‘Make it short and quick’

For Pankaj Advani, the Padma Shri award is a great honour. "Watching sportsmen receive such awards will be a motivation for youngsters to consider sport as a serious career option," he says in a chat with Nandita Sridhar.

Pankaj Advani is unjustly modest. The six world titles should have taken their toll on a sportsman’s sense of balance, but Advani has chosen the less formulaic route in keeping his head. After a remarkable 2008 — he won the World Billiards Championships in both the timed and points format — the 23-year-old player was deservingly recognised by the government with the Padma Shri award. In an interview to Sportstar, Advani describes his reaction to the award , his exceptional form in 2008 and his views on promoting the sport.

Excerpts:

What does a Padma award mean to you at this stage of your career?

I’m obviously delighted. It’s great for my family and my coach Arvind Savur without whom I would not have been where I am now. This award is also for everyone from my school, college and my friends. I dedicate this to all of them.

After six World titles, you do expect the recognition. It’s a huge honour. There are so many people who are recommended, and you can never really tell who’ll win. When I got a call from the government’s office asking if I would accept it, I was thrilled.

What were the celebrations like?

We had planned a family get-together even before the announcement was made. We had one more reason for it.

What do you expect this award to do for the sport?

I’m hoping this will bring recognition to cue sports in India. Watching sportsmen receive such awards will be a motivation for youngsters to consider sport as a serious career option. Billiards and snooker are serious and competitive sports, and awards and successes in major events should get more people into the sport.

Besides, youngsters need to be given more time to develop as players. I do see a lot more kids taking up cue sports in places like Kolkata, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, but I feel state governments can do a lot more; maybe have a couple of tables in schools.

What about the perception people have of the sport?

Pankaj Advani... hoping to continue the good form in 2009.-K. MURALI KUMAR

There is a misconception that billiards and snooker are elite sports, which is not true at all. I mean, it’s all relative. A lot of other sports are more expensive to pursue. In this case, table costs, for example, are borne by the clubs, which would require players to spend — basically — for the cue and the ball. The perception is changing. Citing an example, a government school in Madhya Pradesh introduced cue sports in its sporting curriculum recently, and the response was overwhelming. A lot of kids were curious enough to come and watch.

What do you think can be done to make it more spectator-friendly? Would that require a compromise?

A lot can be done. The games can be made shorter and quicker results achieved. Of course, there will be the argument on compromise, like they have with Twenty20 cricket.

I personally enjoy playing the shorter format. It makes the game more visible. As long as it’s beneficial to the sport, I think it’s a good thing.

How do you look back on a highly successful 2008?

I couldn’t have asked for a better 2008. I should hopefully be in a position to continue performing as well, in 2009.

Did anything specific lead to your decision to take some time off from the sport last year?

I played too many tournaments last year, even if I did have a successful year. I felt saturated, but kept myself going. It was simply mind over matter.

I decided I didn’t want to play in November and chose to take a break till January.

Will you be cutting down on the number of tournaments this year?

I will have to take a call on that. I might focus on the big events, but I haven’t arrived at a decision as yet. The Asian Championships in April and the World Championships in September-October will be the two big events I will have my eye on.

Besides my sport, I have a few other interests I want to give time to, like music and dance. I’d like to keep these as my priorities as well. Life is too short, and I’d like to try out as many things as possible.

Any specific goals for this year?

Well, just to continue doing what I did right last year, and concentrate on my physical fitness.

Live in the present and enjoy the process, and take things as they come. After six titles, I don’t really want to plan too much.

I’d like to treat the game as I would treat life.