The first gold has a special significance. It lifts the spirit of the team, kindles hopes of a rich harvest and, above all, gives direction to a country’s medal quest.
Rifle shooter Gagan Narang frittered away that chance on Saturday after coming within striking distance. But Pankaj Advani had enough fire in his belly to go the distance and give India its first gold — in billiards — at Games Town Gymnasium.
Sundays are usually reserved for leisure, but Advani, the multiple world champion in billiards and snooker, had no time to lie back.
He wanted to win "this one for the country" by "hook or by crook" and retain the title.
The genial 25-year-old from Bangalore, after being taken the distance by Myanmar's Oo Nay Thway Oo, finally stamped his class, clinching the English billiards singles final title 3-2 (33-100, 100-61, 12-101, 101-4, 100-45). Advani's cue looked rusty initially, and his elbow, it seemed, wasn't giving the mind the right commands. But he knew the new shorter format, five frames of 100 points each, wouldn't afford him another chance to claw back.
Losing the first frame 33-100, he looked out of sync and, perhaps, the thought of losing in the World Professional Billiards Championships at Leeds recently would have started to invade the mind. But he came back to win the next frame 100-61 and draw parity. A low-scoring third frame, which he lost 12-101, forced him to take a break. "Yes, the break energised me. When I returned, I felt refreshed."
The strategic break brought his focus back and his cue, though patchy at times, made Thway wary. The 2-2 score-line came with a score of 101-4 and the no-holds-barred decider, there was the customary handshake before the rivals drew their swords went in Advani's favour at 100-45.
Multiple visits to the table later, a beaming Advani hurried to put on his jersey as cameras flashed and the crowd went berserk. "It's a very emotional moment for me. I had been waiting for it. Though I didn't play up to the mark, with the stress of playing three consecutive matches taking its toll, the result is that I still won," said Advani.
"At the Doha Asian Games in 2006, I was the second Indian to win gold, but this time, I've made the beginning which is more encouraging. When I was 1-2 down, I kept telling myself, 'the match is not over yet. My opponent too would be experiencing the same stress'."
"The Asian Games are like the Olympics for me. When you are destined to win, everything goes your way. Plus, I had a huge responsibility on my shoulders as I was the defending champion. I was disappointed after the Leeds (World Professional Billiards Championships) performance, but this victory has made up for all that and more."
With a smile, he said: "I wanted to shamelessly win this title."
Veteran of many a battle, Alok Kumar, set the 8-ball pool table on fire beating the Philippines' Efren Reyes, nicknamed "The Bata Magician", in the preliminary round and then got rid of Lee Poh Soon of Malaysia in the last-16. The ace cueist then beat another Filipino, Ricky Yang, to secure a semifinal berth and with it at least a bronze.