In pursuit of elusive crown

Bhaskar might have lost five finals at the Nationals but he is in no mood to give up

For the last decade and a half, Balachandra Bhaskar has been searching very sincerely — off late desperately although he hesitates to admit it — for the coveted National crown in billiards.

Striving hard and well aware of what it takes to reach the eventual goal, Bhaskar has either brought the downfall upon himself or has been shut out by a superior opponent, leaving his major dream unfulfilled.

Right from his final loss to the legendary Geet Sethi in the 1998 National Championship — his second appearance in the country’s premier cue sports competition — to the narrow 4-5 loss to Alok Kumar in title clash of the just-concluded event in Gwalior, Bhaskar has emerged runner-up on five occasions.

What has been hugely disappointing for Bhaskar, hailed by Sethi himself in 1997 as one of the finest billiards talents in the country, is despite putting in all the hard yards on and off the table, success just keeps eluding him at the big events that has led to many pundits calling him ‘the biggest underachiever’.

From spending hours at the Karnataka State Billiards Association fine-tuning his craft to yoga to sessions with coaches to even sweating it out at the gym, Bhaskar has tried it all. After falling to the prolific Pankaj Advani in the final of the 2011 and 2012 editions, Bhaskar had a great chance to emerge on top in this year’s final against the equally seasoned but far more successful Alok.

However, just like in 2003 when Alok emerged triumphant in the same city, it was the PSPB cueist who took home the spoils again, seizing on a moment of misjudgment from Bhaskar in the deciding game of a nerve-jangling seven-hour final.

“It’s another learning experience for me,” the affable Bhaskar reflected on the inexplicable loss, choosing not to be disheartened but willing to look at it as another stepping stone.

“This time I was very confident -- in fact cocksure -- of emerging victorious but one error cost me completely. I tried for a top one-cushion cannon and the ball just slid away instead of going square. The tables are so different in Gwalior, but I should have realised it before I played the shot as I played on the same tables en route the final.

‘Tough fight’

“I put in so much effort coming into this Nationals. It is definitely not pressure because now I’m able to cope with it much better than 10 years ago. I didn’t lose embarrassingly but gave Alok a tough fight. Had the rub of the green gone my way, I would be talking in a different way. But, such is sports, you never know what to expect. Most people work equally hard, but success shines on just a few,” added the 41-year-old.

The biggest problem that plagued Bhaskar during his early days was adapting to new conditions, very crucial for tasting success outside his home venue.

He would struggle with his technique, finding it very difficult to come to terms with changes in cue action, grip and pace of the table at competitions outside Karnataka. After working with a few coaches and even resorting to meditation to overcome some emotionally difficult periods in his life, Bhaskar finally came to a realisation a couple of years back — only he can help himself.

“Many former players would say you’re going wrong in this aspect of the game. But, they would hardly offer any correctives. Even if they did, they wouldn’t want to spend time with me as I am not a world champion or national title holder. What I needed at that time was someone to stay with me. However, I realised if I had to succeed, I need to put in the effort myself. So, I set my objectives in the last 4-5 years and went about pursuing it. It’s difficult to balance business and billiards as I need the former for survival — I’m not employed like the other top cueists in the country — and the latter to make a name.
“Each time I’ve been coming close but that final hurrah has been elusive. Maybe luck is not on my side, because at times you need that. Hopefully, lady luck shines on me in the next edition,” said Bhaskar.

Completely assured of his technique now and confident of removing the monkey off his back in time to come, Bhaskar said his goals in the current year would be to aim for the gold in the Asian Billiards Championship in April followed by the Asian Indoor Games in Incheon, South Korea.

“The Nationals is done and dusted and as I said earlier, I don’t regret the loss although it hurts a bit. However, the two Asian bashes offers me a chance to redeem myself and I’m gunning for glory despite the higher level of competition. Then there’s the World Billiards Championship in September-October. I know nobody would be placing their money on me but I’ll give it my best shot,” Bhaskar said.

Success may have eluded him until now but as the saying goes, hard work always pays and Bhaskar will have to keep the faith in that adage as he journeys on.

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