‘I have learnt a lot in the last two years’

Pankaj Advani...not looking at numbers, results and rankings.-ARUNANGSU ROY CHOWDHURY

Pankaj Advani speaks candidly about the challenges he faced on the professional snooker circuit and an important decision he might take in the coming months. Y.B. Sarangi listens in.

After spending two years on the professional snooker circuit, Pankaj Advani, 27, is weighing his priorities. Striking a balance between billiards and snooker and doing things which make him happy are on top of his list. Settling down in life sooner than later is also on the agenda of the poster boy of Indian cue sports.

In a chat with Sportstar, Advani spoke candidly about the challenges he faced on the professional snooker circuit and an important decision he might take in the coming months.

Question: How has the experience been on the professional circuit so far?

Answer: When I turned a professional in 2012, I did it with the sole aim of improving myself as a player. I felt I was stagnating a bit in India and needed to go to England and learn how to play snooker the way it should be played. I think I have learnt a lot in the last two years. I am not looking at numbers, results and rankings. They will come automatically. If you are good enough, you will obviously be high enough. I am happy that I have improved. Sometimes you do not improve in execution, but in knowledge. When that knowledge is required, you use it and get out of tricky situations.

How much time do you want to give yourself to get results on the professional circuit?

Of course, I want to do well. I want to play snooker the right way. I want to play like Ronnie O’Sullivan or Higgins or Selby who have made the game so wonderful to watch. I am just taking one season at a time. My second season is ending in April. I will take a call after that about what I want to do in future.

Are you going to continue with the professional tour?

I will decide after April as I do every year. I will see how billiards can fit into the scheme of things. I miss billiards a lot. I have not played a major billiards tournament in one-and-a-half years. I could not play the Nationals as I was in the UK. If I play billiards, I may not be able to participate in all the snooker events. So, I have to pick and choose. And I will have to make that decision sooner.

If you discontinue next season, what will be the reasons?

I will have to weigh the pros and cons. I am not too young anymore, neither am I a veteran. I am in between where I have marriage to look forward to. Ultimately, I have to settle down in a year or two. I miss my family a lot, I miss my country a lot. At the same time, the thrill and challenge of professional snooker keeps me in England for now. There are a lot of things I will have to keep in mind before taking the tough decision.

What is so special about billiards?

What is so special about snooker! I am attached to both. I can play billiards, I can play snooker, the IBSF World Championship, the Asian snooker championship, the Asian six-red championship, the non-professional event... I can do that also along with billiards. Trust me, the standard in all of these snooker events is very, very high.

Yes, professional snooker is a different ball game and is of the highest level. But to win any international snooker event, you ask any player in India he will say how difficult it is. Sometimes you got to do things for yourself and see where your happiness lies. And I am reaching a stage where I have to decide what makes me happy, I am going to do that. I have achieved quite a lot in my career, I never expected to do so well at such a young age. Now it’s time to set my priorities right so that I live the next 20-25 years happily. Sometimes I feel I can use my billiards skills in a snooker game and basically it is a situation where I have to manage both games. It is not very easy. Yes, I have achieved a lot in billiards and everyone says ‘Now that you have achieved a lot in billiards, why don’t you give snooker a proper shot,’ which I have done for the last two years and will continue to do so in future.

Ultimately, it is not about achieving. It is about what makes you happy. Billiards makes me happy as much as snooker does. Because I am playing so much snooker, I have to neglect billiards. I do not know if I come back after a year or so, I may lose the competitive edge which I do not want to. I just want to manage both games. It is a tough situation. The techniques involved are so different from each other. I do not think anyone really understands me as much as I do because I am playing billiards and snooker at that level. I am not saying this with any arrogance or ego. But I have seen the highest level of both games and I know how difficult it is to do both.

What is the motivation to play the National Championship?

I want to keep my options open if I do not continue (with professional snooker) next season. Then I want to play the non-professional snooker event and represent India. In your event (as a professional) you do not represent your own country. Also, funding is a slight issue. I am thankful to ONGC for giving half of the year’s expenses in England, but the other half I still shell out myself.

But the motivation is, I always want to play in front of the Indian crowd. What’s the use if I play throughout the year in England and do not have the chance to show people what high quality snooker is?

How difficult is it for Indian players to succeed in professional snooker?

Extremely difficult. The conditions and practice facilities are top class. But the moment you step outside the arena, you have to live your life in another country away from family for six months in a year. That’s where the challenges start. I cannot tell you the number of challenges I have faced — be it with food, not having your own transport, depending on public transport, depending on the timing of certain people, you have to reach the academy at a particular time so that you can have your food at a particular time. The flexibility which you enjoy in your country is not there. It is very tough for Asians. That’s why you have only three Asians — James Wattana, Marco Fu and Ding Junhui — who have done extremely well.

The Indian Open happened last year. Do you think there is scope for professional snooker to be really popular in India?

It is too early to say. It is going in the right direction, especially with me and Aditya doing well in the professional circuit. Besides all the number and stuff, it is a very television-friendly and spectator-friendly sport and that too when you have players like Ronnie, Higgins and Mark Williams. With stalwarts of the game coming to India there is a lot of interest among the cue sport enthusiasts. The federation should ensure quality television coverage that will attract more viewership.

The Indian Open is likely to be moved from Delhi to Mumbai this year. Do you think such a move will help promote the sport?

It is about how you do the marketing. A lot of youngsters are interested in the game. Not everyone is privileged to take it up as a career. But they would love to come and watch and be part of a highly prestigious event. It is good that it is going across the country and it gives everyone a chance to watch high quality snooker. One tournament in a year is not enough but it is a good start. Hopefully, we can build on this and can have more such events.