In-form Advani the cynosure at home

Cueists from China, Thailand to challenge the Indian as he targets another title in a big season

In-form Advani the cynosure at home

Enjoying another golden run in his trophy-laden career, Pankaj Advani starts favourite to cap off a spectacular season with a fourth major individual crown when the IBSF World Snooker Championship kicks off here on Wednesday.

Having grown into one of the finest practitioners of the game ever since his path-breaking victory as a shy teenager at the same tournament 11 years ago in China, the 29-year-old Advani will again lead the country’s charge as he returns to the amateur event following a near two-year stint on the professional circuit.

Not for nothing is Advani been hailed as the golden boy of Indian cue sports and many factors support the belief that the Bengalurean could be the man smiling with the trophy when the event reaches its climax at the Sree Kanteerava Indoor Stadium on November 29.

Advani has been in spectacular form this year, first bagging the World 6-red Snooker Championship in Egypt where he became the first cueist to win world titles in the long and short formats of both snooker and billiards.

He followed that up by playing the lead role in helping India win the gold at the World Team Billiards Championship before scoring a sizzling double at the World Billiards Championship, capturing both the point and time format titles.

With that double success in Leeds, United Kingdom, coming just last month, Advani, extremely ruthless when on song, appears on course to regaining the title that has eluded him since the sole triumph in 2003.

Having done pretty well on the pro circuit where he earned plaudits from living legend Ronnie O’Sullivan himself, Advani’s snooker has just become better which was in evidence during the 2013 Indian Open -- a pro-ranking event -- where he lost in the semifinals to Aditya Mehta.

He has warmed up for this event with a small training stint at his training academy in Sheffield – his home during his stay in the UK – where he smashed the maximum 147 break. In home conditions, Advani has plenty going his way and it will take some doing from the other cueists to halt him.

That said, the title won’t be gift wrapped to him with some talented youngsters and a few seasoned names in the fray. Leading that pack would be the newly-crowned Asian champion Thor Chuan Leong of Malaysia.

The 26-year-old, set to play on the pro circuit next year, would be eager to test himself with some of the best amateurs before he begins the tougher journey.

China’s Zhao Xintong, who finished runner-up to his compatriot Zhou Yuelong last time in Latvia, will be determined to go one better while his 14-year-old countryman Yan Bingtao would be eager to showcase his potential. For the record, Zhou was just 15 when he won the title last year, becoming the youngest ever and first Chinese to wear the world amateur snooker crown.

The Thais have also made some decent strides in snooker over the last decade and Boonyarit Keattikun and Kritsanut Lertsattayathorn should be a handful to the English, Scots, Welsh and Irish, all major players in world snooker.

Barring Advani, the Indian challenge doesn’t offer great hope with Kamal Chawla, Manan Chandra and Sourav Kothari expected to make the knockouts but having to punch well above their weights if they desire to grab the title.

Jans favourite

In the ladies’ events, three-time winner and two-time defending champion Wendy Jans of Belgium and talented Thai Ng On Yee of Hong Kong appear favourites for the title.

The 31-year-old Jans is one of the toughest players to beat in the women’s circuit but if there is one cueist who can push her to the limits, it is the 2009 champion On Yee who has been rapid strides since that victory.

Reigning national champion Vidya Pillai will lead India’s charge.

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