No. 14: Wilson Jones is billiards world champion

The Hindu Archives

The story so far

Wilson Lionel Garton Jones, grew up watching his uncle, India hockey centre-half OB Massey, play in a Pune billiards saloon close to his home and was hooked. At the age of 18, when he was within permissible age to get into the saloon, Jones burst into prominence. After winning the Evening News of India Snooker Championship in Bombay, he was offered a job at the House of Vissanji and free access to the owner RK "Vadabhai" Vissanji's billiards table. His training schedule was unrelenting. Jones said he had never missed a practice session in 20 years - neither weekends nor on holidays. From 1950 onwards he was to be easily the best billiards player in the country. He made three initial unsuccessful attempts at the world title - starting with 1951 in London, followed by the world championships in Calcutta (1952) and Sydney (1954).

The moment
In 1958, the world championship returned to Calcutta, where Jones hit his stride. The world championships until then had been competed for and won largely by Britons, Australians and South Africans. In Calcutta's Great Eastern Hotel, Jones pulled off the biggest upset in the world game at the time - not only because he became the first Asian to win it, but also in the manner he did it. When the final session began against defending champion Leslie Driffield of England, Jones trailed by 661 points. Mild-mannered, courteous and gentlemanly away from the green baize, when Jones was given his chance at the table in Calcutta he turned into a prowling tiger. He ate into Driffield's lead, ahead with only 15 minutes left, on the back of breaks of 170, 232, 0, 5, 113, 117, 0, 5, 147 and 33. Driffield returned to the table with nine minutes left, but could go no further than 69. Jones came back for an unfinished 123 and the world title was finally his. It made him the first Indian world champion in any sport since the country's independence.

The reaction
"When the world title came to India for the first time, I can safely say that was the happiest moment of my life."
- Wilson Jones

"No other player, professional or amateur, could have conceded such a big lead and still have beaten me."
- Leslie Driffield, former world billiards champion

Expert view
"How he put India on the map in a game which was the white man's exclusive preserve, the manner in which he instilled pride in Indian sportspersons and the inspiration he provided to a whole generation of players who went on to become world beaters at a time when money did not drive the mare, his contribution cannot be viewed only from the narrow prism of the three-ball game. His deeds furthered the cause of Indian sport as a whole to an extent that was remarkable."
- Michael Ferreira, former world billiards champion

The story since
Wilson Jones unsuccessfully tried to defend his world title in Edinburgh, 1960, and then attempted to win it for a second time in 1962 in Perth, but despite close contests against Herbert Beetham and Bob Marshall, Jones was unable to do so. His time though was to come in distant Pukehoke, just outside Auckland, New Zealand in 1964. Unbeaten through the event, he won his second world title in a tournament with a full field, and was equally delighted at the success of his compatriot, a young player like him from Bombay, called Michael Ferreira, who finished third. Jones retired in 1967, after winning his 12th and final national title, beating Ferreira, and having won five national snooker titles in seven finals. He went on to become a valuable mentor, guide, coach and critic to the next generation of Indian cueists - Geet Sethi, Ashok Shandilya, Subhash and OB Agarwal, Devendra Joshi - could dream to emulate.