If Geet Sethi's reverses in the Nationals elicited whispers about the fading away of a legend, Pankaj Advani's slip-ups were welcomed as the indication that the sport is throwing up newer challenges, writes S. R. Suryanarayan.

For his debonair look and poise, Geet Sethi is a hit in the world of cue sports. Not to speak about his seven World Billiards titles and a host of national titles. Not surprising then that Sethi was the cynosure in the recent Chennai nationals though he did not progress far in spite of the flashes of brilliance.

Sethi's understanding of the game is invaluable. Admitting that he was not as `garam' as the present day sensations such as Pankaj Advani, Manan Chandra, Sourav Kothari (all PSPB), and Aditya Mehta (Maharashtra), Sethi believes that Indian cue sports is now in the safe hands of the younger generation. He talked about the time when billiards and snooker circles looked to Michael Ferreira, Alok Kumar, Devendra Joshi and himself to take lead roles in national championships and international competition. "But now we have a situation where one can count on over a dozen players to take the top spot," said Sethi.

Current prodigy Advani will testify the master's observation. The ascendancy of Advani, who has amazing patience and great ingenuity in building up high breaks, has stretched even to the international sphere where he grabbed two World Championship titles (snooker and billiards) and an Asian Billiards Championship title in addition to winning all but the senior snooker title last year. Only an Asian snooker recognition awaits him.

Yet, the Chennai nationals proved that even Advani is not invincible. He started well by notching a break of 867 (considered a record in the two-pot rule) on the first day, not to speak of triple and double century breaks. However, he had resilient opponents who dared to make moves that they were not prepared to do even a season ago. With Devendra Joshi winning the senior billiards honours and Manan Chandra becoming the senior snooker champion, Advani managed to win only the junior billiards title. Aditya Mehta took the junior snooker crown. Raunaq Vazrani of Gujarat and Ayush Kumar of Punjab became the sport's first sub-junior billiards and snooker champions.

The women's section, though, was a family affair for the Thakur sisters. Meenal won the billiards crown, and Anuja claimed the snooker title. Both had won the national honours before.

If Sethi's reverses elicited whispers about the fading away of a legend, Advani's slip-ups were welcomed as the indication that the sport is throwing up newer challenges. Advani had dislodged both Sethi and defending champion Alok Kumar on a single day but failed in clearing the deck for the final honours be it senior billiards, junior snooker or senior snooker.

Sourav Kothari is only just past the junior level. The son of former world champion Manoj Kothari promised tall deeds but failed while being on the threshold of achieving them. Kothari ended Sethi's run but his lack of experience showed up subsequently.

Aditya Mehta proved that self-belief can do wonders. Beaten soundly in billiards, thanks to Advani's consistency, the Mumbaikar, in his final year in the junior section, vowed he would be different in snooker. He demolished Advani and many believed a star was born.

Similar sentiments surfaced when former national junior champion Manan Chandra claimed his first senior title, prevailing over Advani in snooker.

Chandra, who has been overshadowed by Advani's all-round brilliance in recent times, chose the occasion to hit his best form and displayed his wonderful potting style.

Joshi's grit was a lesson for the juniors. The 39-year-old came back to destroy Dhruv Sitwala's dream of a national title. With a lead of more than 400 points and virtually on the home stretch, Sitwala was foxed by Joshi's awe-inspiring break of 478. From then on, Joshi was not going to mess up.

The Chennai edition assumed special significance because of the Doha Asian Games later this year. Cue sport, since its inclusion in the Bangkok Games in 1998, has brought medals for the country.