KARACHI: “Pakistan is a country of snooker, building on champions year after year,” began International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) vice-president Maxime Cassis at the briefing of the 2015 IBSF World 6-Red and Team Championships at the Movenpick Hotel Karachi on Tuesday. “So far, two legends — Muhammad Yousuf and Muhammad Asif — have shined bright for the nation and following their performances, others have emerged in the succeeding years, reaching at least the quarter-finals of various competitions.”
Pakistan has been given the opportunity to host a world snooker event after 22 years, with the last one taking place way back in 1993. A total of 18 teams, including the men in green, will be featuring in the competition, and the vice-president put his faith in the hosts to come out on top when the event gets under way on Thursday.
Commissioner Karachi, Shoaib Siddiqui, who is responsible for the security arrangements of the touring sides, also had glowing words for the largest Pakistan contingent to date (26 members), and expressed hope that this event will be “responsible for building on the foreigners’ confidence of revisiting Pakistan in the future sooner rather than later”.
A great source of relief was India’s participation as the visit of 15 of their players was confirmed till the filing of this story. But on a more shocking note, Thailand, one of the strongest teams in the sport, did not confirm their entry, nor was a reason provided during the briefing to explain the absence.
Last year’s IBSF World Snooker Championship runner-up Muhammad Sajjad could barely conceal his excitement at the prospect of playing in an event of this magnitude in Pakistan.
“I cannot express myself enough on how great it is for such a large contingent of Pakistan to play on our home turf,” Sajjad told The Express Tribune. “Before, you would usually hear that Asif, Hamza Akbar and I would be competing in international events. Rarely would anyone else be shortlisted to participate in such competitions, but now it’s heartening to see so many of my compatriots being given a chance to showcase their prowess.”
Out of the 17 other nations taking part in the worlds, Sajjad termed China, Iran and India as the opponents to watch out for. “Iran have emerged as a strong unit over the past few years and it would be a remarkable achievement to beat them,” he said. “If we talk about India, we lost to their ‘B’ team in the Asian Team Championship last year but had earlier won in the IBSF World Team Championship quarter-finals against their ‘A’ team that featured Pankaj Advani. So it can be anyone’s game.”
Asked which Pakistan teams he considers the strongest, he replied, “I think four of our teams can give the others a tough time: the pairs of Shahid Aftab/Asjad Iqbal, Shahram Changezi/Babar Masih, Imran Shehzad/Sohail Shehzad and lastly Asif and I.”
The former Pakistan number one praised all the members of the contingent, saying that there were at least six to eight players striving to prove themselves to be as good as anyone. “Asif won the 2012 World Championship and I was the 2010 Asian Championship runner-up and the 2014 IBSF World Championship. When the others saw this, they redoubled their efforts to come to the fore. This attitude of theirs will take them far.”
Meanwhile, Peshawar-based Rambail Gul, who was called up when Hamza withdrew from the tournament, said he was pleased to have been given a chance to attend the world championships. “I’m very grateful to be able to participate in such a prestigious event,” said Rambail. “However, it was hardly a surprise for me since I believe I was chosen on merit.”
Responding to a question on whether he feels he is prepared after being called up on such a short notice, he said, “I always keep myself in practice so I’m confident I can perform well despite being notified so late.”
Where are our women?
Although the world championships include the ladies category, there has been no word on any Pakistani female cueists so far.
Despite vague statements about “trying” to bring women into camps, no clear vision was provided, even by Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association President Alamgir Sheikh.
However, when the topic was brought up with Sajjad, he said, “Women are definitely interested in snooker. In fact, one contacted me and asked me to guide her and I have been training her for the past four-five days. If given a proper platform and facilities, we can definitely produce female cueists who can be a source of pride for our nation.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2015.
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