Pankaj Advani's presence in the team is enough to instil confidence. And when the squad also has a certain Geet Sethi, the feel of invincibility automatically rubs off on the team-mates.
As the 16-member Indian baize sport contingent embarked on its quadrennial journey to the Asian Games in Guangzhou, the expectations will certainly be on the two leading lights of Indian baize sport who have won every trophy, medal and award the cuesports world has to offer.
Advani, just 25 and a world champion many times over in billiards and snooker, would be hoping to retain his title he won four years ago in Doha (Qatar). The World Profession Billiards setback at Leeds recently, where he lost to countrymate Dhruv Sitwala is history and the champion from Bangalore is all keyed up after a fortnight-long stint with legendary snooker coach Derek Hill. "Not so much in billiards, but the stint with Hill has certainly helped me, even though it was for only three days. I was away in Leeds for the Worlds and missed the full duration of the camp," said Advani. On his medal prospects in both billiards and snooker, Advani says, "There is definitely a lot of pressure of expectation (to defend the billiards title). Hopefully I am able to live up to it. Between billiards and snooker, we have a better chance of clinching gold in the former. The Doha Asian Games, where I clinched the gold while Ashok Shandilya bagged silver in billiards was ideal. Hopefully, Geet and I do it this time around."
On the overall medal prospects in baize sport, the champion says he expects at least 3-5 medals, given that the ladies too would be playing a few events for the first time. The baize exponent rates the competition at the Asian Games even higher than the World Championships. "At the Worlds, it's the skill which clinches you titles, but at the Games, it's no so much as skill but the ability to handle pressure. Even a one-hour session - even less - is enough to make or break your medal prospects," says the youngster.
Geet Sethi is confident too. He felt if all goes well, India should end up with a few medals in billiards and snooker. National coach Manoj Kothari also felt India have the potential of winning at least four or five medals. "Don't be surprised if we do well in the pool events (eight/nine-ball)," he said. "As far as billiards and snooker go I am expecting medals. If Geet and Pankaj are in flow, they are unstoppable. Even in snooker, I am expecting a few medals. Pankaj should step on the podium, so should the team. In the women's also I am expecting medals in snooker."