Six-Red snooker is often considered the Twenty20 version of the sport. Shivam Arora,crowned the formats national champion in Mumbai last month,reckons it is more frenzied than T20. Its like a two-over match, he says. In 15-red,an average player will at least give you three or four chances in every frame. In 6-red,even a sub-average player might take the frame at one go. So you have to be extremely consistent. You cannot have a bad day.
During the 6-red nationals,Arora very nearly had one bad day the final. Having taken a 4-1 lead in the best-of-13-frame match against Maharashtra (15-red) number one Hassan Badami,he momentarily took his eye off the ball,and found the scores tied 4-all. Maybe I saw the winning line at 4-1,and my thoughts went out of the game for a moment. And Hassan played really well to make it 4-all.
With the game back in balance,Aroras focus returned,and he took the next three frames to win 7-4.
Arora,who hails from Patna,moved to Pune in 2004 to study at MIT. Self-taught in snooker until then,courtesy the time spent at a pool parlour in his housing society,he had already made a minor splash in the national circuit a year before,facing off against Yasin Merchant,Indias first ever snooker professional,in his first match at the national championship.
As expected,Merchant beat the 17-year-old easily,but the meeting was to sow the seeds of a long-term association between the two. Merchant now mentors Arora,and this,he says,is a vital factor in his road to the 6-red title. Yasin sir helped me through the tournament, says Arora. He did not let me get distracted with the good wins,and taught me a lot about staying focussed.
After moving to Pune,Arora honed his snooker skills with constant practice at Deccan Gymkhana,where he is a member,and at PYC Hindu Gymkhana,where a friend signed him in as a guest. In 2007,when he was part of the junior national team at the Under-21 Asian Championships at Doha,his style evolved further,under the tutelage of national team coach Manoj Kothari.
He watched all my games and helped me with my cueing, he said. Before that,I was a little jerky with my shots,and he helped me understand how to go through the cue ball better.
The same year,he got job offers from Western and Central Railways. This could have gone quite a way towards a secure financial future as a snooker player,but instead of taking up the job,he went to Wales to pursue his MBA. He also ended up furthering his snooker education,managing the Aberystwith Snooker Pier. I was allowed to train for free,and all the people there were very supportive, he said. Im still the break leader on the clubs break board – I once did a 120 clearance.
After returning to India,Arora enjoyed his proudest moment in 2010 – I cannot forget the date – 19th January – when he defeated Geet Sethi during an invitation tournament in Mumbai. The credit has to go to Aditya Mehta.
He told me before the match that there was no point playing safe ties against Geet Sethi and suggested that I give him half chances. Aditya said,if he converts those half-chances,youre going to lose anyway,but if he misses,you have a chance. Each time he missed,I made 40-50 breaks and won 4-2.
Arora also runs a sports management company,Apex Sports Promotions,which last year brought English snooker coach Del Hill to India. Hill,whose distinguished list of pupils includes four-time professional world champion Ronnie OSullivan,made a big impact on him.
He really helped me with my cue power,and my aiming, he said. The top three at the six-red nationals,Hassan Badami,Rovin DSouza and I,had all attended this camp.
Arora also plans to start an academy in Pune. It will be called the Yasin Merchant Snooker Academy,and will be managed by Apex, he says.
In the long term,Arora wants to follow in the footsteps of Merchant,Aditya Mehta and Pankaj Advani and play professional snooker in the UK. That is my ultimate goal, he says.