Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani have lit up the Indian snooker scene. Since June, the two have displayed awesome skill and resoluteness in the tough world of professional snooker in Europe and hope to stay in the top 70 at the end of the season.
Mehta and Advani represent a popular sport in the country in comparison with declining three-ball billiards that the likes of Wilson Jones, Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi and Advani himself have had popularised.
Mehta arrived in New Delhi on Tuesday afternoon to receive the Arjuna Award on Wednesday. Thrilled with his and Advani’s efforts since the Wuxi Classic qualifiers in June, Mehta told The Hindu that Indian snooker was staging a big comeback.
“The last two weeks have been incredible for both of us; the way we played in the International championship qualifier and also in Germany. It has to be the revival of Indian snooker. Om Agrawal, Yasin Merchant and Sanjay Sawant were all top class players in the 1980s and 1990s, but there was a slump thereafter. Now our performances should motivate the young snooker players, make the sport appeal to the sponsors,” said Mehta.
Mehta, the two-time and back-to-back national snooker champion (he won at Chennai and Pune) said it had taken him a long time to shrug of diffidence and to prove his worth in the professional snooker. “Last year I finished somewhere around 80, now both of us can hope to finish between 65 and 67. We have plenty of points, but we have to play consistently to finish close to 70. We have another six qualifying tournaments and six UK PTC events. For a first-timer in pro-circuit, Pankaj has been remarkable. I did not think he will do so well, but knowing the prodigy he has been what he has done in the first three months of professional snooker is incredible…hats off to him.’’
He singled out his win against Jimmy White as the best this season. “I was down 0-3 down in the International championship qualifier and I won 6-5. I was playing better, but was trailing by three frames. I hung in there and played a good last frame for a memorable win. My win against Jamie Cope has to rank as the most important and best in my career though.”
Mehta beat Michael Leslie 6-3, Mike Dunn 6-3, Jimmy White 6-5 and Jamie Cope 6-4 to advance into the $950,000 tournament to be held in Chengdu in South-West China in October. “`China is pumping in a lot of money into snooker. It is organising five ranking tournaments including the one at Chengdu. It will be a draw of 32. The first 24 ranked players will get a straight entry into tournament proper. The last eight will play eight wild cards, most of them would be Chinese and hence it would tough,” said Mehta.
Advani scored wins against Craig Steadman 6-1, Steve Davis 6-5, Alan McManus 6-3, and Michael Holt 6-4 to qualify for the second biggest prize money in the professional circuit.
Both Mehta and Advani have taken part in the Wuxi Classic qualifiers, Australian Goldfields Open qualifiers, Bank of Communication Shanghai Masters qualifiers, two UK PTC qualifiers at Wales and two European tour events and the International championship qualifiers. Adavni had an excellent run in the European Tour 1 (Paul Hunter Classic) Fuerth, Germany. He lost in the semifinals to England’s Mark Selby.
“I am playing decently well, but as I said before, it’s been incredible in the last two weeks and how it has lifted Indian snooker. It’s a question of holding onto our position now and starting the next season well to improve our ranking. We have the self-confidence now to play well in the next 12 tournaments. Pankaj has self-belief. There is always a player who makes an impact in his first professional season. This year it has to be Pankaj; he’s made his debut phenomenal. It’s been tough financially and emotionally for me. The time has arrived for the young snooker players in India to make strong push, make the game really big with sponsors,’’ said Mehta.