Dedicated to my dear uncle Pervaiz with love…

How does one tell a tale? Only the mere mention of it excites me, as it would excite, any other writer, wouldn’t it? Doesn’t it all depend on how a story is told that makes a story a good story? And if that does, as it does in my opinion, then the process of telling a tale matters a lot. But I would not want to bore the reader about the beauty of the process of story-telling, which I, as an artist, have come to appreciate. Hence I would leave it at that for the moment and stick to the tale of an affair. Hats off to all the story-tellers of the world from times immemorial to times unknown…

First Love is always remembered they say…

Here is how it all began. I do not have a vivid recollection of how and when did I start an affair with snooker but the credit of introducing it to me goes to my uncle Mr Pervaiz Siddiqui. I had started taking a keen interest in the U.S. 8-ball pool at the tender age of 12, which by far was the only type of pool played locally. I then came to appreciate and play a lot of 9-ball pool later on in life and found it quite an exciting and competitive game. But I must’ve been 14 or 15 probably when I saw my uncle watching a video tape of a match. The game looked like pool but it was being played on a much larger table with a different set of balls. He told me that it was called ‘Snooker‘ and that he was watching a match played between Steve Davis and Alex Higgins. This is my first memory of snooker…

I did not like it at all at that time, to be honest, but continued to watch the match. I then started having an interest in the game and started watching the matches with him whenever I visited his house. He even had a coaching video by the great Ray Reardon, which I took from him afterwards along with the other tapes of Steve Davis snooker matches and those remained as my greatest possessions until the time when the CDs replaced Video Tapes and Video Cassette Players became obsolete. This was a privilege for me and one of my sweetest memories, as he allowed me to watch these matches with him and introduce me to snooker, which went on to capture my heart and mind for life.

16065-3I then went to a snooker club with a friend of mine for the first time in 1993 and saw the table which looked huge. By that time Steve Davis had become my hero and I had developed quite a bonding with the game of snooker and had become fond of it. As the years progressed and I reached university, I was a regular snooker player. I rented out a video tape from the British Council Library called ‘Try Snooker with Steve Davis’ another coaching video series through which I learnt a lot about technique and would go and practice the things that I was learning.

I later on joined a club run by Asian amateur snooker champion Mr Shafique and kept on playing. I was lucky during that timeframe as I befriended Mr Rambail who would go on and become a National Ranking player in the future but we both did not know that at that time. I used to play with him as he would give me a handicap of 50 per frame and play me and I must admit that I learnt a lot from him- he was my coach at that time, so to speak, acquainting me with the true concept of positional play, which I learnt greatly from him.

Every snooker player has to have a snooker cue of his own and so started a journey in my life of appreciating craftsmanship of different snooker cues. My first one was a B-class Riley that broke in a couple of years after which I got myself another A-class Riley which got stolen. By that time I had shifted to Islamabad and had started my job. Time ran fast as I was entering my practical life. However, the secret affair kept me hooked on to snooker and I kept gaining knowledge and experience and enjoyment out of this lovely game. I then got a Peradon Sandringham cue and then tried a Brittania and also a Master Exclusive after which I have now settled for the moment with a snooker cue custom made to my personal specifications by Mr Iqbal Qureshi of Rawalpindi. It isn’t what I really would like but it works for me for the moment.

The only difference in craftsmanship of English and Thai cue makers to that of Pakistan is perhaps due to the fact that the superior quality cues are made from North American ash shaft and African Ebony wood is used in the butt which is a denser wood and hence no artificial weights are used giving the cue a natural balance. Whereas, the local cue makers use artificial weights in the butt and hence it does not seem as balanced with a nice stroke as the high quality English or Thai cues do. I find this rather surprising because a good quality Rosewood is available in abundance in Pakistan and that has a good weight so that could be used by our cue makers and the only down side of that would be that the cues would normally come out at 16.5-17.5 ounces and not 18 and above but it would still be naturally balanced in weight. Another thing I found out while talking to two of Pakistan’s top cue makers is that they believe that varnish or lacquer is necessary for the cue stroke, which is what they use as a finishing agent. I wanted a raw linseed oil finished cue but I was surprised at their take on this. I still believe that with some effort an oil finished cue can be made locally however it requires a lot of effort as compared to finishing it with lacquer and lacquer also helps in hiding the impurities of the wood. Anyway, this is what they consider as the best possible method, against what the top English cue makers believe- and I shall not judge them for they are doing a remarkable job.

