Pakistan’s top cueist Mohammad Asif has become a celebrity now. He has reached a pinnacle in a short span of his career by winning the International Billiards and Snooker Federation (IBSF) World Snooker Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria, recently.
All in all, he played 10 matches — four in the group and six in the knockout stage — on the way to basking in glory. He accounted for England’s Gary Wilson 10-8 in the epic final that lasted for well over nine hours in two sessions.
The 30-year-old Asif gives the dispirited nation a moment of joy by returning victorious 73-36, 11-72, 67-29, 72-2, 39-79, 43-71, 67-27, 81-41, 106-29, 78-47, 85-1, 1-111, 4-64, 67-80, 69-32, 23-89, 69-12, 70-3. At the outset, he emerged as a group champion by winning all four league matches thus marching his way into the knockout round of 64.
In the process, he kept his cool clearing all hurdles one by one before emulating the feat of compatriot and veteran Mohammad Yousuf whose name has become synonymous with the baize game.
The latter had scaled new heights by crowning the world title at Johannesburg 18 years back in 1994, the year when Pakistan had four world titles, the other three being of cricket, hockey and squash.
Saleh Mohammad is the other player who has played the final of world snooker championship at Jiangmin, China, in 2003 where he lost 6-11 to Indian Pankaj Advani.
The world champion also piled up three elegant century breaks in the contest including 106 in the final. Though Asif took up the game in the year 2000, he came into prominence in 2009 when he dethroned the then reigning champion Mohammad Sajjad to win the coveted national
title at Karachi Gymkhana. That was his seventh appearance in the country’s premier event which opened countless avenues for him.
Having recaptured the national title for the second time in three years in 2012, he presently holds the No 1 slot in the national ranking.
Apart from cricket and to some extent hockey, sports has not been rewarding any more in the country as employment opportunities in banks and other institutions have ceased to exist nowadays.
For instance, if a player wins all four national ranking snooker events in a year, he could hardly get Rs280,000 at the rate of Rs70,000 winning purse apiece. This alarming situation multiplies the miseries of players who are usually financially hard-pressed.
The Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Association (PBSA), the games controlling body, has its limitations and despite financial constraints it is fulfilling its commitments of awarding central contracts to the top eight players of national ranking.
Its president, Alamgir Shaikh deserves credit for footing the travel cost of the team from his pocket in the absence of government grants which bore fruitful results.
All said and done, however, one hopes that Asif’s glory will bring good fortunes to him including cash rewards, permanent employment and prosperity in the days to come and consequently his performance encourages other young players to excel in this sport.