The way forward

Pankaj Advani…“ I like to play both (billiards and snooker) because they are challenging in their own ways.”-K. MURALI KUMAR Pankaj Advani…“ I like to play both (billiards and snooker) because they are challenging in their own ways.”

“The world governing body of snooker and billiards have to open up their mind a bit. The tradition has always been waist coat, bow-tie and all that. I think we have to move with the times. It's important to change the dress code and make it more colourful and visually attractive,” says Pankaj Advani in a chat with G. Viswanath.

Pankaj Advani has completed 10 years playing in the National Championships. At the Manisha 79th National Billiards and Snooker Championship 2012, organised by the Billiards and Snooker Association of Maharashtra (BSAM) at the P. Y. C. Hindu Gymkhana in Pune recently, he won his sixth National billiards title. He won his first title in 2003 in Jammu and claimed a double (billiards and snooker titles) in Hyderabad (2007), Indore (2008) and Agra (2009).

“In terms of quality of the games, the final here (in Pune, against B. Bhaskar) was one of the best. The three 150 breaks speak for the quality. I feel sorry for Bhaskar who is my practice partner; he was at the receiving end. I could finish off the big breaks in one visit. In Agra too the quality (of the games) in the final was good and I won 5-4,” says Advani in an interview to Sportstar.

The excerpts:

Question: It's been a memorable 10-year journey so far in the Nationals…

Answer: When you start off, you dream of reaching a certain level. You first feel and say, ‘Wow, it's great to win the Junior Nationals!' and suddenly you decide to participate in the Senior Nationals, knowing well that it would take a long time to win a title. I looked up to players like Michael (Ferreira), Geet (Sethi), Yasin (Merchant), Joshi (Devendra), Ashok (Shandilya) and Alok Kumar, all of whom had played the game at the highest level. It was an honour competing with them, and all of a sudden when I was not even 17, I won my first Senior National snooker title (in Jammu). Things obviously happened much faster than I had expected. That was real fun. It surprised me, and surprised people around me. That was the fun of the journey.

When I was much younger, I felt more fearless and there was no pressure. The role I am playing today is a lot different. People expect you to do well every single time you play. There are certain standards you have already set. It becomes a responsibility to shoulder in order to maintain those standards and get better with time. So that's a challenge. Initially, it was getting to the next level. It has been full of ups and downs, but the Nationals are the biggest event for me in India.

Who influenced you the most?

I have always looked up to the seniors and wondered when I would be able to compete with them, let alone win. Interacting and hanging out with them taught me a lot. I was the youngest player then and I was at most times with them during tournaments. I learned a lot faster and that's probably one of the reasons I was able to perform then.

The person who influenced me the most has to be Arvind Savur because without his coaching and guidance I don't think I would have reached thus far. Perhaps it would have taken me ages; I probably had the talent, but I needed proper nurturing and he (Savur) knew exactly what to do with me.

Geet's performance over the last 20-odd years has been phenomenal. I have heard so many stories about Michael. In fact, he motivated me to win the World Snooker title in 2003. He had a huge part in that as well. Yasin has been one of our best snooker players. Looking up to all of them has made my journey very interesting.

Your first big achievement though was in the Asian Billiards in 2002?

I reached the final. That was the breakthrough I needed and I started believing that I could go one step further in international events. It happened again sooner than expected; I won the IBSF World Snooker title in China when I was 18.

How did you manage to take a decision to play both billiards and snooker with equal intensity?

It's becoming more challenging now because the competition has improved and more or less everyone is specialising in one game. The techniques required for billiards and snooker are very different. But I believe that (playing both) it kills the monotony of playing one game — at least for me. Touch wood, I am blessed with talent in both games. I understand how snooker and billiards works out, the way you approach the games and the shots you play. Snooker requires short bursts of energy while billiards demands patience. In that sense I like to play both because they are challenging in their own ways.

Guiding light…Pankaj Advani, who won the billiards gold at the 2010 Asian Games in Guangzhou, is showing his gold medal to his coach and mentor Arvind Savur. “The person who influenced me the most has to be Arvind Savur because without his coaching and guidance I don't think I would have reached thus far," says Advani.-V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

Joshi and Alok have played both the games and excelled. Even Ashok (Shandilya) has played some fantastic snooker. I have heard about Sonic Multani but not seen him at his peak. Arvind was excellent in both. I don't know how it happened. I was playing good snooker in 2003 and 2004, and then suddenly I started getting interested in billiards in 2005. I won the Asian Billiards here and also the IBSF World Billiards Championship (both formats: time and points). It's very difficult to excel in both games. I know it probably as good as anyone else does. You have players like Aditya (Mehta) and Manan Chandra who play snooker. Sourav (Kothari) plays both. If I feel that I am playing too much of billiards, then I say, ‘Okay, it's enough, I need to play more of the shorter and accurate version', and that's what snooker is all about. It was never a conscious decision to play both, I just went with the flow and everything happened as I moved along.

Then you have someone like Alok who plays all formats — billiards, snooker, 9-ball, 8-ball and what not?

He is an all-rounder. He is a complete all-rounder. It's really tough what he's doing, especially in the three different versions.

There has been quite some churning of the sport — points and time format etc.?

I personally feel there has to be three tournaments in a year. You must have the time format, the 150-up and the 100-up or probably have a 500-up which gives a lesser player also sort of a chance to make a 500 break — just like the tennis Grand Slams played on clay, grass and on hard courts. At the National level the ideal one is the 150-up format. At the selection camp it can be of a longer format and a really short format. In this way, you are testing the players in all aspects. I think that's the way forward.

It would be a big blow if cue sport is out of the next Asian Games in Incheon, Korea, in 2014?

What do I say? It's sad and unfortunate. It's a competitive sport played by many countries and in many formats (billiards, snooker, 8- and 9-ball pool). It's really interesting once a person knows the rules of the game.

Do you get disappointed on losing?

If a player really wants to do well, he must be disappointed at a loss; it must hurt him. Winning or losing is part of the game. But only if you are hurt (on losing) you can come back a stronger player. When I have felt bad and even cried earlier in my career, I have always come back stronger. You must also have butterflies in your stomach before a match. You must be anxious because that will make you sharp. The fear factor will motivate you.

You have been asking for a change in the dress code — from formals to smart casuals?

This is a problem with the international body. They have to open up their mind a bit. The tradition has always been waist coat, bow-tie and all that. I think we have to move with the times. It's important to change the dress code and make it more colourful and visually attractive. People watching the sport must be wondering what serious business is this all about; you cannot even clap during a match. So that can be compensated with a change in dress code. It can be made more glamorous and there are ways of doing that. The BSFI has relaxed these rules, there's no bow-tie at selection trials. The international body has to act on it now.