Having achieved the only laurel that was missing in his cupboard, newly crowned world professional billiard champion Pankaj Advani
Pankaj’s parents and elder brother Shree were settled in Kuwait, where Pankaj spent the first five years of his life. His mother came down to Pune for a month for his delivery.
In June 1990, Pankaj and his family went to the US for a holiday. On the way back, they were in transit in Belgrade when they came to know that Kuwait had been invaded by Iraq and that they could not return. Perforce, they had to go to India.
Pankaj’s father passed away when Pankaj was just six and his brother 14.
Pankaj’s first tournament was the BS Sampath Memorial Handicap Tournament. Both brothers made it to the final. Pankaj beat his brother convincingly.
He broke records in state and national ranking tournaments at the junior and senior levels. He became the youngest senior national champion at the age of 17 (in snooker) breaking Geet Sethi’s record (20 years). He then brought home the IBSF world snooker title in October 2003, being the youngest Asian to do so. He brought the trophy back to India after 19 years (when OB Agarwal had won it).
Pankaj managed his schooling and sports career very well. He was the head boy at the Frank Anthony Public School in 12th grade. He finished his B.Com from Mahaveer Jain College with 75 per cent.
Pankaj’s brother Shree runs a coaching, wellness and behavioural training company to help young cricketers achieve peak performance.
In 2005, Pankaj won the junior and senior National Billiards title, the Asian Billiards title and the Double World Billiards titles in Malta. In the points format, he beat Devendra Joshi and in the time format, he got the better of Geet Sethi. He was the first person in the history of billiards to have won all five titles in one season. He was the first to have the double World Billiards title as well.
At present, he puts in about five hours of practice a day. When he started playing, it would be about eight hours on the weekends and vacations and about three hours on schooldays.
His coach, Arvind Savur, practices with him. Had it not been for him, Pankaj says he would have not reached where he is today.
“It’s always tough winning any world championship, simply because you have to beat the best in the business,” he said, as he prepared to leave for India. “It’s a great feeling and I can now play in peace because no body would come and tell me that I have not won a professional billiards title,” the soft-spoken cueist said.
Advani became only the second Indian, after Geet Sethi, to win the coveted title and the Khel Ratna awardee said it was a special feeling. “Records are meant to be broken but when you think that you are only the second Indian to achieve it, it makes the feeling special.”
Meanwhile, the baize sport fraternity in India is ecstatic. “It’s a fantastic achievement to beat Mike Rusell in England,” gushed the former three-time world amateur billiards champion Michael Ferreira. “I think he is ready for world professional snooker,” Ferreira said.
“He has achieved today what I predicted earlier. He had beaten top three players, including compatriot Geet Sethi and Mike Russell in his last three games. He was due for it,” said Ashok Shandilya, the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games gold-medallist.
Advani’s coach Arvind Savur was overjoyed. “I have no words to describe my happiness. I was a bit surprised at the result, because Russell is undoubtedly one of the greats of modern era. Though I knew that at some point, Pankaj would beat Russell, it still was a surprise, a pleasant one at that, to me,” said Savur.
National coach Manoj Kothari wasn’t surprised. “It was coming. Advani has been a great player and even in his game against Russell he knew he had to take a huge lead. He managed that with six century and a double-century break.”
“This will garner a lot of interest in the World Snooker Championships we are hosting in November. Moreover, it will give Indians the confidence for future events like the Asian Indoor Games and the Asian Games next year,” said Ravi Tandon, the BSFI vice-president.