New giant of the green baize

GEETH SETHI

PANKAJ ADVANI picked up a cue when he was barely 10. By 11 he had compiled his first century break in billiards and snooker and a few days short of his 12th birthday, he had annexed the Karnataka State junior crowns in billiards and snooker. More achievements followed with a regularity, which soon made him the most talked about player on the Indian cuesport scene. By 14 he won the junior National billiards title and by 16 he added the National junior snooker title to the billiards crown. Then at age 17 he replicated Geet Sethi's record of winning three National titles i.e. the junior billiards and snooker and the senior snooker.

The world amateur snooker title has provided substantial proof, in unambiguous terms, that at this point in time Pankaj Advani is the best and is capable of greater deeds. -- Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

My first impression of Pankaj Advani, the 18-year-old prodigy, who clinched the amateur world snooker title at Jiangmen, China, was that of a kid, who seemed to be aware of his tryst with destiny. Intense, focussed, he possessed a demeanour of calmness, which would make a sage spending time in the Himalayas proud. He was 11 when I first set eyes on him at the Karnataka State Billiards Association as he practised on a miniature table, specially designed for kids, who were not tall enough to reach the main table.

Even at that time, he seemed to know what he wanted out of life. The pundits talked about his talent on the table and I marvelled at his disposition. There is no such thing as a great talent without great willpower. In the recent past no other cueist has exemplified the truth of that statement like Pankaj has.

In defeating Saleh Mohammed, a very talented veteran snooker player from Pakistan 11-6 in the final, the youngster from Bangalore justified all that had been written and talked about him in the last five years. When he reached the final of the Asian Billiards championship in Bangalore two years ago, I wrote in this magazine, "Ask not when he will win a world title but how many he will have at the end of a career which is so full of promise."

And why were we all so full of praise for this unassuming kid? It was the passion in the eyes. It was the quiet self-confidence and poise with which he approached his game, which was his life. And finally, it was that vital quality of calmness, which is so essential for any talent to realise its true potential.

And in China, he crossed the first milestone in realising that potential. At 18 he has accomplished a feat which only one other Indian, the late O.B. Agrawal has managed in the last five decades of independent India's competitive snooker endeavours. This world title though is just the beginning for this new giant of the green baize. The title will be the catalyst, which will provide that something extra which champions have ingrained in their mental make up. It will inject into Pankaj that elusive confidence which comes only from success and will reinforce the sub-conscious belief in his own abilities. The title has provided substantial proof, in unambiguous terms, that at this point in time he is the best and is capable of greater deeds.

So, while we need to rejoice at finding a player who can dominate world snooker and billiards, I hope that the celebrations are short lived. The journey for Pankaj has just begun. When he decides to join the professional snooker circuit, his path will be long, winding and treacherous. He will experience loneliness, frustration and perhaps will go through phases, which will dent the conviction, which he possesses in such abundance at this stage of his career. That phase will commence not immediately but after a short honeymoon with the distractions, which come so naturally after any major achievement or success. He will need to draw upon his self-discipline and willpower to re-focus his entire being towards raising the standards of his game even further.

The late O. B. Agrawal won the IBSF world snooker title in 1984 at the age of 30. -- Pic. THE HINDU PHOTO LIBRARY-

The achievements of each generation are bettered by the next. At 18 Pankaj has brought back the IBSF world snooker title, which was won by the late O. B. Agrawal in 1984 at the age of 30. Like most champions, Pankaj remains humble in victory and goes out of the way to highlight the contribution of his coach Arvind Savur, a former world semi-finalist and a man, who was the father of modern Indian snooker.

He is supported at home by mother Kajal, who has just the right mixture of support and non-interference, which is equally crucial in nurturing talent and allowing it to find fulfillment. But at the end of the day, it is this 18-year-old, who withstood the pressures imposed at the sport's highest platform and held his composure in annexing his first major title.

Sport is a reclusive activity. Specially in a game like golf or snooker, you practise alone and when you are in the match arena you are all alone. It matters little whether there is one supporter in the audience or a hundred thousand.

You are on your own when you eventually take the stance to pot that last vital ball, which gives you the title. You need to keep your composure at that time and no one can help you but your own conviction.

For keeping that composure we salute you Pankaj. We also salute you for giving our country realistic hopes of one day winning a world professional snooker title and we salute you for being a role model not only to upcoming players who will no doubt want to emulate you but also to established players who will derive some self-belief and inspiration from your achievement.