Top cueists Rupesh Shah, Ashok Shandilya and Alok Kumar will lead India’s challenge in the Asian billiards championship, starting at the Indore Tennis Club here on Monday.

Despite the absence of defending champion Pankaj Advani, who is in Sheffield to participate in the World professional snooker qualifying event, the championship promises to be a gripping one due to the presence of four world champions and several other accomplished players.

Two-time world amateur champion Rupesh Shah, former world champions Ashok Shandilya and Thai cueist Praput Chaithanasakun and former world professional champion Peter Gilchrist of Singapore, 2011 Asian champion and current National champion Alok Kumar and last year’s Thai runner-up Thawat Sujaritthurakarn are some elite cueists who are known for their superb hold over the game.

According to Alok Kumar, at least four Indians are capable of winning the title. “Rupesh, Ashok, B. Bhaskar (runner-up in the National championship) and myself are strong contenders for the title.

“The other two Indians, Dhvaj Haria and K. Venkatesham, have not won anything major, but are quite talented. They can beat anyone on their day.”

Alok Kumar said one might witness some surprises because of the short format (100-up). “Some young cueists may cause upsets.”

The former Asian champion said playing at home Indian cueists would enjoy some psychological advantage. “You feel comfortable about playing in familiar conditions. You enjoy the crowd support too,” said Alok Kumar.

India has also fielded its best players for the Asian under-21 snooker championship, which will be played alongside the billiards event. National junior champion Malkeet Singh, finalist Nitesh Madan, Rahul Sachdeva, Vishal Vaya, Dhvaj Haria and National sub-junior champion Ishpreet Chadha will prove their worth in the elite continental event.

Both championships will be played on league-cum-knockout basis.

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