Only 17, and a world champion!

The winner, Hossein Vafael Ayouri,(right) with the runner-up, Lee Walker.-K. MURALI KUMAR The winner, Hossein Vafael Ayouri,(right) with the runner-up, Lee Walker.

The champion, Hossein Vafael Ayouri, dropped just three frames in the entire league. Coming into the knock-out stage, he blasted Steve Mifsud of Australia 5-0 in the round of 16 and Brendan O'Donoghue of Ireland 6-2 in the quarters, seeming in an awful hurry throughout. And snooker buffs did begin talking about an emerging talent from Asia. Over to Avinash Nair.

He came, he played and he conquered. Hossein Vafael Ayouri of Iran, just 17, not only won the IBSF World Snooker championship crown but also the hearts of the sizeable crowd at the KSBA with his no-nonsense approach. His aggressive style seemed a wee-bit impetuous but had the desired result of rattling his opponents.

“I am here to win the title,” proclaimed the Iranian, on the eve of the final, after routing India's Kamal Chawla 7-2 in the semifinals. And he achieved his dream...but not before his idol's (John Higgins) look-alike, Lee Walker of Wales, almost took the title away.

Leading 7-3 at the break, in the best of 19 final, Ayouri was already thinking of the celebrations and reception back home. “I thought I had already won the title...” he admitted later after a tantalisingly close 10-9 title triumph. “I have learnt a ‘BIG' lesson today...My inexperience showed as I was impatient sitting in the corner and seeing my rival bring down the lead, frame after frame and finally level the scores at 9-all. It all boiled to the decider,” said a beaming Ayouri, after the win.

Lee Walker, with a 12-year stint on the pro-circuit, silenced the local crowd with a flattering 7-1 rout of Bangalore's own Pankaj Advani in the semifinals and made the most of the break in the final to rewind and come back strongly. Even at 9-7 down the Welshman looked unruffled and by slowing down the game considerably he played with his rival's nerves. He was also successful with some difficult snookers. “I'm happy with my performance in this championship...but a title triumph would have helped,” claimed the 35- year-old. But a difficult ‘pink' denied Walker a come-from-behind win when leading 52-45 in the decider. All that Ayouri had to do was clear the ‘pink' and the ‘black' to raise the toast.

Youthful exuberance did prevail over experience!

Ayouri dropped just three frames in the entire league. Coming into the knock-out stage, he blasted Steve Mifsud of Australia 5-0 in the round of 16 and Brendan O'Donoghue of Ireland 6-2 in the quarters, seeming in an awful hurry throughout. And the snooker buffs did begin talking about an emerging talent from Asia. “I want to play the pro-circuit,” said Ayouri and people wondered as to how well he would tackle the tough grind of pro snooker. If there was any doubt, Ayouri let his cue do the talking. He had finished runner-up in the Asian Under-21 Snooker championship earlier this year.

Walker, on the other hand, had returned from the pro league after a dozen odd years without gaining much. His comprehensive 4-0 win over Alok Kumar in the opening league encounter did suggest his status amongst the amateurs and his annihilation of Thai ‘speed kid' Thepchaiya Un Nooh 6-2 in the quarters and Pankaj Advani (7-1) in the semis only convinced people of his ability. But Ayouri, with his initial spurt, did have the measure of Lee in the final analysis.

Kamal Chawla, the only Indian to make it to the quarterfinals of the last edition in Hyderabad/ went a step further in this edition. The 31-year-old Railwayman from a village about 90 kms away from Bhopal used the facilities at KSBA to sharpen his game whenever the chance beckoned. “This time, though, the MP Government and my personal sponsors Selvel Group helped me to train for about two weeks in the UK just ahead of the championship and I should admit it helped a great deal,” confessed Kamal, who bested countrymen Anuj Uppal in the pre-quarters and Alok Kumar in the round of eight, both matches going to the wire, before tamely caving in to the guiles of Ayouri in the semis.

“I'm glad to have progressed this far despite not being in the best of form,” admitted Kamal, who once again had to settle for a bronze. He had won a bronze in the Asian 6 Red Snooker event, too.

Pankaj, despite a good run in the league and the round of 32, looked a touch queasy in the quarters against Belgium's Peter Bullen before winning 6-2. But he was all at sea as Walker produced some masterly snooker to pull the rug from under his feet for a 7-1 demolition. Pankaj had won the 2003 edition of the event in China.

Eight out of the 11 Indians in the fray advanced to the knock-out stage, with Pankaj and Kamal as group toppers getting direct seedings into the round of 32. Yasin Merchant, playing his last ‘majors,' having decided to quit the game and Anuj were waylaid in the round of 16, while Alok progressed only to be pipped by Kamal Chawla.

With Qatar and even Malta pulling out of the championship due to visa problems, the likes of Balaji Reddy, Brijesh Damani and Neeraj Kumar got a look-in, but could not make much of the opportunity, which KSBA as host had grabbed.

The championship was scheduled to be hosted by Bahrain and then China. But with both crying off, India, and more particularly KSBA, which was to host the inaugural World 6 Red Snooker during the same time was convinced to take up the men's event instead. And as in the past, since 1987 when Darren Morgan of Wales lifted the IBSF snooker championship, KSBA rolled-out the ‘red carpet' in style...!