Two champion cueists Vidya Pillai Tilakraj and Lalrina Renthlei stumbled upon snooker but soon got hooked on the sport
Like any sport that has to compete for eyeballs, popularity and cash with financial and organisational behemoths such as cricket, snooker (or any cue sport for that matter) faces the problem of luring fresh recruits into its fold and retaining them. In the absence of conventional channels of indoctrination, chance still plays a more than acceptable role in touting the sport. A look at how snooker almost did not happen, for two champions at the recently concluded Hash10 WorldSim Nationals.
A different celebration
Vidya Pillai Tilakraj (The current win in the women's snooker division is the Chennai-based cueist's sixth national title): “My first contact with the sport was when I was 21 and before that I had no idea about cue sports. I did not know they existed. Cricketer Hemang Badani, a good friend of mine, had just scored a century in a Ranji Trophy match and took me to a snooker parlour. ‘Let me introduce you to a sport, we will celebrate it differently' he said.”
“I was hooked from then on. I could see everyone around me pot so easily and I couldn't, which made me mad. I remember playing for a few hours and the only thing on my mind was to pot all the balls. That was how it started.
“It was a chance happening. It might well have not happened and I would be doing something else now, like photography.
“When I won my first Nationals title in 2002, there was no cash award. Now I get Rs. 10,000. It is not much but, fortunately, I'm a player who does not depend on the sport for a living. Things will change and maybe for the next generation of people who pursue the sport, it will be easier.”
Early start, but…
Lalrina Renthlei (the junior snooker national champion from Mizoram picked up his maiden title at the current Nationals): “I was around 10 when I took to cue sports in Mizoram. During those times pool was very popular and it was something teenagers enjoyed a lot. But they closed down almost all the pool parlours because of their reputation for trouble. It was not before 2008 that they were re-opened. I started playing again in 2009, after a break of 3-4 years.
“I played basketball in between and I represented the state around five times. I would probably have still been playing basketball but for the fact that I sprained my ankle almost 12 times. In fact, I was one of the youngest players at the Puducherry senior basketball Nationals. I can't play basketball professionally any more and snooker is my sport now.
“Around the time I started, the sports minister Zoding Liana gave me a video of Steve Davis (a former world no. 1 and the sport's first millionaire). I locked myself in a snooker room and threw the keys away and practised for hours at a stretch. I know there might be opportunities elsewhere now (after the win at the Nationals), but I prefer to stay in my state. Besides, I always have a table free for me in Mizoram.”