Advani leads challenge

Having decided to give the International Snooker Championship a miss, former winner Pankaj Advani will lead the Indian challenge in the World Billiards Championship that begins at Leeds on Thursday.

Although his decision to withdraw from one of snooker’s marquee events after coming through a tough qualifying event has not gone down too well with the Chinese snooker authorities, Indian fans will be glad that the 27-year-old chose to travel to England to compete in an event that he relishes.

The Bangalorean had a good build-up to the world bash, anchoring his team ONGC to victories in both the billiards and snooker team events in the inter-petroleum championships in Mizoram. The favourite for the title, however, is defending champion Mike Russell. Originally from England but now based in Qatar, the 16-time world champion will once again prove a hard nut to crack.

Other contenders for the title include former champions Peter Gilchrist and Geet Sethi, who alongside Russell are the only players to have made a competitive 1,000-point break in the modern game. Also expected to mount a strong challenge this year is 10-time Australian champion Matthew Bolton who last year recorded a break of 831 on his way to the final of the time format.

Apart from the competition, this is the first-ever unified World Billiards Championship, jointly organised by two world governing bodies. The newly formed World Billiards Limited has brought together the International Billiards & Snooker Federation and World Professional Billiards & Snooker Association events for the unified World Championship.

This will also be the first time women and junior players will be competing alongside the men. R Umadevi and Arantxa Sanchis are the two women participants from India.

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