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Friday, September 25, 2020

‘The greatest joy is of playing’: The legendary Pankaj Advani on his longest break from sport

Pankaj Advani says what keeps him pushing, even after having won 23 world titles and a Career Grand Slam, is the simple joy of playing and competing.

Written by Dipankar Lahiri | Kolkata | Updated: July 25, 2020 7:52:41 am
Snooker Pankaj Advani, who turned 35 on Friday, is currently on the longest break of his career. (File Photo/IBSF)

It’s been two decades since Pankaj Advani, who turned 35 on Friday, represented India for the first time at a world event. What was a hobby then for a 14-year-old would soon become a passion that would make him the biggest name in cue sports in the country.

Currently on his longest break from the table, Advani says what keeps him pushing for excellence, even after having won 23 world titles and a Career Grand Slam, is the joy of playing and competing against the best.

“In 2019, I won my first Asian Snooker Championship, after having lost in the final four times previously. So, the moral is that you should never give up,” he said in a telephonic interview from Bengaluru.

“However, after a point, it’s not about achievements,” he said. “The greatest joy is the joy of playing, of competing. I will be very grateful when events resume and I just get to play again. We are being kept away from the things we love the most because of the pandemic.”

The International Billiards & Snooker Federation (IBSF) is convening a meeting on August 15 to decide the fate of this year’s World Championships, and Advani is hopeful the sport can make a swifter return than others.

“For cue sports events, there is no particular challenge that the pandemic poses. Of course, we can’t be playing with our face masks on, and the events will have to be closed-doors,” he said.

Longest break in career

Advani said he resumed training last month, but has retreated into his home after Bengaluru recorded an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“It felt great to pick up the cue again in June, but the situation is too bad to step out of my building now. I am grateful for the time I am getting to spend with my mother at home. Given the amount of travelling I have to do, it is nice to finally have some time to unwind, to reflect.

“I am keeping my brain stimulated by playing word games. I am also learning new things, like sweeping and mopping the floor. Why should household chores be defined as the woman’s domain?” he said.

The break came when Advani was riding a wave of success. Last year he became the only player to win the Asian and World championships in all formats of snooker. He is also the only one to do so in both billiards and snooker.

“Many people, including my mother, have been saying they are sorry for me. I don’t feel sorry for myself, this is the situation all around the world. We are all living on hope, in expectation of a better time next year,” he said.

The evergreen achiever

When Advani won his first world title, as an 18-year-old in 2003, the Indian cricket team had won only one World Cup. Greats have come and gone in other sports since then, but Advani — winning world titles by the dozen — has remained the evergreen achiever in his events.

When asked about the disparity in public attention different sports receive, Advani said, “It’s up to the people. If people think winning a bilateral cricket series or winning football matches are more important than cue world titles, then so be it. All I can do is to keep putting up my best performance and raise the Indian flag as high as I can.”

Advani also said there is now a lot more attention on cue sports than earlier, pointing to the number of messages he receives from young enthusiasts on social media.

READ | Don’t understand our country’s obsession with Olympics: Pankaj Advani

“It was in 2002 when I first realised I could win at this. I only needed to take a few more steps. After I won my first world title, ONGC came forward to support me in my career. Youngsters can realistically think of having a career in cue sports these days, because these companies are stepping in more and more if they spot talent,” he said.

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