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Beyond the baize

Pankaj Advani and Geet Sethi represent the hope and glory of snooker and billiards

ONE HAS become a synonym with billiards and another the new hope in the snooker firmament. Geet Sethi and Pankaj Advani, the veteran and the new sensation, were the centre of attraction at the World Billiard Championship being held in Hyderabad.

Certain things in life provide the cue for forthcoming possibilities, - like chopsticks, in the case of Pankaj Advani.

A spectacular cueist from Bangalore, the young lad has the whole world at his feet at just 18. Second youngest in the history of Snooker to win a world title, Pankaj Advani has become an institution by bringing back the World Snooker crown to India, after a hiatus of 19 years. Not very long ago, Pankaj was a sixth-grader in Frank Antony Public School - where he was advised against the game for being undersized.

An undaunted Pankaj set off with chopsticks and marbles in the backyard of the Advani's Fraser town-residence, which almost immediately became an addiction.

Persistence won Pankaj a couple of casual shots - his firsts - at the Karnataka State Billiards Association hall, where his brother Shree used to play. "I was possessed," Pankaj, reminisces his first-time.

"Observation taught me nuances of the game, and former national snooker champion Arvind Savur schooled me in rules and other requisites."

And before his 14th birthday, Pankaj created a stir when he posted century breaks in both snooker and billiards by simply whitewashing seasoned players at the K.S.B.A hall, - the same ones who at an earlier time cocked-a-snook at him, and advised anything but snooker.

His rise is almost akin to his predecessor Geet Sethi, who started playing at the age of 12 and has been cueing just fantastic for the past 30 years since then.

Seven world titles— four World Professional and three IBSF World Billiards Championships, Gold at the 13th Asian Games, a world record of the highest break made in the last five decades, entry into the Guinness Book of World Records , and some of the prestigious awards of the land, Padma Shri (1986), Arjuna Award (1986) and Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award (1992-93). That's Geet Sethi's portfolio.

After winning a string of national billiards and snookers championships, he got his big break — in 1985 and won the World Amateur Billiards Championship that was held in New Delhi, an event that was telecast live. "That transformed the game. People got to know about the game then owing to the telecast. Today there has been tremendous awareness with more youngsters taking to it. You have Pankaj Advani who is 18 and the world snooker champion," says Geet Sethi. Appreciation and applause is coming from all directions for Pankaj Advani. A wee five-feet four-inch frame belies the steely grit and sense of purpose that Pankaj Advani is full of. Having lost his father at an early age, mother Kajal Advani became his support system in all pursuits.

"My lower middle-class background imposed the necessary emphasis on academics," says the world-class champ, currently pursuing a Commerce degree from Jain's College, Bangalore. Crediting his success to prayers of his mom, Pankaj says, "A focussed mind and a clear conscience can conquer any ambition."

The tour to U.K, the sporting -- Mecca of snooker just a month before the world championships helped him tremendously. "I went to UK for training and got a chance to play against the world's best players which gave a new dimension to my game." "When I potted the last ball I just pumped my fist in the air and turned around to see team coach Michael Ferreira and fellow player Yasin Merchant do the same," Pankaj describes his reaction after his career-best act. "The victory is yet to sink in me."

A teetotaller, who inspires himself by reading self-help books, Pankaj exudes tremendous maturity, and assumes a strange calm when he plays, - which according to Geet Sethi "are the two essential ingredients of a good snooker player."

A four-hour practise session interspersed with videos of World Billiards championships is one religious regimen that Pankaj has been following for the last four years. With his eyes set on the World Billiards-title, he is single-minded about it. A trace of wish to meet Britney Spears cannot play down that.


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