SINDHIS IN ‘CUE’ FOR THE CROWN
PANKAJ ADVANI – Conquers World Snooker Title
by Mahesh Vaswani
A Sindhi family of three was forced to flee Kuwait and return to their Motherland India, when the Iraqi Dictator Saddam Hussein unsuccessfully attempted to invade Kuwait in the last century. The youngest was 6, who went on to learn snooker at the age of 10 at Topgun, a pool parlour run by his elder brother in Bangalore. What started off as a hobby, soon developed into passion. Finally eight years hence, the Sindhi teenager unleashed a blitzkrieg upsetting several top seeds to win the World snooker Championship Title for India in the year 2003. The 18-year-old World Champ spoke about his glittering victory over second seed Saleh Mohammed of Pakistan on October 25 at Jiangmen in China, and his other dreams to SINDHISHAAN.
Pankaj Arjun Advani, the 18 year old collegian set a world record in the history of snooker championships by becoming the youngest ever person to win the title. The Indian cueist turned in a sterling display after an unfavourable start to beat the experienced and second seeded 30 year old Saleh Mohammed from neighbouring Pakistan.
The players were level 5-5 at the end of the first session, but the Banglore based Advani displayed precision potting in the second period to run away with the match. Advani, who is India’s youngest ever national champion, had beaten fifth seeded Brendan O’Donoghye of Ireland 8-3 in the semi finals to enter the final round.
The Champ has immediate plans to conquer the Title at the Asian Games to be held at Doha, Qatar in 2006. “The best part of the whole game is the feeling of patriotism it kindles in me when I realise that I made my country proud in the international arena”. Hectic practice sessions are on under the watchful eye of his coach Arvind Savaz. “My coach is my philosopher, my guide, my friend and my idol for confidence”, the beaming Champ told SINDHISHAAN. “I am proud to be a Sindhi, an Indian and a sportsman.”
Pankaj lost his father Arjun Advani at the tender age of 4 but this did not deter the family, even as his mother took up a job in Kuwait to bring up her two siblings. After clearing his ICSE with a distinction Pankaj is today a brilliant student in the F.Y.Bcom class of the Mahavir Jain College at Banglore. His elder brother Shree Advani is currently working as a business executive in Melbourne. At the age of 14 he was the national junior champion and at 16 he conquered a double. Both National Billiard and Snooker Championship Titles were his.
During his glittering performances Advani inscribed his name indelibly as the future of the Indian cue sport; there were host of others who should make it to the top sometime in the near future. Outstanding among them was Sourav, son of former world champion Manoj Kothari. In billiards, Advani was unchallenged. For the 38-player main draw, Advani led qualifier Aditya Shah, Rishab Thakkar and Kothari, into the four-player final round-robin league. Maharashtra’s Shah was another who deserves mention. He won four matches in the qualifying tournament and another three knockout rounds in the main draw, for a place in the final four.
Playing simultaneously in senior and junior category, Advani kept himself busy throughout the competition. In the final league, Kothari was the one who gave Advani some competition but, only just. In all the three league matches, Advani had scores of 1000 plus, in a three-hour-format. What happened in Snooker was startling. Advani had never excelled beyond number three position in the Nationals earlier. As luck would have it, Advani was crushed 4-0 by Manan Chandra, in the pre-quarterfinals of the senior tournament. But, just a week later, Advani avenged that defeat and scored a self-assuring 4-2 win.
Lack of appreciation from either the Karnataka or the Central governments has not dampened the spirits of the Champ, whose mother Kajal was certain that her son would defend the World Championship Title when the next meet is held in Netherlands in October next. “It is indeed sad that politicians honour and felicitate cricketers and beauty queens, but my teenaged son has only been sent a letter of appreciation from the office of the Union Sports Ministry”, said the proud but disheartened mother.
Two hundred and fifty thousand US dollars as prize money, and unparalleled glory for the nation, the community and himself, is what Pankaj Advani has now set his eyes on. He is sure he can blaze yet another trail of victories in the professional snooker circuit as well, provided he gets an opportunity and sponsors. But this is a slightly distant dream, since the professional snooker circuit is centred in the United Kingdom only. The competitors are locally based, they are adapted to playing in the UK and more over to go and stay there for several weeks to get adapted is an expensive affair. It is grossly unfair to the game and to the countries all over the world that these championships are not held by rotation in different countries. “But even if the professional circuit snooker continues to be played only in the UK, one day I shall be at the top”, said the confident teenager.