He's on the way up

Gold medal winner Pankaj Advani with Ashok Shandilya (left) on the podium.-AP Gold medal winner Pankaj Advani with Ashok Shandilya (left) on the podium.

Had Pankaj Advani been fielded in the snooker event too, he could have possibly enhanced India's medal chances in cue sports, writes Kamesh Srinivasan.

Pankaj Advani could have won a few more medals, but he was restricted to just the billiards singles event. The 21-year-old lad from Bangalore, who was awarded the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna this year, has won the World Championship in both billiards and snooker. He has also won the world title in both the points and the classical time format. But unfortunately, the people governing cue sports in India did not cash in on his extraordinary skills in billiards and snooker.

After a hesitant start against Thanh Long Nguyen of Vietnam, Pankaj got better with every match before winning the billiards gold at the Doha Asian Games.

"I felt like taking a flight back to India immediately," said Pankaj when asked how he felt being down 0-2 against Nguyen in the second round after a bye in the first. The Indian then came back strongly to win 81-102, 68-102, 102-9, 101-71, 100-3.

Pankaj showed his class against compatriot Ashok Shandilya in the final by notching his second century break of the championship. "For the last six months, the Asian Games was at the top of my priority list. This gold really means a lot to me. I am glad, I lived up to the expectations of thousands of people back home,'' said the champion after beating Shandilya 76-101, 101-40, 100-0, 100-32 in the final.

"He played better than me when it mattered,'' conceded Shandilya who beat two-time world champion Peter Gilchrist, representing Singapore, in the semi-final.

Earlier, in the first semi-final, Pankaj recovered well after losing the first frame to outplay San Oo Aung of Myanmar 95-100, 100-19, 100-20, 100-3. "It has been a long but very enjoyable journey. There were moments when I wanted to give up, and there were moments when I was on cloud nine. This is my most important event until now. It is time to celebrate,'' Pankaj said.

Had Pankaj been fielded in the snooker event too, he could have possibly enhanced India's medal chances.

When Pankaj won the World Snooker Championship in Jiangmen, China, in 2003, he was the youngest Asian and the second youngest in the world to achieve the feat. Later, he won the World Billiards Championship in Malta, capturing both the classical and point format titles. In the process, Pankaj became the second player after Malta's Paul Misfud to win world titles in both billiards and snooker.

He first made his mark as a 16-year-old in the National Snooker Championship final in Jammu by beating Yasin Merchant. He also captured both the billiards and snooker titles in the National Junior Championships, giving a hint of things to follow. Very few players have the ability to play both billiards and snooker with equal ease on the same day.

Former National champion Arvind Savur spotted him early and Pankaj proved his mettle by posting century breaks in both billiards and snooker before his 14th birthday.

Very early in his career, Pankaj assured his coach that he would not meddle with his game by competing in the money-spinning pool events. The cue in pool is heavier and thicker compared with the ones in billiards and snooker. Pankaj has done well to stick with billiards and snooker.

Pankaj said: "Billiards is not a glamour sport like tennis or cricket. I would like youngsters to take it seriously. I would like to see India become a superpower in the sport in the next five years.''

"You have to give credit to the boy. He is a young guy on the way up,'' said Shandilya in praise of Pankaj.