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Any pretension or misconceptions that we Indians harboured in our fertile, imaginative minds, as regards the Indian wildcards was quickly put to rest, as the much-awaited Indian Open Pro snooker event began on Monday. 

Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta
Two good: India’s star cueists Pankaj Advani (left) and Aditya Mehta

The five Indian wildcard entries were sent to the cleaners with clinical precision by professionals (albeit ranked a tad lower than the game’s real giants). The only one to make it to the next round was Dharminder Lilly, who probably got up on the right side of the bed and was handed a rare walkover. He now plays former World No 1 Mark Selby of England.

So, we turn our focus to the Indian pros in the fray, Pankaj Advani and Aditya Mehta. You can bet on either having a long run in this tournament.
I say that, not because of their illustrious record, but because they will not succumb like lambs to the slaughter like their amateur colleagues, as they have tempered their mettle in the ‘trial-by-fire’ crucible of the professional circuit in England.

Wildcard woes
Speaking from experience, I say that merely jumping into the fray as a wildcard will not give you the exposure to prepare you to take on the world. That’s pure wishful thinking. Every professional goes through the grind, as have Pankaj and Aditya, and yours truly before them, to stake a claim to victory over seasoned campaigners.

Please don’t get me wrong — getting wildcards entry into such events is good, but not the only thing. It should be part of a programme that involves rigorous training, months of preparation, advanced coaching and competent match play. Only then can you swim with the sharks. I believe this tournament is a giant step by the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India, and one which could pave the way to raise the bar in organising events of such magnitude.

Getting cueists like Neil Robertson, Ding, Selby, John Higgins to Indian shores is no mean feat, and must be appreciated. In terms of sheer visual delight for spectators, it can’t get better and bigger — of course, a Ronnie O’Sullivan would have brought the house down. But, what it does to the level of Indian snooker, is still a big question mark in my mind.

Within the next five days, we would have witnessed awesome snooker, the best the world has to offer, maybe see an Indian in the last stages of the tournament, some stunning upsets, again hopefully by our two Indian heroes, and then on the 18th, the spectacle will end. What kind of lessons the keen Indian amateur aspirant has taken from this grand event needs to be evaluated as soon as this is over.

Lesson to be learnt
A whole lot of youngsters would be craving to play the game as they have just seen it, but where are they going to train, and under whose guidance are they going to progress? Have we chalked out a plan for what next after this mega tournament? Would this event just be a talking point for a few months and then die a natural death, or do we have the wherewithal and inclination to build on it and create inspiring company for Pankaj and Aditya, on the professional tour, which will test their skills further, once they face competition from within? Let’s wait and watch. 

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