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We need to focus a bit more on sports that do not feature in the Olympics: Pankaj Advani

Pankaj Advani opens up about his journey and the need to popularise cue sports in India, in a chat with The Bridge.

Pankaj Advani (Source: HT)

Pankaj Advani (Source: HT)


Soumya Bontra

Published: 24 Nov 2021 7:07 AM GMT

The Bridge India had a candid Instagram live chat with India's top cueist, Pankaj Advani. Pankaj has won a total of 24 world titles in Billiards and Snookers and has also been honoured with national awards like Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan, Khel Ratna and Arjuna Award.

When asked Pankaj about a day in his life, he said, "On a usual day of preparing for a tournament, I would spend an hour in the gym for core and legs strength. Later, I go for practice and if I feel I'm lacking in my game, I do two sessions a day." Amidst all the practice, Advani makes sure to spend enough time with his family and wife.

Even after winning 24 world titles, Pankaj says winning his first title in 2003 in Snookers, is his most special moment to date. He recalls, "I was not expecting to do anything. When I won the title, it took a lot of time to sink in and for me to believe that I have lifted my first world title at a young age." Pankaj also said that with time he has learnt to handle success and move on to prepare for future tournaments. "The world of sport is very cruel, it only remembers winners and you are only good as your last person."

Pankaj was introduced to cue sports at the age of ten. He was inspired by stories of Billiards player Wilson Jones who had won Independent India's first world title in any sport. Players like Jones and others his coach Arvind Savur, Yasmin Merchant and some other top players in the country inspired him to pursue cue sports as a career.

According to Pankaj, Billiards is not a sport just for the elite. Many players including himself have come from a middle-class background and made it far, "The only investment you really have to make is a cue stick." However, he did acknowledge the fact that access to facilities for cue sports in the country, is a challenge. Pankaj believes India has a lot of talented cueists who need better opportunities to showcase their talent, which will be possible with more tournaments and television coverage. "I think its time for our sport to also go to the shorter formats and just glamorize it a bit more and attract more laypersons to the game," he said.

Pankaj's family has always been very supportive of him when it comes to pursuing a career in a sport that is still considered to be a recreation in the country. "My mother used to worry about me when I was young, but then she saw how passionate I was about the game, and she laid back. In fact, at school, I was always a bright student, but once I started playing Billiards and Snookers, my concentration improved by leaps and bounces. If you show your parents how passionate you are about a particular sport, they will always support and encourage you."

When Pankaj was asked about his opinion on including cue sports, he had a different perspective, unlike many other athletes. He feels like the Olympics is a great event and likes how the entire media, government, organization, fans go crazy, the hype surrounding the mega tournament and respects all the athletes who have won medals at the highest level of the sport. However, Pankaj feels that these events that happen once in four years do not test the consistency of the athletes. "I know what the feeling is to see the tri-colour go up at such events, it's a very emotional moment for an Indian. But am I not representing my country when I'm playing world championships every year? I think I'm doing the same thing. Just because it happens more often, we tend to give less importance to that."

He further explained, "While everyone concentrates on Olympics and Asian Games, we need to look a little more regularly at sports that do not feature in the Olympics. If we really want to consider ourselves a sporting nation, we need to celebrate the achievements of every sportsperson of every different sport."

Pankaj's brother Dr. Shree Advani is a well-known Sport and Performance psychologist, who has worked with various athletes across the globe. Back in 2003, when Pankaj was going through a rough patch in his career, his brother Shree was right there to help him build his self-confidence back. "Sports psychology is still in an initial stage in India compared to the west. This is why so many times we have our athletes coming so close to the finish line and yet not getting us that elusive gold medal. But that's changing now, and people are understanding that mental health is something that needs to be addressed. Having someone like Shree in my life has been tremendously helpful"

When asked about what Pankaj prefers more, Billiards or Snookers, he already had an answer ready for us. "I don't want to differentiate between the two, 'Ba-snooker', if a game I could invent mixing the two, I would do that." With this he signed off, to get back to practice for his future tournaments.

The ace Indian cueist will now be seen in action at the upcoming world championship in January.

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