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Sunday, May 19, 2002

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Sport - Billiards & Snooker

Advantage Nalin Patel

By Geet Sethi

MIDSOMER NORTON MAY 18. After fourteen years, the World professional billiards championship is being staged in the UK, shifting from its decade long base in India.

The decision to move the jewel in the crown of the billiards circuit has been taken primarily to bring back some following, sponsorship and media interest back into the game here in the UK, where the advent of snooker has insidiously overshadowed its offspring.

The event is being staged at Midsomer Norton, a sleepy town in Somerset, which nonetheless has a distinct geographical advantage being situated in the midst of many towns, which have dedicated followers of the game. 16 cueists have qualified after two qualifying events staged in the UK and India. Lee Lagan, having just joined the Association, has done well by qualifying for the last 16 with well-deserved victories over Yorkshire's Mark Hirst and Wales's Clive Everton.

Lee played the opening match against defending champion Peter Gilchrist ending the first two-hour session in the four-hour contest trailing 559-297. Gilchrist last year won his second world title by defeating Mike Russell, the World No.1 at the Cricket Club of India in April last year. This morning Gilchrist, who also heads the billiards committee, which manages the development and operations for billiards impressed the early morning crowd with efforts of 221 & 97 in his 12th and 13th visits.

Ian Williamson, ranked 13 easily accounted for Belgium's Martin Spoormans and was pitted against India's Nalin Patel, whose consistent performance on the circuit has helped him in retaining his place in the top 8 of the rankings for the fifth successive year. Patel overcame a somewhat subdued start and a series of safety exchanges to end the session with a comforting 389-238 advantage. The low scoring is characteristic of any match in which Williamson is involved. Patel was peeved at the fact that Williamson was alerted by his father sitting in the spectator stand when he was about to play with the wrong ball. The World No. 8 made an informal complaint to Alan Chamberlain, the tournament director.

Peter Sheehan runs into Chris Shutt thanks to a 546-516 victory over David Nichols in the UK qualifying rounds, while Ashok Shandilya effected a well earned 645-551 win over Pankaj Advani, the 16-year-old maverick, who is giving all the right indications of eventually reaching the summit in the game he started playing six years ago.

The lower half features three Indians, Devendra Joshi, India No. 2 and ranked 11 in the world rankings, Manoj Kothari, the 1990 World amateur champion and Dhruv Sitwala. Joshi eliminated Alok Kumar 858-394 in the Indian qualifiers, which were staged at the Bombay Gymkhana; Kothari won a close encounter against Sushrut Pandya 459-429 while Sitwala earned his place in the last 16 with an emphatic 647-287 victory over Arun Agrawal. Joshi plays David Causier on Sunday; Sitwala has the unenviable task of playing against Mike Russell, the World No.1, who is trying hard to win his fifth world title, while Kothari has the good fortune to move directly into the quarterfinals, as he will be given a walkover by Roxton Chapman.

Chapman has taken a dramatic and sudden decision of joining the Royal Air Force and will not be competing in the professional circuit in the foreseeable future. Australia's Robby Foldvari is scheduled to play against Thailand's Rom Surin.

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