Calcutta: In sports, world titles are always special. Unfortunately, while the winner savours the triumph, the volume of accolades vary according to the popularity of the game.
So while Pankaj Advani and Rupesh Shah's triumphs in World Billiards, in Leeds, are achievements of the highest order, one shouldn't be surprised if the layman asks 'Pankaj who?'. But the times are changing, or so says the cue sports fraternity.
"We are living in the age of information, isn't it? So things get highlighted much more than they used to be earlier… Gradually, cue sports is also finding its place in news and that's a welcome change," said Michael Ferreira, a three-time world champion.
Manoj Kothari, who had won the world title in 1990, expressed a similar view. "Look, it's a fact that cue sports do not get the same publicity as cricket… But we understand that not always is it the media's fault. The good news is that things are changing… People ask about the competition, they take interest in it and you can also watch the live streaming of the matches," Kothari said.
Both the former players were lavish in their praise for Pankaj and Rupesh.
Speaking about Pankaj, who now has eight world titles (seven in billiards) under his belt, Ferreira said: "He has been playing extremely well. He is in tremendous form… Defeating someone like Mike Russell in the final is not easy and Pankaj has done a great job. We should be proud of him. His victory is a big boost to the game."
Kothari explained things further. "This was the first time that a unified World Billiards tournament was being held… So, all the top players were participating… In fact, there was a record number of entries this time…
"Competing with the likes of world No. 1 David Causier and Russell, and emerging as the champion is a great achievement. Pankaj played a consistent game and that ultimately helped him clinch the title," Kothari said.
Kothari lauded Rupesh, who is the owner of three world titles, too. "Rupesh was outstanding… He controlled the final against Matthew Bolton… And if you consider the fact that he beat Russell and Peter Gilchrist on the way to the title, you understand how well he played."
As the meet was jointly organised by the IBSF and the WPBSA, one would assume that the competition this time was much tougher than it has ever been in the past. But Ferreira would not agree to that point.
"You can't simplify things like that… Every era has its own competition… To say that when we had won the title without any competition would be very wrong. Whoever wins the world title is a champion, you cannot differentiate between them," he said.
However, both Ferreira and Kothari are of the view that India, and not England, dominate the sport at the moment. "That we have won both the titles ' the points format and the timed format ' proves how dominating the Indians are at the moment," Kothari said.
Kothari also revealed an interesting fact which could be the reason of envy for many other sporting disciplines of the country. According to him, cue sports in India have the sound backing of both the government and the corporate giants.
"The sports ministry has always helped us with grants… Even in the just concluded World Billiards, the government bore the cost of the Indian contingent.
"There was a problem when we were told that there would be no grant this time as the 2014 Asian Games, to be held in Incheon, South Korea, will not have cue sports… But that problem has been solved.
"The corporate backing has also been very good… Companies like ONGC, Indian Oil and Bharat Petroleum help promote the sport by sponsoring the players," Kothari added.