Cueist Hamza Akbar is set to become the first-ever player from Pakistan to play in the Snooker Professional Circuit. The honour had proven to be a dream out of the grasps of even former IBSF World Champions Muhammad Yousuf and Muhammad Asif, but the journey has not been an easy one for Hamza — with the youngster facing a barrage of doubt throughout his career.
“I just can’t believe that in a few weeks’ time, I’ll be the first Pakistani snooker player to play in the professional circuit, especially considering I had thought about quitting the game very early in my career,” Hamza told The Express Tribune.
Read: Hamza sweating over UK visa, work permit
The 21-year-old built an association with snooker from a very young age and took part in his first tournament as a fifth-grader. During his schooldays, Hamza would go to snooker clubs without the knowledge of his parents. In order to escape the possibility of being beaten if caught, Hamza would ask his elder brother to cover for him whenever he went to play.
“I won my first tournament at a local club as a fifth-grader, beating much older players than me at the Sherry Gold Snooker Club in Faisalabad,” said Hamza. “I caught the eye of its owner, Haji Akram, who said he will help me get proper coaching in Sargodha.”
Haji Akram was the one who convinced Hamza’s parents to let him dabble in snooker. “I told Haji Akram that I am not even allowed to play snooker, let alone go to another city to train for it,” said Hamza. “He then talked to my parents and I was soon on my way to start my coaching with Bilal Mughal in 2008.”
Read: Snooker World Championships: IBSF extends deadline for cueists’ entries
The training paid quick dividends as Hamza played the final and qualified for the World Junior Championship in 2009 in his first attempt at the national junior level. But then came three year of frustration as Hamza could not get a single international event and was limited to training and domestic competition.
Despite his obvious talents, Hamza’s parents continued to push him to prioritise his studies over snooker and in 2012 asked him to abandon the sport altogether.
“I requested my parents to give me just 12 more months and told them that I would quit the sport if I failed to achieve my goals,” said Hamza. “There was lot of pressure on me as I had to qualify through the Punjab Cup and was up against all the best players of Pakistan. Luckily, I was able to play the finals and got through to the national senior level.”
Hamza’s introduction to the national senior level was as impressive as his introduction at the junior level, becoming the youngest-ever national champion aged just 19 in 2013.
He was rewarded with a berth in the Asian Championship which was played in Pakistan that year, while he was also able to get a 12-month sponsorship from an audio equipment firm.
The resistance from home decreased for some time but once his sponsorship came to an end, his parents once again pushed him to either continue with his studies or find a job rather than focus on becoming a professional snooker player.
Read: Pro Snooker World Cup: Snooker chief satisfied with Sajjad, Hamza
Hamza won his second national title in 2014 and the victory came to his rescue, winning him a contractual job in NBP thanks to the bank’s sports head and former Test cricket Iqbal Qasim. Financially secure, Hamza went on to play in the semi-finals of the Asian 6-Red Championship in Karachi and has not looked back ever since.
“I became a regular feature in the senior Pakistan squad in 2014,” he said. “My parents have stopped questioning my choice and their support propelled me to the Asian title.”
Despite becoming a bona fide star in snooker circles at such a tender age, Hamza remains grounded and says he could not have become the player he is today without the support of senior players such as Shahid Aftab, Asif, Muhammad Sajjad, Imran Shahzad, Asif Toba and Shahram Changezi.
The cueist also praised Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association President Alamgir Sheikh and his team for actively promoting the game. “Young players are taking up snooker but the government and the private sector must come forward to support the game,” he said.
Read: Pro world cup: Pakistan cueists beat Aussies 3-2
Hamza has already achieved all there is to achieve in Pakistan’s domestic circuit. Now the shores of UK await this 21-year-old prodigy.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 14th, 2015.
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