The Finest Hour…

I then got acquainted to Mr Terry Davidson of Canada,  a WPBSA certified coach and thus began our friendship through which I learnt a lot about the game, almost everything through hours and hours of discussion about technique and different aspects of the game. It was as if I was hungry to learn and eager to experiment in order to improve not only my gameplay but also my knowledge of this sport. I then briefly got acquainted with another WPBSA certified coach Mr Nic Barrow who taught me a few things and helped greatly with my right shoulder tendinitis that I had developed due to playing in a wrong stance putting much body weight on my bridge arm shoulder.

I kept playing and went on to be included in Islamabad Top 8 as I played the Islamabad Championship 2016-17 and reached the quarter finals stage. I shall continue this odyssey till I can for this is an addictive game that has a lot to offer in terms of enjoyment, excitement and challenge that keeps the player involved throughout his career. However, there are some unique features of this game, some unique traits that this game teaches you that you can then apply in life and improve your life quality in nurturing that through a better stature and a higher character that you can build for your overall personality. This is truly the game of the gentleman.

The game of snooker is different from almost every other game in a sense that in other games both opponents or teams of opponents compete at the same time like Cricket, Football and Tennis etc whereas in snooker you have to play only when its your turn and when it isn’t you just can’t control the game. Like in many other sports both players play at the same time and try to win over the other and the struggle of skill and competency goes on simultaneously, whereas in this game when its not your turn all you can do is to wait for the other player to take his turn at the table and hope for some luck on your part, just wish he would miss and leave you a chance.

Therefore, this is a game that demands patience- lots and lots of it- however I have applied it in another sense and that is that this is a game that teaches rather than demands patience. One requires a high degree of discipline in order to play this game and not only that but a lot of  resilience and perseverance. This is what it teaches you provided that you play it with the right attitude.

The player’s technique falters under pressure and it is only discipline that can help you win under pressure. The tightening of the grip hand under pressure and missing pots resultantly is a common thing and similarly one can falter in other basic areas under pressure for instance not doing the pre-shot routine properly on every shot or other cueing errors etc hence if one is disciplined enough during such a situation and can demonstrate control through a disciplined approach, one can counter pressure and play one’s normal game. This can be applied to other areas in life and discipline learnt in this game helps in real life too. Control over negative thoughts can also be learnt; while one is not able to play and keeps missing and loosing  one can’t concentrate on the task in hand and that is where negative thoughts creep up one’s mind and one can only play if one is able to control those negative thoughts. Similarly snooker teaches you patience, resilience and perseverance that one can apply in all aspects of life and develop one’s character, which ultimately results in personality improvement.

The Demon Unleashed…

The tale of my affair is different also because I happen to have an Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) which is a bit different from OCD and such people tend to have different tendencies and in my case it is being a perfectionist and control freak as in organisation and discipline. This is all in the mind of an OCPD over which one looses control and the mind wins over. Hence one is always at a constant struggle against one’s own mind and that is not a place where you would want to be. This thing ruined my game for quite a few years because whenever I would miss the signal from my mind would be it is because I did not grip the cue correctly or missed a feather or hadn’t any back pause or initiated my delivery too soon etc and the list would go on requiring me to go at the practice table and try to eliminate all these things one by one through a tedious long struggle and then this would go on as a loop, starting from the scratch; again and again, over and over, forever and ever.

While this has been my demon yet I have been able to come up to this challenge and have finally been able to hold on to my mind and thought process and relax myself a bit and hence be able to play some decent snooker. Yet another thing snooker taught me, even if harshly, allowing me to gain momentum in real life against my OCPD mind. I cannot say if this would stop but for me this sport became my obsession and then compulsion which is what happens with an OCPD mind. However, I found my answer through this game and have been able to somehow control myself to quite a successful extent. I do not know if I developed OCPD because of snooker or started playing snooker the way I do because I am an OCPD. This reminds me of the opening line from the movie ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ – ‘I cant remember if I started drinking because my wife left me or if my wife left me because I started drinking.

The Glory of the green baize…

The future of this sport in Pakistan is bright provided that the club environment improves for it is the club environment that hinders people from this lovely game in the first place. I have seen the young generation entering this sport and they must be taught the right attitude for the game so that they can, in turn, change the club environment for the better. The environment shall not change on its own but the young generation that is educated would change it for themselves in the coming time thereby improving the overall atmosphere, so to speak, at the snooker clubs all across the country and that will ultimately provide better playing conditions as well as a great future for this sport here. The best example in this regard can be learnt from China which has done remarkably well and are the best snooker playing nation today after the U.K. as they now host professional ranking events and many plasnooker_chalkyers are coming in the professional circuits from China- Liang Wenbo is just to name one of them. To this effect I would like to mention players like Mr Shahram Changezi (former Pakistan number 1 snooker player) who brings the right playing attitude in to the game and is a role model for others to follow and Mr Arshad Qureshi (certified snooker coach) who is rendering his best efforts to educate the young player and improve the overall snooker scene of the country.

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