THE Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (PBSF), following the last year’s pattern, remained more focused on foreign competitions and tours that outnumbered the domestic events in 2018.

As per PBSF calendar, there were nine foreign trips during the year which kept officials and players on their toes, averaging a tour after every 40 days.

The most surprising thing was that on all the foreign tours, Pakistan team players and officials managed to hoodwink the FIA officials at the airport since they did not possess the government’s No Objection Certificate (NOC) which is mandatory for such tours, some of the cueists told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

The PBSF seems to have drawn a line that it will not go beyond six domestic events — juniors, men and masters — annually, a practice that is in effect for the last couple of years.

The domestic schedule is restricted to two age categories events for juniors U-18 and U-21, three for men including the national championship and one for masters (over 40).

Earlier, the games controlling body used to organise four national ranking competitions for men but unfortunately the practice has been done away some five years back following the unwillingness shown by the sponsor.

Due to lack of marketing strategies, the PBSF has failed to find alternate sponsor for the fourth ranking event and seems satisfied with the existing two, Jubilee Insurance and National Bank.

It is because of this that the proposed Pakistan Snooker League (PSL) - that was supposed to be launched in 2017 - has failed to see the light of the day.

Meanwhile, by winning 11 medals – 2-3-6 – the cueists provided a breath of fresh air to the fraternity as the baize game has shrunk due to two parallel bodies at the world level.

This can be gauged from the fact that only 11 nations featured in the 34th Asian Championship held at Tabriz, Iran, in May as Mohammad Bilal earned a bronze losing to Iranian former world No 2 Amir Sarkhosh 2-5 in the semi-final.

Another Pakistani Babar Masih made an unceremonious exit in the quarters.

Besides, Pakistan and host Iran, the other countries that featured in the event includes Myanmar, Thailand, India, Iraq, Hong Kong, Qatar, Syria, Palestine and Afghanistan.

This was preceded by the inaugural IBSF World Team Cup at Doha in Feb-March where Pakistan 1 (Mohammad Asif-Babar) got the silver losing to India 2 (Pankaj Advani, Manan Chandra) 2-3 in the epic final. The Pakistani pair earned US $ 7,000.

Pakistan 2 that comprised Mohammad Sajjad-Asjad Iqbal made exit after losing 2-3 to Wales in the last-16.

Pakistani quartet of Asif, Babar, Bilal and Majid fetched four medals — 1-1-2 — in the sixth Asian Team Championship and seventh 6-Reds event at Doha in Sept.

The gold came through courtesy Asif and Babar (Pakistan 1) in the team event following 3-2 success over India 2 (Panjak, Manan and Malkeet) in the title clash. Pakistan 2 (Bilal, Majid) ended up with bronze.

The 6-Reds saw Bilal and Babar winning silver and a bronze respectively. Thai cueist Tanawat Tirapongpaiboon outclassed Bilal 7-3 (2-36, 38-4, 50-10, 38-45, 36-43, 45-0, 43-10, 36-20, 34-33, 40-31) in the final. The Thai had carved out 6-1 victory over Babar in the semi-final.

Bilal finally overcome victory jinx when he sent Ireland’s Brendan O’Donoghue packing 6-1 (46-42, 36-48, 47-1, 67-1, 54-23, 55-0, 59-4) in the final to land the inaugural Asian Tour 10-Reds title at Doha, However, Bilal ended up with a bronze in the second leg of Asian Tour held at Jinan.

At the fag end of the year, youthful Mohammad Majid Ali performed exceptionally well and managed to seize bronze in IBSF 6-Reds in Egyptian city of Marsa Alam after Bilal made exit in last-16. The performance of the same pair, however, left much to be desired in the preceding IBSF Team Event.

The juniors clinched a silver and a bronze, courtesy Haris Tahir and Mohammad Shahbaz respectively, in the Asian under-21 snooker championship at Yangon in March. However, Pakistan returned empty handed from other events.

Bilal, meanwhile, emerged as the most successful cueist of the year returning with a gold, silver and three bronze (one bronze in Asian Team Event at Doha) out of total 11 international medals won by Pakistan.

On the domestic front, three national ranking events produced separate champions. Former world champion Asif returned to form when he inflicted 8-5 defeat on former national champion Mohammad Bilal in the final of the 43rd National Snooker Championship to clinch his third national title.

