It is undeniable that India is a cricket-crazy nation. No other sport enjoys the privilege of cricket, which is extended to the people who practice it. Hence, when India won the Asian Snooker Championship earlier this month against Pakistan, the tweet by the captain of the team Pankaj Advani cheekily made a reference as to how they are not cricketers or demi-gods, hinting at the abysmal amount of media attention they received for their win.
The Indian team consisted of Malkeet Singh, Laxman Rawat, led by Pankaj Advani and coached by Ashoka Shandilya.
This was Bengaluru boy Pankaj Advani’s second tile of the season and 8th overall. He is unarguably the most celebrated of Indians among cue players — along with Aditya Mehta — who for a brief period of time was directly responsible for increased interest in the game, at least in Bengaluru. In fact, the first-ever Indian Open of 2013 was a milestone in the history of Snooker in India.
Including Advani, the city has produced exceptional cue players since as early as in 1987, when Usha Rao crowned as the National Champion. Though the state-of-the-art facilities at Karnataka State Billiards Association (KSBA) still largely remains underused.
The reputation of the game as elitist may have been a contributing factor.
It isn’t hard to trace the roots of such a reputation. A peek into the nation’s colonial history has many stories to tell. Indeed, not many people are aware that the game of Snooker was invented in India. The World Professional Billiards and Snooker Association (WPBSA) website proudly declares India as the birthplace of Snooker.
Snooker is one among the many popular cue sports — a stick called cue is used to strike different coloured balls on a billiards table to pocket them. It has its origin in 16th Century English Billiards, but achieved its modern form only around the 19th Century.
Today, the term Billiards is generally used as an umbrella term, including pool and snooker. Snooker is different than other sports in the size of the cue stick, height of the rails, size of the balls and the pockets color of the balls used, which includes 15 red balls and one ball each of yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black. Each of these colors have different point system from 2 points (red) to 7 points (black).
In his 1939 article The Billiard Player, author and essayist Compton Mackenzie credited a certain young British Army Lieutenant Neville Chamberlain as the inventor of the game of snooker.
In 1875, in an officers’ mess in city of Jabalpur, MP, Chamberlain experimented with the classic game of black pool, by adding many coloured balls to the existing 15 red balls and a black ball. Thus, the game of snooker was born.
Since the amateur or rookie cadets at Military Academy were called ‘snookers’, Chamberlain seems to have jokingly referred to everyone around the table as ‘snookers’ in this version of the classic English Billiards. That’s how the unique name stuck.
Though it was conceived in Jabalpur, the rules of the game was solidified and developed in Ooty, the essential birthplace of the game. Chamberlain was posted in Ooty or Udagamandalam or popularly known then as Snooty Ooty, a remark over its exclusivity. It was at the colonial Ooty Club that the game made a headway, growing closer to the contemporary version. Chamberlain was so devoted to the game, that he even named his horse after Snooker. Soon after its invention by Chamberlain, it became one of the most popular games among British soldiers stationed in the Indian Subcontinent.
Even today, the Ooty Club has a billiards room, where a snooker table from the period is carefully preserved, singing the songs of history to every visitor.
Today, snooker is played in 90 countries by over 120 million people and watched by 450 million people worldwide. The days of it being included in the prestigious Olympic games is not far. The game is reaching epic proportions of popularity in China with more than 60 million people playing the game! However, as the birthplace of snooker, India needs to step up its game. The first-ever Indian Open of 2013, was a step in the right direction.
With Pankaj Advani dividing his time between his “wife” English Billiards and “mistress” Snooker, India only has Aditya Mehta as the torchbearer of the sport in India. Hopefully, Laxman Rawat and Malkeet Singh’s first title of the season in the recent Asian Championship will summon many more.