Another splendid season
Looking back Cue sports
Advani, Mehta came up with stirring displays on world stage
The two young stars of Indian cue sports -- Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta -- enjoyed a brilliant season as the green baize game once again kept the country’s tryst with international success in a year of wonderful returns.
Although both are aged 27, Advani has constantly overshadowed Mehta since his junior days and the duo’s determined efforts for various reasons made sure that cue sports had a productive 2012, underlining the nation’s strong presence on the international arena.
Both enjoyed some promising outings in the professional snooker circuit en route to earning a ticket for the prestigious International Snooker Championship and both won national and international titles.
Firstly though, Advani, who began the year on a brilliant note, ended it in an equally astounding fashion. After annexing the Asian Billiards title for a record fifth time in April, the Bangalorean finally decided to take the plunge into the demanding world of professional snooker.
Having said a firm no many times in the past that left many questioning his abilities against the best in the business, the Bangalorean decided to take the long trip to Old Blighty this season when he earned his ticket after finishing runner-up to Aditya Mehta in the Asian Snooker Championship.
Despite his self-imposed absence in the professional snooker world, Advani showed that he can be an equally strong force in snooker as compared to his first love -- billiards – notching up wins over former World No 1s Steve Davies and John Higgins, besides some higher-ranked players.
Advani also booked his entry for the International Snooker Championship along with Mehta, the duo dishing out a strong show in the qualifying event, making it the first time that two Indians would be participating in the big bash.
However, that was not to be as Advani opted out of it, choosing to compete in the World Billiards Championship owing to a clash of dates that created quite a stir.
Despite the criticism that came his way, Advani stood his ground and vindicated his decision by regaining the World Billiards crown, downing the legendary Mike Russell in a lop-sided final.
With the national title to boot earlier in the year, Advani completed some stunning feats. He became the youngest to win eight world titles, and for the third time in his spell-binding career, he held the national, Asian and World billiards crown (he earlier did it in 2005 and 2008), capping another extraordinary year following a gloomy 2011.
Despite his immense potential, Mehta has always had to play second to Advani and 2012 showed that in time to come he too will emerge as another strong force. He claimed his second successive national snooker title, beat Advani in the final of the Asian Snooker Championship that not only ended India’s eight-year title drought at the continental bash but also sealed his ticket for the pro circuit.
After failing to hold onto to his spot in 2011-12 season, Mehta began 2012-13 in superb fashion by almost qualifying for the season-opening Wuxi Classic before losing in the final qualifying round. He lost in the final round of the Shanghai Masters but reached the main stage of the marquee International Championship, where he surprised one and all with a last-16 appearance, matching veteran Yasin Merchant’s performance almost two decades ago.
India were not left out in the women’s department. Veteran R Umadevi Nagaraj ending years of underachievement by claiming her maiden World Billiards Championship with a fine show that left many stunned and speechless, including herself.
While two world and Asian titles is a phenomenal achievement by any standards, the Sport Authority of India didn’t think so when they decided to cut funds for the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India as it is neither an Olympic nor Asian Games sport. However, thanks to the intervention of then Sports Minister Ajay Maken, the issue was sorted out at the earliest without any fuss. One can now only look forward to another promising year.