New Delhi: Pankaj Advani’s name continued to sum up Indian cue sports for yet another year as the long-time posterboy took his world title count to an unprecedented 15.
It started with Advani clinching his 13th world title after winning the World 6-Red Snooker Championship convincingly in August. Defending champion outplayed Chinese Yan Bingtao 6-2, stamping his authority on the green baize in the final in Karachi.
Bengaluru’s ‘Golden Boy’ continued his fine run to win the World Billiards Championship after outplaying Singapore’s Peter Gilchrist in the title clash.
The win also came as a sweet revenge for Advani as he had lost the final of the point format championship to Gilchrist. On a roll, the unstoppable Advani pocketed his 15th world crown in November after battling past his Chinese opponent Zhua Xintong in a tough final in Hurghada, Egypt.
He once again mesmerised the audience to prevail over the teenage sensation 8-6 in the best-of-15 final. He also became the first person in history to take the short (6-Red) and the long snooker format in the same calendar year.
This was Advani’s first 15-Red Snooker title since 2003 when he won the crown in China. But Egypt proved lucky for the champion, who had won his first 6-Red world title here last year.
Earlier, the ace cueist started the year with a bang when he won the National Billiards and Snooker Championships in January.
Advani faced some resistance from Dhruv Sitwala in the National Billiards final but managed to emerge triumphant and then got past Varun Madan to clinch the snooker title.
This was the fourth time in his career that Advani has won both the billiards and snooker national titles. Advani also has seven senior national billiards titles, taking the total count to 26 in all age groups.
Indore’s Amee Kamani, on the other hand, won her maiden title when she defeated experienced Vidya Pillai in the Ladies Snooker finals.
The year also saw the emergence of young champions with Chinese teenagers Bingtao and Xintong making their presence felt. Both the players lost their respective finals to Advani but not before giving a glimpse of their brilliance and what may follow if they continue the good work.
Bingtao, 15, who was the youngest player to win the Amateur World Snooker Championship in 2014, showed his calibre in the 2-6 loss against Advani in the World 6-Red Snooker Championship, while Xintongl gave Advani a scare in the World Snooker Championship before finally going down 6-8.
For many who saw the final in Hurghada vouched that they not only witnessed top snooker on display but also a future champion in Xintong.
Advani also believe that China and Thailand have an excellent pool of aspiring snooker players, saying that Xintong is a future champion.
“I am extremely thrilled because I have played high quality snooker and stayed on top of this Chinese kid because I think he is definitely going to be a future world champion very soon,” Advani had said in a PTI interview after his win.
The sport though ran into some controversy in the country when some deserving cue stars were left out in the Arjuna Awards list and top cueists including Advani were vocal in their displeasure regarding the snub.
Asian billiards champion Sourav Kothari also requested the sports ministry to reconsider his nomination for the Arjuna award as a denial he thought would also “affect” aspiration of thousands of talented young cueists.
The Billiards and Snooker Federation of India (IBSF) issued a media note when 2013 World Snooker Champion Vidya was not included in the Arjuna list.
It opened up a can of worms, with many cuesport players alleging that they even have not got their due in terms of money returns by the Central Government despite their consistent performances on the green baize.
Controversies apart, the year saw an auction take place for the first time in the sport with players in the second edition of the Mumbai-based Billiards Premier League going under the hammer.
Team Ottomans skipper Dhruv Sitwala, who won his first international title — the Asian Billiards Championship — in April was the most expensive player, going under the hammer for Rs 38,500 at the auction.
Meanwhile, Indian women cueists also made significant strides in their respective events as the World Billiards in Adelaide was an all-India affair with Maharashtra’s Arantxa Sanchis edging past veteran Bengaluru cueist Revanna Umadevi Nagaraj.
The country also hosted its second edition of the world ranking tournament, Indian Open in Mumbai.
Welsh cueist Michael White lifted the trophy to clinch his first world ranking title with a 5-0 thrashing of English pro Ricky Walden in the final in March.
Indians though had a forgettable outing in the 3000,000 pound sterling event with Advani bowing out after losing a thriller 3-4 against young Scottish rival Rhys Clark.
Five other Indian wildcards also lost out on the same day, but the event was a major success.
The home challenge finally came to a grinding halt after India’s lone pro tour card holder Aditya Mehta, runner-up in the first edition, went down 2-4 to Walden in the second round.
But Advani’s achievements in the months that followed more than made up for any slip by the Indian cueists and the posterboy once again made his cue work like a ‘magic wand’ to bring a smile to the Indian fans.