Grace under pressure

Grace under pressure

Interview Pankaj Advani

Grace under pressure

Even in a land that has produced some of the most glittering cue sports jewels the world has ever seen, Pankaj Advani stands as the first among equals. Now 24, Advani took to the green baize 13 years back, and even then, something about the feeble introvert led people into believing that he would make it big. That belief was not without substance.
With grace and humility, the Bangalorean has touched new heights in India cue sports. His greatest obstacle over the last few years has been Geet Sethi, but through grit and determination, Advani has managed to surmount that hurdle more often than not in recent times.

Six world billiards titles and one world snooker crown are a testament to his genius. At the table, his magic with the cue has left audiences in a trance.

Deccan Herald
caught up with Advani on his return from the World Championships in Leeds, where he secured a breakthrough maiden triumph in professional billiards. 


How has the experience of being the world champion been?

It is a very reassuring experience. Every sportsperson, great or good, needs a moment like this to know where he stands; this is my moment. It has instilled in me a great sense of self belief.

Did you formulate a strategy before leaving for the World Championship?
The selection trials and the three National tournaments before the World Championship helped me a lot, especially the last one in Bangalore where I met the guys I met in the championship. Besides that, I did not do anything special. I just went there with an open mind and it worked.

Time and again, you have said that you enjoy ‘pressure situations’. Where does that stem from?

I’ll have to introspect that aspect of my game. It’s not like I intend putting myself in a pressure situation but it so happens that I, at most times, end up in one. But in such a case, I completely enjoy it. I love the thrill of playing in tough conditions.

You have had a memorable career spanning over a decade. Whose challenges have you enjoyed the most?

David Causier has to be in the top three, simply because of his unconventional style. I enjoyed every second of the quarterfinal match against him. Geet Sethi is just one of the most superb players I have come across. He is such an artist, it’s a joy to watch him play. Mike Russell is a fantastic player but his biggest asset has to be the gift of sublime touch. He has phenomenal touch and it was a dream come true to play him in the final.

How does the responsibility of being the face of cue sports in India weigh on you?
Cue sports has entered a very entertaining phase in India, I love the challenge of being the face. It might sound hard but I am tuned to being in a position to take on such challenges. The onus of being the ambassador of the sport brings out the best in me. I don’t mind playing exhibition matches at a mall or even just a couple of trick shots in front of people, to spread the word.

What part has your family played in your success?

They support me in so many ways. We talk about every situation. The three of us get in and really thrash it out. But the best thing is that they taken in my opinions and also realise that I am the affected party at the end of the day.

How has the Karnataka State Billiards Association impacted your career?

It’s my second home. It’s the mecca of cue sports in India and the fact that it produces so many champions is testament to its quality. It has ten tables under one roof and the best facilities on offer for cueists. I am deeply indebted to them. They have helped me get wild card entries to a number of international tournaments and even reduced my membership fee. They will go out of the way to help an upcoming cueist.

How did you get into cue sports with so many other sports around?

I don’t know how it happened but something about the game attracted me to it. It could be the mesmerising effect the balls had on me, but there was an instant connection. The very first time I struck the ball in a game of pool, I potted it and since then, my passion has persisted.

How has the game helped you on a personal level?

It has helped me grow a lot. It has changed my attitude and it taught me how to take victory and defeat in the same stride. I’ve also got to know the world from a hands-on perspective from all the travelling.

You have had your share of failures in the past. What do you do to overcome the feeling of loss? What keeps you motivated at such times?

With a loss, I go into introspection mode. I look into various aspects that could have gone wrong and it almost always turns out to be the case of not having my mind in place that particular day, so the next day I brace myself to focus and come on top of the challenge. Losing is a great way to learn.

It teaches you more than one can learn with a win. I think it’s primarily the hunger to excel that keeps me going. I don’t know what motivates Roger Federer or Tiger Woods but I guess it’s the same thing that keeps me going. I know that when I hang up my cue stick, people will recognise me as the man who played the sport in its true spirit.

What is your take on the persisting prize money situation in India?

They can do so much more to improve that aspect. But to me, there is so much more at stake. A lot of money will result in a lot of people coming into play but I do not want to commercialise the game. Tennis has remained in its true state but cricket has become too glamorous and very commercialised. Once the sport gets too commercialised, it’s an industry. There should be an increase in the prize money but too much of it can ruin the sport.

Does the fact that the State government has been fairly slow in recognising your remarkable contributions to cue sports affect you?

I will let my performance talk for itself. I believe in the present State government and I know some day they will recognise my contribution to the sport. The government has been in constant touch and have promised a felicitation function on October 12. I will not say anything about it for now. Let’s wait and watch.

What do you have in store for everyone in the near future?

It has been a very tiring week and it does not get any easier. We have the Nationals coming up and it’s going to be be another draining experience. As far as my achievements go, I have done a lot more than anyone expected.
I don’t have to prove anything to anyone anymore. I will love the challenge of defending all my titles in the coming future.

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