Pankaj delights with a double

Pankaj Advani proved his class in both billiards and snooker.-PICS. H. SATISH

The tournament underscored the shift in the balance of power with the experienced stars making way for the young brigade. By V. V. Subrahmanyam.

For someone who gave the impression of a schoolboy who had inadvertently entered the competition venue, the manner in which Pankaj Advani reasserted his supremacy in Indian cue sports was memorable. He bagged a ‘double’ by winning the billiards and the snooker titles in the National Championships, sponsored by the Seaways Group, in Hyderabad (December 7-24, 2007). The tournament was arguably the biggest in the Indian circuit, featuring 550 entries and 750 match es on 14 imported tables.

It’s not that anyone doubted Advani’s class, but the question was how consistent he would be while competing in both billiards and snooker. True to his stature, the 22-year-old player from Bangalore remained unbeaten in both events.

The National Championship was significant for the fact that all the big guns such as eight-time world champion Geet Sethi, reigning world billiards champion Rupesh Shah and former champions, Devendra Joshi, Yasin Merchant and Alok Kumar, were in the fray.

Yet, the average age of the semi-finalists was only 23, and this represented the changing face of the sport in India with the experienced stars like Sethi, Joshi and Merchant making way for the young brigade.

The tournament was very special for Pankaj for the fact that he established himself against these big guns and potential challengers with an impeccable display. He defeated Ashok Shandilya to lift the billiards title, while in the snooker final he vanquished Aditya Mehta.

“It is an ecstatic feeling to win the snooker title after a gap of four years, and to win a National double is something special,” said an elated Pankaj.

Shabaaz Adil Khan, who won the junior billiards title.-

“Considering that I won a double in the world circuit and now at the national level, it is very satisfying,” he remarked. “This is a great feeling and I will cherish it for a long time. I give credit to my family members and to my brother (Shree),” he said.

Pankaj also made a special mention of his victory against his favourite snooker player Yasin Merchant in the quarterfinals.

What was best about Pankaj’s victory against Aditya Mehta was that it came after two days of high-voltage performances from the latter against the likes of Geet Sethi and Manan Chandra, who, incidentally, recorded the highest break of 133 in snooker in the tournament. That Aditya faltered in the title round may well reflect the form Pankaj was in. Barring the sixth frame, which Aditya won, Pankaj was always in command. Aditya was all praise for Pankaj. “There is no doubt that I played very badly and erred in my safe play too. But Pankaj is a class player who rarely lets go any chance of making a comeback,” he said.

A few days earlier, Pankaj came up with a spectacular performance to down Ashok Shandilya for the billiards title. “Winning a national title is a special feeling and this is a very significant win considering the line-up we had here,” he said after the match.

Shravan Mohta and Vidya Pillai (below)... memorable tournament.-

Yet, there were some who doubted the standard of billiards in the tournament. For instance, veteran Shandilya claimed that the standard of billiards was the worst he had seen in any Nationals. “It is shameful that players are making 20 visits in a 30-minute span to the table. Something is seriously wrong with them. They have to change their attitude and become better players by talking to greats like Geet,” he explained.

Shandilya also expressed disappointment with the tables set up for the championship. “The pockets are very tight and perhaps the cushions made in Singapore did not fit the templates properly,” he pointed out.

The winners were delighted though. Like the junior national billiards champion Shabaaz Adil Khan, aged 18, of West Bengal who defeated Manish Jain 992-455 in the final. “This was a very tough event for me and I am really happy to have won it. I just played my natural game as advised by Devendra Joshi,” he said.

Shabaaz was also pleased that another Bengal player, Shoaib Khan, won the sub-junior snooker title.

Vidya Pillai of Tamil Nadu raised the level of her game at the right time to clinch the ladies’ snooker title. She defeated Anuja Chandra (PSPB) 81-3, 41-52, 49-59, 54-46, 52-23 in the final.

Unfortunately, the ladies’ finals — both snooker and billiards — were scheduled late in the evening, without prior intimation to the media. And not surprisingly, the billiards final, where Anuja Chandra won the big points to get the better of Meenal Thakur 76-73 went almost unnoticed. For the Nagpur cueist Shravan Mohta it was a National to cherish as he won the junior snooker title with a crucial 28-78, 67-31, 54-31, 39-74, 61-45, 58-33 win over Manish Jain in the final round-robin match for the first and second places.

Shoaib Khan defeated Aneesh Soni 43-32, 46-41, 70-56, 34-71, 46-61, 63-41 to settle for the third place.

THE RESULTS

Men — Billiards final: Pankaj Advani (PSPB) bt Ashok Shandilya (Railways) 1325-853.

Snooker final: Pankaj Advani (PSPB) bt Aditya Mehta (Maharashtra) 54-42, 107-0, 58-23, 84-1, 82-22, 49-65, 62-60.

Juniors — Billiards final: Shabaaz Adil Khan (West Bengal) bt Manish Jain 992-455.

Snooker — final round-robin match for 1-2 placings: Shravan Mohta bt Manish Jain 28-78, 67-31, 54-31, 39-74, 61-45, 58-33;

3-4 placings: Shoaib Khan bt Aneesh Soni 43-32, 46-41, 70-56, 34-71, 46-61, 63-41.

Ladies — Billiards final: Anuja Chandra bt Meenal Thakur 76-73, 41-75, 77-30, 76-22.

Snooker final: Vidya Pillai (TN) bt Anuja Chandra (PSPB) 81-3, 41-52, 49-59, 54-46, 52-23.

Sub-juniors — Snooker final: Shoaib Khan beat Rovin D’Souza 46-56, 52-69, 54-51, 42-21, 48-44.