Advani on Cue Slam: 'It will be entertaining and people friendly'

Pankaj Advani, a 16-time World Champion (Snooker and Billiards) gives his balanced view on the Cue Slam league and all things cue sports ahead of its launch.

Pankaj Advani of Chennai Strikerss poses with the Cue Slam winners trophy ahead of the tournament launch.   -  Pankaj Advani @Twitter

 

Short and snazzy, Cue sports will see a league makeover with the launch of Cue Slam at Ahmedabad on Saturday evening. Like any other league, the five franchises have suffixed the city names with chant-as-you-like titles like Dons, Strikers, Kings, Buddies and Hustlers; the elitist waistcoat and bow tie have made way for bright and colour coded jerseys and the code of decorum has been rewritten to accommodate the cheery, noisy fans and let the players sledge. And it has also got itself a prime slot on television.

Will the Indian Cue Masters League improve the popularity of the sport? In the growing army of professional leagues, can this new entrant survive and sustain? Pankaj Advani, a 16-time World Champion (Snooker and Billiards), the holder of 29 national titles and poster boy of the sport, gives his balanced view on the league and all things cue sports.

Excerpts:

About the launch of Cue Slam

I think it's a great initiative to have a first of its kind league for cue sports. There have been different kinds of leagues in various clubs and other social hubs in the world, but they lacked a proper business model. In terms of having a premier league with city-based teams in a professional set-up, I think it is the first of its kind in the world.

It has taken a while to take off....

We got to know of Cue Slam for the first time in 2015. Yes, it has taken a couple of years. But I would always say better late than never. It is time our sport is shown on television because it is a very colourful sport. It is intriguing, it is fascinating and it can definitely be made spectator friendly.

Do you think it will be equally engaging for the live audience as the television viewers?

We Indians like to cheer for our athletes performing at stadiums and here is a sport that is quiet in nature. But the format has been tweaked to make it more television and spectator friendly.

The format is very short. We will play the 6-red snooker and the pool which are the fastest version and formats of cue sports. And each frame is only 10 minutes. Some frames can take up to 40 to 45 minutes but that is not going to happen now. There is a time-limit on the whole frame finishing. In 20 seconds, you have to play a shot irrespective of the position you are in.

The audience will be allowed to speak in between shots and they will be allowed to cheer. Apparently, even sledging is going to be introduced. It's going to be very entertaining from a viewer's point of view.

Your views on the format...

It is going to be difficult for us. Let me be honest with you. There are going to be hits and misses and there is going to be drama. There will be upsets because it is the shortest possible format that we are going to be playing in. But it is going to be entertaining.

The initial plan was to give 15 seconds per shot. It has been changed to 20 seconds. Will it still be too little a time to think, process and score?

I have been practicing (with the shot clock) and let me tell you it is going to be very difficult. But it is fun at the same time. If there is a complicated situation or a tricky spot, then that would be very less time but at the same time, we have time outs. So it's all right. We will have to use our timeouts very wisely.

Do you think such change will help bring cue sports, which is usually considered an elitist game, closer to the masses?

I have always believed that change is necessary and especially in the times that we live in. Even a sport like cricket had to go the Twenty20 way to sort of engage the viewers and make it more unpredictable and more dramatic.

So yes, in terms of the format, the time limit, the attire or even the fact that snooker, which has always been a quiet sport is now going to be noisy. Yes, it is going to be difficult for us as players to concentrate. But if it's going to add the fun element and get people together and let them enjoy a game of snooker or pool then our game definitely would have accomplished something. We are getting closer to being a mass-friendly sport.

The inaugural edition of the league will get over in a week. It has five city-based franchises but the tournament is being held in a single city (Ahmedabad) because of logistics. Will it be too short a time to get people warmed up to the sport?

I do understand there are concerns in terms of the rule or in terms of the acceptability. At least it is a start, it is on TV and people can get a taste of it.

I heard that they (Sportzlive) are looking at launching the next season quite soon, say in about 8 months. It could also be two seasons in a year. It doesn't have to be that long then. As long as the recall value is there, as long as there are no long breaks, it is fine. Even PKL, I think, started gaining popularity from the second season. I just hope it is going to be sustained and continue to be there.

What are the other ways of popularising the sport?

I have given a lot of inputs to the federation. As a player who represents the country and who has been an ambassador of the country for almost 20 years, I feel it is my job to give constructive feedback. I try and explain to the authorities that these are things that can be done.

Not only Cue Slam, there are a lot of other formats of the game that can be televised that are also quick in nature and unpredictable. That will have good viewership. I think a lot of exhibition matches in malls, schools and colleges have to be conducted. There is a lot of interest in the game and that is reflected in the number of entries we receive in the national championship every year which is certainly increasing.

There are over a thousand participants in the nationals in a year, all categories put together, which is a great number. It shows the level of seriousness and keenness with which people want to take up the sport. But obviously we need more opportunities.

It is not just one national championship. If you don't do well then you are sitting out for few months in a year. So there needs to be a structure internally for us to flourish and for a lot of players to make a living off the game.

Has there been any improvements?

There have been the odd occasions where we have gone to a mall and actually played exhibition matches or introduced the game in schools and schools by inaugurating the tables that have been installed. Obviously, these have to be sustained; it needs to be integrated and should be done all over the country.

We should get in touch with the State governments and also the schools and colleges in each state. The State associations will have to be more active. I have given many such suggestions and I think they are there in the pipeline. For now, I am hoping the Cue Slam is a huge success and hope there is more of cue sports on television.