Mumbai: Twenty three world titles, but no awakening (accolades and recognition) in the country. This is the bitter reality of Pankaj Advani, the world billiards champion, who returned home from Myanmar after hoisting our National flag for the 23rd time in 16 years of his career.
It was his fourth straight final in 150-up format at International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) World Billiards Championship and he captured the team event title in World Snooker with Aditya Mehta.
Born in Pune, and brought up in Bangalore, Advani has been synonymous on the green baize since he was ten. The cueist has no regrets about the step-motherly treatment this sport is facing, as he says, “It is due to the passion and the love for the game I have been winning for the country.”
For the Padma Bhushan, Padma Shri, Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna, Arjuna Award for Billiards & Snooker, Advani’s trophy-laden journey began, starting with the IBSF World Snooker Championship in China, at 18.
“That was the first, and it was a perfect Diwali gift. It was in October as I had an opponent from Pakistan. I went there as nobody and returned as someone special,” said Pankaj recalling his first world title.
“I still remember the day (Saturday) and 25th of October,” said the 34-year-old about his debut in the international arena. He also has the highest break of 137 in 16 hundred breaks as a player.
These cue sports (snooker/ billiards) require different techniques and styles but Advani has stamped his authority on both while his contemporaries preferred playing in just one format.
“It has been my mother and brother (sports phycologist) who have played a big role in moulding me in what I am today,” said the Frank Anthony Public School passed out. Talking about sledging, Advani said that it was different, but it still exists.
“There are instances wherein players do such things. I would not do sledging, but something related to that. If I play the game fast, the opponent will play just the opposite (slow), or sometimes he would stand or sit in a place in front of his rival while he takes the shot, these are few ways to distract the players. However, it is part of the game.”
Advani does not want to compare this sport with other games, but he urges the concerned people in the government to acknowledge the game and its players who have brought laurels to the country. “Every country worships a sport; badminton in Indonesia, football in Brazil, athletics in Kenya, so on and so forth. In our country it is cricket.
But in India, the media hype is just for cricket which many would agree. So I would say spare some space for other sports too, and especially to cue sports which are completely neglected.”
Advani returns home for a week before heading out to Australia for the long format of the World Billiards Championship in the first week of October.
For Advani, all the name and fame are by-products. One has to have passion and love for whatever s/he does to live life king/ queen size in each walk of life.