For those who followed local snooker in the 90s, the name Saleh Mohammad will ring a bell.
Born in Afghanistan, Saleh moved to Pakistan and represented the country as a professional cueist. His nomadic story, however, continued when he moved back to his country of birth but did not pack his cue and is now representing Afghanistan.
With no financial worries, Saleh escaped the hardships which have often entangled top athletes. Inspired by his elder brother, Saleh pursued the sport and went one step ahead, turning pro at the age of 22 in 1995.
The cueist, despite no early coaching, displayed a glimpse of his potential on the professional circuit. He made it to the semi-finals of the IBSF World Championship and then bagged a bronze medal at the 2002 Asian Games in the team and doubles category.
In 2003, he forced his way into the final of the IBSF World Championship on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run only to be stunned by Indian teen sensation Pankaj Advani.
Like many sportsmen, Saleh claims to have made it on his own without any support from the Pakistan government.
“I always played an instinctive game,” Saleh told The Express Tribune from Kabul. “But I went on making it to the finals of the [amateur] World Championship. I wanted to become the second man after Mohammad Yousuf to be crowned world champion from Pakistan but couldn’t do so. I was expecting rewards back home but didn’t get a single rupee which disheartened me. My efforts had gone unnoticed which hurt me but I continued to represent Pakistan.”
He then achieved one of the biggest feats in the game — racking up a perfect break of 147 in the 2008 Asian Championship against Vietnam’s Nguyen Nhat Thanh. The 39-year-old added that he also raised his voice to improve the standard of snooker but to no avail, prompting him to retire at the end of 2008.
“The 147 remains the highlight of my career because it’s a dream of every cueist. I am the only Asian player to have achieved this landmark which makes me proud. I decided to retire in protest – in December 2008 – because I couldn’t bear such injustice where cricketers were showered with cash awards on normal victories and I wasn’t given anything.”
Residing in Peshawar, security became a big question as well and that prompted Saleh to move back to his homeland. He recalls when he went back to Kabul that things had changed and developmental work could be seen. He followed up with something that was to inspire younger players as well by building a professional Afghan Snooker Club. While the club was to initially be a business model, it soon became a training centre to groom players.
Saleh has continued to excel for Afghanistan, while the standard dropped in Pakistan. This is imminent from the fact that national cueists Mohammad Asif and Sultan Mohammad failed to get past the group stages in the Asian Championship while Saleh made it to the quarter-finals.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 13th, 2012.
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