Alchemy of a goldsmith

K.MURALI KUMAR

“Until recently, only hockey and cricket excited the country. Now snooker is the fastest growing sport in Pakistan,” says Muhammad Sajjad, who entered the final of the World Championship in Bengaluru recently. By Ashwin Achal.

The reception given to Muhammad Sajjad in Bengaluru is proof that political animosity between two countries does not necessarily filter down to the general population. The Pakistani was accorded a warm welcome by the Indian players and fans.

The 28-year-old cueist from Sargodha coasted to the final of the IBSF World Snooker Championship with an understated, compact game before losing to the 14-year-old Chinese sensation, Yan Bingtao.

Sajjad, who chose snooker over being a goldsmith, spoke to Sportstar about his journey.

Question: When did you start playing snooker?

Answer: A relative of mine had a snooker parlour. I was about 12 or 13 years old, and I wasn’t doing much. I had started working as a goldsmith by then, but I quit to play snooker. My Ustaad (master), who taught me the art of being a goldsmith, asked me to return to work. I told him to give me 10 days, and in that time, I won a local snooker tournament. I never went back to work. That is when I decided that I wanted to play snooker. Thereon, I qualified to play in the Pakistan Nationals, which I won. I then went on to become Asia No. 2 in 2008.

How did your parents react to your choice of career?

My father wasn’t happy. He wanted me to be a goldsmith; he thought that was my future. These arguments went on until 2008, when I competed in the Nationals. I then told him that if I didn’t win, I would quit snooker and come back to work as a goldsmith. But God willing, I won the tournament. That is when my family began to support me. In 2009, I got a job at the National Bank of Punjab.

Is snooker popular in Pakistan?

It is very popular. Until recently, only hockey and cricket excited the country. Now snooker is the fastest growing sport in Pakistan. People recognise players like Muhammad Yousaf (1994 IBSF World snooker champion) and Muhammad Asif (2012 IBSF World snooker champion); they are quite famous. Their success has encouraged a lot of teenagers to take up the sport.

What sort of support do snooker players receive in Pakistan?

Until about four or five years ago, it was a little hard to get far in snooker, but it has gotten a lot better now. The government helps us. The Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association President, Alamgir Shiekh, has worked hard to put the nation on the international map. He has brought in plenty of sponsors, which is of tremendous help. Our travel, accommodation and other expenses are borne by the government and the sponsors. I also own a small snooker parlour in Sargodha with four tables. The parlour earns some money, which is also useful.

Do you have plans of turning professional?

It is the dream of every snooker player to turn professional. If I get a few more sponsors, it is possible.

Talk us through your semifinal victory against China’s Zhao Xintong...

He was in exceptional form leading to the match. Xintong is one of the best potters I have every played against. He can pot from any angle, on any shot. In terms of talent, he is way ahead of all of us. However, he tends to get frustrated when his flow is broken. That is what I did. The trick is not to give him many openings. This forces him to play the safety game. That is not his style, and he gets impatient after a while. He then makes mistakes. I was able to capitalise on this.