Pankaj has to do some hard thinking

The recently concluded qualifying tournament for selection of cueists to participate in the coming Asian billiards championship at Myanmar and for the Asian snooker championship at Kolkata once again reconfirmed the emergence of Pankaj Advani as the leading exponent of both disciplines in the country.

The recently concluded qualifying tournament for selection of cueists to participate in the coming Asian billiards championship at Myanmar and for the Asian snooker championship at Kolkata once again reconfirmed the emergence of Pankaj Advani as the leading exponent of both disciplines in the country.

In an era of specialisation, Pankaj Advani may be able to hold his own against competition in both billiards & snooker within India but to make an impact at the international events, he will need to focus on only one sport. — Pic. SANDEEP SAXENA-

At 17, the youngster from Bangalore has already won three National titles in January this year. While the junior events posed little problem he fought hard to annex the senior snooker title with a stirringly emotional victory over Yasin Merchant, the former two times Asian snooker champion. It was this victory more than any other achievement that seems to have instilled in him a newfound poise and that one quality of confidence, which somehow is reinforced with success.

We have waxed lyrical about his potential for the last two years. Today, we still continue to write about him with glowing tributes fit for the best. However, now we talk about him as a sportsperson who has arrived. By defeating Yasin Merchant once again and within four weeks of the Nationals, Pankaj has given a clear signal that the time has come for a change in guard. Watching the final of the selection event staged in Hyderabad, I marvelled at Pankaj's skills and was impressed with his calm demeanor on and off the table.

With a domestic performance graph, which is as vertical, as it can get, he needs to replicate the same graph in the international arena. For that he has to do some introspection and arrive at a clarity on which discipline he would like to concentrate on. In an era of specialisation, he may be able to hold his own against competition in both billiards & snooker within India but to make an impact at the international events, he will need to focus on only one sport.

Having such sublime ability in both disciplines, the task of arriving at this clarity will be strewn with much soul searching. But it is a process that he will need to undertake. Needless to say he will be advised by his coach, the inimitable Arvind Savur, who has helped Pankaj in reaching where he has. Pankaj has high regard for his coach and justifiably so. Savur has been the father of Indian snooker and could fluster the best opposition in his prime. For sheer stroke play and for instilling adventure, courage and confidence into his ward, Savur has done a praiseworthy job. The former world semi-finalist himself had taken a decision to concentrate on snooker despite being equally adept at both games. The advice he gives Pankaj will eventually decide the future of Indian billiards and snooker.

There is one chink in the armour though, which needs to be eliminated. Technically, Pankaj is sound with a copybook style and stance. However, there is a disturbing movement at the time of execution of the stroke, which as yet has not really prevented him from forging ahead in the domestic circuit but will eventually be his worst enemy during situations of extreme crisis in international events.

When and how he and his coach address this issue will perhaps determine the speed with which he can ascend the highest position in international tournaments and more importantly his consistency as a feared opponent at the world stage.

Having successfully staged this qualifying event, the organisers in Hyderabad have bid for the 2003 IBSF World billiards championship. Given the enthusiasm, organisational ability and access to requisite funds, there was little hesitation from the Billiards & Snooker Federation of India and the Billiards & Snooker Players Association of India in giving their support to the venture.

This is going to be a first for the lovers of billiards in Hyderabad. In the past we have had international professional championships held there, but never a World championship. The hotel where the event is being organised, boasts of a first class venue with the latest technology gadgets thrown in.

With the event slated for October this year, billiard players will have the opportunity to participate in two World championships with the World Professional Billiards & Snooker Association (WPBSA) organising their World championships in Malta during the first week of April.

The event in Hyderabad has received the blessings of the very proactive, enthusiastic and sports loving Chandra Babu Naidu Government. Given the Chief Minister's past foray into sporting events, I have sufficient reason to believe that this event will be a class act.