Having shown guts to enter the cut-throat world of professional snooker at his Sheffield debut in England,Aditya Mehta now needs to show gumption to regrow thick skin every single day,reckons Mehta’s predecessor in the gladiatorial ring – Yasin Merchant. “Get used to erasing memories of yesterday’s matches. And regrow skin. Because out there,they skin you alive!” says the last man to notch a win at the World Snooker Championship,of the day-to-day challenge confronting the Mumbai lad. Mehta secured his first win against Welshman Andrew Pagget after a come-from-behind effort,but pro snooker is a fresh chase day in,day out,Merchant stresses.
It was a fantastic win in a long gruelling match. These are best of 19 matches,and you need a lot of stamina,patience and staying power to last in that ruthless world. I can say Aditya has developed that, is Merchant’s assessment of his junior,someone he considers his favourite contemporary snooker player. Having watched him since his junior days,and spoken to Mehta at length,Merchant believes the youngster is mentally very strong – a pre-requisite for the pro circuit. There was a little chink in his armour which he has conquered. If he can stick to the pro circuit,and not give up,he has the makings of India’s answer to the English pros, merchant beams.
Like the thick skin,there’s also an additional armour that Mehta needs to don,Merchant stresses. He needs to have an aggressive image. Right now he doesn’t appear to be very intimidating,though he has a solid game. He needs to create that aura and hype – like Pankaj Advani has in billiards. He should look invincible to go with his good game. It should be that the top slot’s taken by Aditya,and then the rest can battle it out for the second spot, Merchant urges.
The 45-year-old who retired this last December remembers his big day in the rough alleys of pro snooker,in the course of his six-year long stint. Down 1-8 in the best of 17 contest,Merchant had launched a ferocious rearguard offensive against Top-32 player Carl Broughton. Top-32 was elite category,so it was especially satisfying to fight back from 1-8 down to win 9-8,” he recalls. It remained the biggest comeback of that year – something that gives him goosebumps till date.
However,Merchant prioritised his family and growing up children over the long demanding months expected of a pro,and reasons that it is something Indians will struggle to understand. Its cut-throat because there they play for their daily bread. It’s different when you play with that sort of desperation while they fight tooth and nail for every ball. Even I went there merely to test my skills against the top guys. But I advise Aditya to surge ahead thinking of it as if he has no other choice. And no Plan B,” he stresses. Merchant watched the reigning deity and seven-time champion Stephen Henry then,train for at least 7-8 hours daily,and was quick to realise it was a monkish level of commitment expected.
Aditya looks good enough to challenge the best. He’s taken the plunge – a brave thing which most Indians won’t even dare to,” he says of Mehta,although warning that how Mehta handles success will be equally crucial. “Every day you are ripped apart,or can be,” he says. Still,he senses his own reflection in what Mehta has done up to this point. “He has the guts to try and be different. He’s very dedicated,and wise in his ambitions. He might give it a try for 6-8 months and is looking for sponsors. He’ll take it by the year,but his courage and talent deserves reward,” he stresses,adding that the youngster needs to look invincible,an audacity that the mild-mannered boy might take longer to showcase than just a few months. Good start nevertheless,the Indian legend reckons.