Ashok Shandilya crowns himself with glory

AVINASH NAIR

THE 100-up format was expected to throw up a few surprises. But it did not happen as National Billiards champion Ashok Shandilya overcame scepticism and Pankaj Advani to crown himself as the Asian billiards champion.

Ashok Shandilya with some excellent top of the table game managed to quell teenager Pankaj Advani in the final.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Ashok Shandilya and Bangalore have an affinity. For it was in this city that Shandilya won the National title way back in 1989 and the Om Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance sponsored second Asian billiards title is indeed a career highlight.

But the crown came with some sweat. And it was the 16-year-old Pankaj Advani, who gave him a tough time. Pankaj had beaten the eventual champion in the league stage and it was a circumspect Shandilya who took the table.

Pankaj, who had prevailed 3-2 in the best of five frame league encounter, looked like repeating in the final as well.

However it was time for the senior pro to show his character and the way Ashok Shandilya bounced back to first draw level at 2-2 and then inch 4-3 ahead before wrapping up the title at 5-4 was exhilarating stuff.

But to the credit of the teenager from Bangalore, backed by a good gathering, there was no sign of nerves or failing temperament. A touch of luck when the 'red' rolled into the centre pocket did give Pankaj a reprieve of sorts and enabled him to convert the 53 into a frame winning 77 break and level scores at 4-4. But otherwise Pankaj played true to his character although in the decider he was given little or no chance whatsoever.

Ashok despite the tight finish and two hundred plus unfinished breaks sang praises of Pankaj's potential. "He is world class material. If only he performs the way he is doing and keeps a level head, we have a world champion for the future. He is simply too good and should take Indian billiards to glory in the days ahead," said the burly Railwayman.

Shandilya is a tried and tested player. And would cut out all frills when the situation demands. In the final too with his opponent running away with the first two frames, Shandilya showed resilience to come out of the pressure situation and notch a 100 in his second visit. The show did ease some pressure off and when a 88 followed in the next the frames were even.

Tied 2-2 the contest heated-up and it was Pankaj who threaded two crucial breaks for the fifth frame but almost immediately Shandilya came up with an 89 effort to tie scores before leaving Pankaj wonder-struck in his corner with an exhibition of superlative touch, with cannons, both off the cushion and straight, and the in-offs played with precision. If that 102 unfinished gave the crowd something to rave about what followed in the eighth frame, a easy 'red' perched at the brim did prove costly. Pankaj deftly seized his opportunity, though with some luck midway through to take the match into the decider. But the contest ended there itself. Shandilya's 93 in the second visit taking the fight out of the contender.

Pankaj did camouflage his disappointment. "I played to the best of my ability but Shandilya was on top especially after recovering well to level the scores at 2-2," was the candid admission. Well that was for all to see!

In the semifinals, Ashok Shandilya once again had to stave a determined seven time world champion Geet Sethi, for a 4-3 verdict. Sethi in his own words, "was in the peak of touch and concentration in the semis" but the fact remains that Shandilya put in that extra bit to clinch the match. Down 1-3 and 14-98 Sethi virtually brought the roof down with some precision potting and positioning to clinch the frame 101-98 with an unfinished 87 and followed it up with an 84 to level the frames at 3-3. In the decider however Shandilya came up with the answers and a high quality 87 to make the final.

Pankaj on the other hand quelled the challenge from Devendra Joshi at 4-2 with his instinctive style of play. Seldom does the Bangalore boy resort to safety play and against Joshi who came into the semis with an all win record, it clicked to perfection. After sharing the first four frames, Pankaj just upped his game a few notches to runaway with the next two frames for a 4-2 margin.

The quarterfinal line-up saw all six Indians making the grade. Dhruv Sitwala and Alok Kumar completing the Indian domination with Henry Boteju of Sri Lanka and U. Kyaw Oo (Myanamar) making the grade. Joshi however ended Kyaw Oo's dream with clinical efficiency in the quarters for a 4-1 scoreline.

It was Kyaw Oo's progress, more so towards the later half of the league that caught one's attention. The Myanmar cueist ended Alok Kumar's winning streak with a 3-2 flourish, the last frame turning out to be a 101-99 thriller in favour of the Burmese. Kyaw Oo came up with an unfinished 34 that helped him pip the India no.2.

That was the beginning of Alok's bad run for later in the day, Ashok Shandilya handed him a 3-0 drubbing and a third finish in the league which in turn pitted Alok against a resurgent Geet in the quarters. Geet too having suffered two defeats - Devendra Joshi and Dhruv Sitwala - had to prove a point or two. Geet Sethi took the third place beating Devendra Joshi 3-1.

Henry Boteju, the veteran Sri Lankan, had a patchy run into the knock-out stage. Complaining of uneasiness 'King Henry' and 'Botha' to his friends, survived anxious moments for a 3-2 win against 'old man' Mongkhon K of Thailand to squeak into the last eight. Squared up against Ashok Shandilya, Boteju went 2-0 up before Shandilya steadied himself to runaway with the next four frames.

Dhruv Sitwala came in as a late entrant. But going by the 28-year-old Mumbai based Railway employee's good showing in the Ahmedabad Nationals, one expected some fireworks. It came but too late in the league, more so the 3-2 win over Geet Sethi, which clinched him a quarter-final berth. The wins came after two shocking defeats in the first two rounds of the league.

In the quarters however the clash of talent did not materialise as Pankaj Advani proved simply too good winning 4-1, against the bespectacled south-paw.

Uden Khaimukh was a big let down. The Thai, rated very highly in his country, could hardly match his reputation and lost four of his matches in the league including a close 2-3 defeat to Kyaw Oo. And it was Pankaj who began his slide on the very first day.

None of the other participants made much of the exposure with the Singaporeans - Ronnie Chua Poh Teck, Theik Chong Alan Puan and Glen Yeo Teck Shin - hardly causing a stir. Myanmar's U. Aung San Oo and U Win Myint did manage to win the odd match.

The results:

Final: Ashok Shandilya (Ind) bt Pankaj Advani (Ind) 5-4 (0-102, 28-100, 100-0, 101-6, 2-100, 100-0, 102-0, 29-102, 100-10).

Semi-finals: Pankaj Advani bt Devendra Joshi (Ind) 4-2 (102-12, 9-101, 101-4, 84-100, 102-61, 102-74); Ashok Shandilya bt Geet Sethi (Ind) 4-3 (102-49, 0-102, 101-50, 100-35, 98-101, 11-101, 100-21).

Quarter-finals:Devendra Joshi bt U Kyaw Oo (Myanmar) 4-1 ( 6-101, 102-82, 100-76, 101-24, 103-0); Ashok Shandilya bt Henry Boteju (Sri Lanka) 4-2 (81-100, 70-101, 100-15, 102-10, 101-43, 101-0); Geet Sethi bt Alok Kumar (Ind) 4-2 (101-31, 101-26, 91-101, 101-0, 5-100, 100-96); Pankaj Advani bt Dhruv Sitwala (Ind) 4-1 (102-52, 102-99, 6-100, 100-34, 100-54).