| Pankaj Advani
|Pankaj Advani with his trophy after winning the 69th Senior Snooker National Championship in January. (AFP)
Calcutta, Oct. 25: When Omprakash Bankeylal Agrawal won the world snooker title in 1984, Pankaj Advani hadn’t even been born. And it was unfortunate for Agrawal that his winning almost coincided with the assassination of Indira Gandhi. The toast to the then Bombay cueist had not been raised properly.
On Saturday, Advani, from Bangalore, became only the second Indian to win the coveted world title, beating Pakistani second seed Saleh Mohammad 11-6 in the final in the Chinese city of Jiangmen.
Eight years and five months after Agrawal died of a fast-spreading tongue cancer, this 19-year-old has spread cheer again in the country with a 35-64, 7-79, 73-10, 66-56, 46-59, 87-13, 81-43, 71-13, 0-95, 15-93, 64-36, 78-33, 43-47, 135-0, 65-46, 70-67, 63-22 verdict.
When contacted in Jiangmen by The Telegraph, Advani, who was tired after a late felicitation, said: “I just can’t believe it yet. This has been great. The way I had been in the early stages of the final, I really did not believe I could make it then. But my coach (Michael Ferreira) said he did, and I came back. You see, the cueing needs to settle down in any match, and I took a little time in which I lost a couple of frames…”
Mohammad had not lost a single match in the run-up to the final. The new young champion said he took a while to adjust. This was his first world championship and the tension was natural. Two early sets were lost quickly, but the Indian managed to fight back and was back in the lead 5-3 before a bout of exhaustion let slip two more sets and he had to again fight back from 5-5.
Advani was back fresh after the break and with a break of 135 — the third highest in the meet — in the 14th frame, followed by a 70 in the 16th, history was scripted.
On going professional, Advani said he would be participating in the qualifiers in Wales from December.
“That is a difficult proposition, but I surely want to give it a shot. There are three qualifiers, maybe till April, so I will go for it. I only hope this feat of mine will draw the attention of the corporates and I get a sponsor or two for this new venture.”
Ferreira said: “Frankly speaking, when he went into the final I thought it would be 50-50. Had Mark Allen, who Saleh beat in the semi-finals, been in the final, I would have made Advani the underdog. Maybe it is fate.
“But why fate' One really never knows. The way he came back from a 0-67 deficit in the 16th frame with a clearance of 70, any player in the world would be proud of it.”
On Advani’s professional attempt, the former multiple world billiards champion said: “That is difficult. It is a big jump from the amateur level, a big jump. But one has to try.”
Subhas Agrawal, Om’s elder brother, said from Mumbai: “It is Advani’s Diwali gift to India. It is great that the government now provides so much impetus, including foreign preparatory trips, to promising youngsters. I remember when my brother had wanted to go to the world championship in Dublin, the government had turned down his request for air fare. Then, of course, when he won the title, defeating T. Parson of Wales in the final, the fare was reimbursed. Things are so different now.”
Advani, former Asian champion Yasin Merchant, Manan Chandra and Rafat Habib were sent to Britain for training under the Indian government’s scheme for promising sportspersons.
Manoj Kothari, a Calcutta-based former world billiards champion, and one who had coached the youngest national champion Advani for a while, said: “This is great news for Indian cue sports. I hope the government really looks into this sport because in this we have had and will keep having world beaters, starting from the late Wilson Jones, the first Indian to become a world champion in billiards.”
The sentiment is justified. India has produced three other world champions in this sport — Geet Sethi, Michael Ferreira and Manoj Kothari. This win also elevates Advani to the league of the likes of chess super GM Viswanathan Anand, badminton superstars Prakash Padukone and Pullela Gopichand and shooter Anjali Bhagwat.