The 36-year-old cueist had won his earlier national titles in 2009 and 2012.

The triumph also gave Asif top slot in the first national ranking list released by the PBSF after the country’s premier snooker championship.

Sajjad’s sibling Mohammad Ijaz stormed back from 2-6 down to whip Babar 8-6 in the best of 15 frames final to clinch the National Bank of Pakistan ranking snooker title in Aug. It was his maiden national ranking title of the career.

Maintaining a consistent run, Babar went on to clinch the third ranking title by getting the better of former national champion Mohammad Asif Toba 8-5 in the final. Following success, Babar goes on top of the national ranking released after the event in Sept.

Prodigy Mohammad Umer Khan carved out 5-2 victory over Shaikh M Mudassir to land the national U-18 title at Islamabad in Jan.

Former world U-18 champion Mohammad Naseem Akhtar chalked up magnificent 6-3 victory over Mohammad Shahbaz to retain the national U-21 title, also at Islamabad.

The national Master’s title went to former Pakistan No 1 Imran Shahzad who accounted for Shahid Shafiq 6-3 in the final played at Lahore in Feb.

This year, the PBSF didn’t organise preparatory camps for cueists prior to their departure to Yangon for the IBSF World Snooker Championship and Egypt for the IBSF World Team and 6-Reds Championship for unknown reason.

The much-talked about Faisalabad academy remained shut as a number of top cueists who belonged to the city faced difficulty in maintaining their practice sessions.

Despite paucity of funds, when it comes to tours both at home or abroad the PBSF officials did not lag behind. Two officials visited Faisalabad, Islamabad (for photo session with IPC Minister) and Lahore which yielded no productive results. This is besides foreign trips.

It would be wise that the PBSF should send cueists only in premier competitions not exceeding six. The federation should also refrain in sending official with men’s team.

There’s no check and balance on the provincial associations as some people are occupying offices for decades. Neither they organise any activity other then the provincial cups nor have affiliated units at the divisional and district levels.

The Islamabad-based PSB officials seem to be hand in glove with the PBSF which is evident from their long silence.

Things are going unabated and its time that young and new faces should be inducted in the larger interest of the game.

The year-end has witnessed a revolt of sorts and dropping of top two players Asif and Babar from the Egypt-bound team for not signing 2019 central contract in advance. This has opened a pandora’s box and has tarnished the image of the federation.

Appended below is the list of players and officials who went on the foreign tours in 2018.

Inaugural IBSF World Team Cup Doha Feb 27 to Mar 2.

Players: Asif-Babar (Pak 1), Asjad-Sajjad (Pak 2). Official: Alamgir Shaikh.

19th Asian U-21 Snooker Championship Yangon Mar 18 to 24.

Players: Naseem Akhtar, Shahbaz, Haris Tahir. Officials: Alamgir Shaikh, Jawaid Karim, Naveed Kapadia.

34th Asian Snooker Championship Tabriz 6 to 12 May.

Players: Asif, Bilal, Babar, Majid. Officials: Alamgir Shaikh, Munawwar Shaikh, Naveed Kapadia.

IBSF World U-18, U-21 Snooker Championship Jinan May 2 to 11.

Players: Naseem Akhtar, Haris, Mohammad Umar. Official: Munawwar Shaikh.

Asian Team and 6-Reds Snooker Championship Doda Sept 19 to 25.

Players: Babar, Asif (Pak 1), Bilal, Majid (Pak 2). Officials: Alamgir Shaikh and Naveed Kapadia.

IBSF-ACBS Asian Tour (first leg) Doha Sept 26 to 29.

Players: Bilal, Babar, Haris. Official: Alamgir Shaikh.

IBSF-ACBS Asian Tour (second leg) Jinan Oct 28 to 31.

Players: Bilal, Babar, Haris. Officials: None

IBSF World Snooker Championship (men’s, women’s, master’s) Yangon Nov 18 to 27.

Players: Babar, Asif, Bilal, Imran Shahzad. Officials: Alamgir Shaikh, Munawwar Shaikh, Naveed Kapadia.

IBSF World Team and 6-Reds Snooker Championship Marsa Alam Dec 12 to 22.

Players: Majid, Bilal. Officials: Alamgir Shaikh, Naveed Kapadia, Shabbir Daruwala.

Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2019