Golden designs on baize

From apprentice goldsmith to accomplished snooker player, Pakistan ace Sajjad has come a long way

Golden designs on baize

A decade ago, if Pakistani cueist Muhammed Sajjad had not chosen to take the gamble of competing in a local ranking snooker tournament, today he would’ve been making jewels for the affluent instead of piling up silverware for himself.

Born into a family of fruit merchants in Sargodha province of Punjab, Sajjad lost interest in studies in primary school itself and opted to drop-out. Around 12 years then, he just kept procrastinating, playing with kids in the neighbourhood with no real ambition in mind.

Watching him ruin his precious teenage life, one of his relative who ran a snooker parlour invited him to play a few frames every day. And just like most youngsters who touch the cue at that age, he got addicted to the game but was then forced to stay away from the parlour by his father who wanted him to take up some job instead.

Not willing to enter the fruit-selling business, he took up the job as a goldsmith, making folks at his place temporarily happy. While learning how to make jewellery, he continuously harbored the thoughts of becoming a snooker player but couldn’t give shape to those dreams.

Drawing all the courage he possibly could, he approached his master to grant him 10 days leave so that he could compete in Punjab’s state-ranking tournament which would serve as selections trials for the 2004 National Championship. To his own amazement, he won that tournament after which he decided that snooker was his life and there would be no turning back.

“At home my father wasn’t happy about my snooker career. He would always ask me what I would do playing snooker. Instead he wanted me to go earn my living as a goldsmith because he believed that was my future,” the 28-year-old Sajjad said.

“These arguments went on till 2008, when I went for the Nationals. I told him then that if I didn’t make it I would quit snooker, come back and work as a goldsmith. God willing, I got selected. That is when my family started to support me and asked me to continue playing snooker.”

The years between 2004 and 2008 were a period of change in four-time national champion Sajjad’s life. In 2004 he happened to meet his guru Billal Mughal -- a Qatari residing in Pakistan now – who, upon spotting his talent and desire for snooker, gifted him a cue stick and began to train him.

Taking care of his boarding, lodging and pocket allowances, Mughal tutored Sajjad by showing him videos of the legendary Stephen Hendry. Watching the great Scot, Sajjad learned everything that he wished for before securing his first national championship in 2008.

“Without Mughal saab, I would be nothing today. He took complete care of me and told me to just concentrate on snooker. Of course, folks at home were not initially happy with me taking up snooker. There used to be constant fights at home when I went out to play. But the good thing about me is that I did not cultivate any bad habits like smoking, so my expenses were next to nothing.

“I used to get 40-50 rupees from home every now and then and even after 4-5 days I would still have the money with me because I had no expenses. My travel was taken care of by my ustad (Mughal) and he would provide all my meals. So my only job was to play snooker all day and then go home and sleep. The days when I was very tired, I would sleep at the parlour. My ustad offered me unconditional support, without which I would never have reached here,” he added, his voice portraying the gratitude for the man who changed his life.

Today, Sajjad has achieved what he had set about a decade ago. Trying to mirror his game on the lines of seven-time world champion Hendry, Sajjad is slowly rising among the top snooker players in the continent. The thoughtful approach to the table, time taken for every shot, big break-building capacity, ability to find angles from nowhere — he has all the attributes that could propel him further. All this for a person who has never undergone any formal training and has learnt the game by just watching some of the greats.

Having secured the dream pro tour ticket, Sajjad’s next goal is to shine in the United Kingdom.

“It’s the dream of every snooker player to play on the pro tour. Now that I’ve got a ticket to play there, I would try my best to go there. As you are aware it’s a very expensive proposition to stay and compete on the pro tour. So after this tournament, I need to hunt for sponsors. Hopefully, they will come forward.”

Just like Muhammad Asif, who won the IBSF World Snooker Championship in 2012, Sajjad is poised to give the sport further lift in his country. What Sajjad needs is someone to give wings to his dreams.

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