Pankaj Advani was more candid: “There is little to choose on the basis of reputation or form. One need not necessarily be brilliant in potting or safety play to win this format…. one only needs to be alert to seize one's chances.”

And the World Billiards and ‘double championship' title winner at the Agra Nationals should know. For, West Bengal's Brijesh Damani, playing his first major final, fought tooth and nail with Advani before losing.

The 27-year-old Damani has indeed made big strides. He was a part of the Indian cue sports team that participated in the Asian Indoor Games in Vietnam last year and has been amongst the top eight at the National level in both snooker and billiards.

The tenacity and poise that Damani maintained during the tense final against Advani was indeed commendable. Obviously, pitted against a formidable rival, Damani had nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Advani, who made this triumph his third national title of the season and 20th of his career, proclaimed: “The titles are catching up with my age (24 years).”

Meenal Thakur.-

Advani annihilated the talented Manan Chandra 7-1 in the best of 13 frames semifinals. Proven snooker players such as Manan and Rafath Habib (who lost in the quarterfinals), could not stop Advani's progress to the title round.

And when the oft-crowned champion raced away to a 4-1 and then a 5-2 lead in the best of 15 frames final, many thought that it was all over. But not Brijesh Damani, who roared back into contention — not only levelling the scores at 6-6 but also going 7-6 up, just a frame away from pulling the rug from under Advani's feet!

Two brilliant safety plays in the ensuing frames and a top notch “squeezed in” red ball pot to the top left pocket marked Advani's class and paved the way for his 8-7 title triumph. “He is a class act and a tenacious fighter,” was how Advani praised Damani after the final. Damani, on his part, admitted his failure to extricate himself when he was snookered. "But I am happy that I progressed this far and put up a game fight till the end,” he said.

Youngsters Sandeep Gulati (Delhi) and Divya Sharma (Haryana) made a mark for themselves, while veterans such as B.V.S Murthy, B. Bhaskar and Roopesh Shah bowed out early.

On the distaff side, Meenal Thakur, the stocky 31-year-old Maharashtrian, prevailed over Tamil Nadu's Vidya Pillai to add the red ball national title to the two snooker, two billiards and an eight-ball pool national title already in her kitty. Meenal, who lost to Chitra Magimairaj in the league phase, overcame sluggish patches to weather Vidya Pillai's challenge to win 5-4 in the best of nine frames clash.

“A pink ball miss in the fourth frame and again poor ‘safety' play in the eighth by my opponent helped me claw back into the match. But I too played poorly at times,” said the top-ranked champion.

Meenal put it across her sister Anuja Chandra, while Vidya encountered a stiff challenge before edging past Chitra Magimairaj in the semi-finals. Arantxa Sanchis (Maha) and Neena Praveen (TN) also caught the eye.

Twenty women, divided into four groups, and 64 men qualifiers, who joined the 16 seeded players in the tournament proper from a pool of 192, were in the fray for this inaugural edition. The tournament will see a combined format, as per the IBSF guidelines, from the next season.

* * * How they finished:

Men: 1. Pankaj Advani, 2. Brijesh Damani, 3. Kamal Chawla, 4. Manan Chandra, 5. Rafath Habib, 6. Sandeep Gulati,7. I. H. Manudev, 8. Divya Sharma.

Women: 1. Meenal Thakur, 2. Vidya Pillai, 3. Anuja Chandra, 4. Chitra Magimairaj, 5. Arantxa Sanchis, 6. Indira Gowda, 7. Ashwini Puranik, 8. Suniti Damani.

* * * A pat on the back

“When I walked in a day before the championship this place was simply unrecognizable. It's a commendable and a fantastic venture taken up by the KSBA, which has been my second home for many years now,” said Pankaj Advani about the new-look KSBA facility.

“We should be completing the first phase by June this year, while the second phase which includes a championship hall fit to accommodate 24 tables and a capacity to seat over 1000 spectators should be completed in another year and a half,” said M. Uthappa, Vice-President, KSBA and Chairman of the building committee. The pool and the suites will also be operational by then. The present hall is capable of accommodating 15 tables.