It has been four years since nine-time former world champion Geet Sethi ended a successful billiards and snooker career. The last five years have also seen 30-year-old Pankaj Advani surpassing Sethi’s records with 16 world titles so far. The 55-year-old Sethi, who lives in Ahmedabad, has also seen the changes in the sport as well as the rise of Advani in snooker and short formats of snooker. Sethi was in Chandigarh during the Asian Billiards Championship and spoke with Chandigarh Newsline on the changes the sport has seen, the rise of Pankaj Advani, the challenges for the sport and what separates billiards from snooker.
Chandigarh is hosting the Asian Billiards Championship. How do you see the event and the region players?
The fact that Chandigarh is hosting such a big event is a good thing for the sport in the region. For me, Punjab is the land of Alok Kumar. Coming from a small town, Mandi Gobindgarh, he went on to achieve success at the world level and now he is also playing his part in organising such championships, apart from playing. When such tournaments happen, it certainly helps the players to see 16-time world champion Pankaj Advani in action, it would be a thing to remember for the young players in the city and region.
How do you see the transformation of Indian players from the late 1990’s to the present and how has the sport changed in the last four decades?
How I see the transformation is that in the 1980’s and 1990’s there were only 3-4 players who were dominating the game. After 2010, once Pankaj Advani came to the scene and won the world titles, the other players like Sourav, Rupesh and Dhruv have shown their hunger for the titles and it means the game is alive and players are inspired by Pankaj. Talking about the game itself, it has not changed much. I believe the younger players are more competitive and are eager to try new things. If at all something has changed, it is the format of the game. Table tennis and badminton did that and this is the biggest change in our sport. 60 years ago, there used to be 21-day game and then four-day long and then eight hours to four hours. Now it is for about one hour and in snooker it is even lesser.
Pankaj Advani has won in billiards and snooker far more than any other Indian player. How do you see him balancing both?
My opinion has always been that it is very hard to play both the games at the world level. But Pankaj has proven me wrong. There are subtle differences in cue action in both the sports. Billiards is a game of finesse, softness and control whereas snooker is about power and hitting. It is very tough to maintain consistency in both and that’s where Pankaj’s mental strength comes to play its part. Mentally, billiards is a game of continuity where you stay for more than 20 minutes, the frame is yours. Snooker is a game of stop and start. Pankaj has managed this well and he is very strong in his mind. I think of all the world champions since Wilson Jones, he has the best mind. Earlier we used to say that Ashok Shandiliya has a super mind. When the chips were down, we would say send Ashok. But Pankaj has surpassed all and has made himself legendary.
You also are the founder of the Olympic Gold Quest providing support to Indian players. Can you tell us about the initiative?
The idea of setting up OGQ came to our mind in the early 2000’s and Prakash Padukone and I founded the organisation. Now, former world chess champion Viswanathan Anand has also joined us and the team is managed by former Indian hockey player Viren Rasqina. So far, OGQ has identified more than 60 players in the 12-14 years category and our focus now should be 2014 Olympics. It has to be a coordinated effort for juniors and the present players preparing for 2020. We now support 89 players including 42 senior players aiming for 2020 Olympics.