Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Representing Pakistan in Asian Snooker Championship

Sultan’s willingness to make it to the highest level, despite the lack of finances, has played a huge part in his success. PHOTO: AYESHA MIR/EXPRESS

The streets of Pakistan are renowned for producing quality cricketers, ones that bring laurels aplenty to the nation.

However, a national event earlier this month sprouted a new snooker sensation – aged 30 – who, by virtue of reaching the final, qualified to represent Pakistan in April’s Asian Snooker Championship.

Sultan Muhammad is hard-working, talented, grew up playing snooker on the streets but, with limited finances and unemployment, cannot afford a decent cue.

He lost a one-sided final against the second-seed Mohammad Asif – who he will be partnering in Doha – but remains worried that his love for the game, which he took up as a hobby in his youth, might end up against a wall as he tries hard to collect enough cash to buy a new stick.

“The cue that I’m using right now is made locally and is of poor quality but unfortunately that’s all I could afford with my current state of finances,” said Sultan. “I am worried because the Asian Championship is a huge event for me and without a decent cue, it’ll be difficult to make an impression. However, with my country’s name at stake, I will try to give it my best shot.”

Sultan, who managed to invest in a Rs7,000 stick last year, remains confident that his game is skilful enough to overcome the lack of quality equipment.

Not being able to complete even his matriculation, Sultan finds it hard to get a job but relies on earning money, to move forward in the world, by taking on local opponents in a winner-takes-all battle. He does, however, have a brother residing in London who does assist financially and even sent in a world-class cue to help Sultan fulfil his dreams.

“My brother did send me a Rs70,000 stick but it didn’t click with my game and I sold it for Rs60,000 in fear of what it’d do to me if I carried on playing with it,” added Sultan, confident that quality equipment was all that he needed to make his national debut.

Snooker, even on the streets, is an expensive sport to pursue for the not-so-well-off. The equipment in snooker clubs is provided by the owners but they charge as much as Rs5 per minute, depending on the location and the quality of the tables.

“To beat the best, you have to practice with the best. A best-of-five encounter could cost almost Rs1,000 and that is a big amount for someone who doesn’t have a job but wants to play snooker.

“I’ve been playing on the streets for 16 years and never in my wildest of dreams had I seen this coming: playing for Pakistan is just an unbelievable achievement. I hope to make full use of this opportunity.”

Pakistan’s show in international events has been below-par of late. The hunt goes on for world-class players who can bring laurels to the country. An expected opportunity has risen for Sultan but his aim right now is not to win the Asian Championship, it’s just to take part in it with a proper cue.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.

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