Cue sports rewind 2017: Pankaj Advani impresses once again but game slips | other sports | Hindustan Times
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Cue sports rewind 2017: Pankaj Advani impresses once again but game slips

Pankaj Advani continued his impressive run in the field of cue sports but the sport suffered plenty of setbacks in an eventful 2017.

Year Ender 2017 Updated: Dec 30, 2017 09:07 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Pankaj Advani was once again the star of cue sports for India in 2017.
Pankaj Advani was once again the star of cue sports for India in 2017.(PTI)

“People blame cricket. But, honestly, we’ve got to thank cricket. It’s because of cricket that many have got into the Indian Premier League… the IPL, in turn, has changed the fortunes of players in so many different sports disciplines. Every sport wants to emulate IPL’s success story,” says Sourav Kothari, who bagged gold in the Asian Indoor Games earlier this year.

In India, cricket is the benchmark for a sport’s popularity. Even Ashok Shandilya, who bagged gold in the 2014 IBSF World Team Billiards Championship, while highlighting the achievements of Pankaj Advani, called the baize sport exponent “the Sachin Tendulkar of cue sport”.

If there is one name synonymous with cue sport for the last two decades, it is Pankaj Advani’s. The 32-year-old has 18 world titles — two of which came at the IBSF World Championship (snooker and billiards) this year —, eight Asian titles, two Asian Games gold and 29 national titles.

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For someone who has made winning titles look like child’s play, Advani finishing lower on the podium doesn’t even make newspaper headlines now. Despite all the titles, Advani and other baize sport exponents seldom get the recognition due to them. However, there’s optimism and the entire cue sport fraternity is pinning its hopes on the Indian Cue Masters League. “Take kabaddi, for instance, and the huge turnaround it has witnessed in the recent past. The first edition of cue slam has been terrific. The ratings we’ve got are fantastic,” Kothari tells Hindustan Times.

The cue slam indeed generated a lot of attention, with the sport that is hardly televised in this part of the world, creating a buzz for an entire week.

Unlike conventional billiards and snooker, the cue slam had made the sport exciting and fast paced. Quick frames, 10-second shots and other makeovers are giving the sport a “T20 look”.

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Still, it will take time for India’s cue sport heroes to become household names.

Shandilya, winner of two gold medals at the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games, says that despite the sport bringing so much glory to the country, it remains a “second citizen” discipline.

“Had it been an Olympic sport, you could have a gold guaranteed from us. We would have bagged at least 10 gold medals, considering the number of world titles we’ve won. We are sort of a second citizen sport in India,” says Shandilya.

However, S Balasubramaniam, secretary, Billiards & Snooker Federation of India, isn’t quite willing to admit that a sport’s popularity hinges upon its inclusion in the Olympic Games.

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“Why are people saying a sport’s popularity is based on whether it’s in the Olympics or not? Winning a world championship title is as good as winning an Olympic medal. We’re trying our best to push cue sports in the Olympics by the 2024 Games, but I can’t see how our players’ performances can be (valued as) any less because of the Olympics (factor),” said Balasubramaniam. Another factor hindering the sport’s popularity is perhaps the technical nuances. Unlike cricket or football, where the most rudimentary objects can be turned into sports gear, cue sport requires a proper setup.

Besides, Kothari feels the sport needs to be promoted in the right manner. “There has to be a professional approach. If professional snooker can be broadcast in Thailand and China, countries which do not have a history like India’s, why can’t we get this sport on television?” he asks, adding, “I feel it should be back in the Asian Games since it was unceremoniously dropped… the authorities concerned should also figure out a way to get it included in the Olympic Games, which will give the sport a massive promotion.”