'Relieved' Advani wins 12th billiards crown

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It was tough to tell that a world title had been won. Pankaj Advani was a picture of relief following the five-hour final, having worn down defending champion Peter Gilchrist 6-3 in the World Billiards Championship (points format) in Bengaluru on Monday.

The muted celebrations could probably be ascribed to the dozen-odd world titles that line Advani's cabinet - 15 to be precise, with this being his 12th billiards crown. To think he is all of 31, a towering feat by any measure.

"I'm extremely relieved to win this title," Pankaj said, after the match. "Given that I've played very little billiards this year and winning it at home is special." Advani had lost to Sourav Kothari in the pre-quarterfinals of the long up format last week.

The points format is a shorter version of the game with players needing to score 150 points to win a frame with the final being played in a best of 11 frames.

"I'm glad I've come through. The shorter format of the game is more or less a lottery. Of course you need the skill and ability, but certain things don't go your way and the opponent can just run away with the match. I'm glad that I've been able to use my presence of mind which has been lacking at times because I played a lot of snooker this year and very little billiards. I gave it my all."

Getting off to a good start, Advani came agonizingly close to a century break - 98 - in the opening frame before his visit was cut short by the baulk line regulation, a factor which Advani conceded bothered him even during the latter part of the match.

According to the rules, when a break is anywhere between 80-100 points, a player should bring his cue ball to cross the baulk line, or the straight line on the table behind which the cue balls are usually placed at the start of the game.

"I had an 86 in the seventh frame and I was thinking of the baulk line. I was troubled by it a little," he said. The Karnataka Snooker and Billiards Association (KSBA) last hosted the world billiards championship in 2008, with Advani winning the title in both the formats.

A welcome sight on Monday though was the packed spectators' arena, at times to the chagrin of the players during crucial breaks, as they were more than occasionally distracted by movements. Gilchrist, though, later acknowledged that the crowds reminded him of similar scenes from two decades ago in India, when he played alongside Michael Ferreira.

Errors were a constant with both players and Pankaj later explained that there was a lot more than what met the eye.

"The table was very tricky," he said, "Both of us acknowledged that it was difficult. Peter found the throw of the cushion tough while for me the balls were not splitting as much. Suddenly it came back to normal later on. In India when you talk about a damp pitch everyone understands, but when you talk about bouncy tables and split being less everyone says it's simple errors.

"There could have been more centuries in match", Pankaj added. "I felt I did well with my 70s, 80s, 90s as well. As long as you're keeping the scoreboard ticking, you're opponent will feel the pressure."

Up 4-3, Advani gave Gilchrist little wriggle room to mount any sort of a comeback. "I actually applied myself a lot in the eighth frame. I said this is the frame you need to win. Once you're 5-3 up, it's not easy for any player to comeback." It paid off.

A challenge for Advani has been juggling between snooker and billiards - both requiring different skill sets, practice and approach. Just ahead of this tournament, he finished with bronze in the IBSF World Snooker Championship.

India is set to host the next four editions of the World Billiards Championship, a heartening and much-needed impetus for the sport's sagging fortunes in the country.