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Little stars offer snooker a lifeline

Stan Rayan

— Photo: Stan Rayan

Budding Stars:The newcomers to cue-sport at the Regional Sports Centre with coach M.S. Sadanandan.

KOCHI: As Gopika Pai appeared to settle down for a shot during a snooker friendly at the Regional Sports Centre on Saturday evening, Pranav Singh suggested that she try another angle. And watching keenly and waiting for their turn were Vignesh Raj, K.P. Sruthi and Sruthi Sreedharan.

You don't see young children crowding over snooker tables very often in this part of the world. In fact, the Kerala State junior billiards and snooker championships were cancelled last year for want of entries. One had a feeling that the sport was slowly sinking in Kerala.

However, things are very different this time.

“We have received 21 entries in the junior section…that's a record,” said Mr. M.F. Mundaden, the President of the Kerala State Billiards Association. “When we last had the juniors, we had about 11 entries.”

Gopika, Pranav and Vignesh came to cue sport through the Regional Sports Centre's summer camp this year.

“We had 58 children for the camp, we never had such a big number,” said M.S. Sadanandan, the seasoned RSC coach who teaches them the tricks of the trade for nearly three hours every evening.

Snooker on TV caught Gopika's fancy and when she joined the RSC for the summer camp in badminton in April, she registered for snooker too. She was a quick learner among the newcomers and beat the boys and won the title in a tournament held at the end of the camp a few weeks ago.

Sruthi Sreedharan used to try her hand at online snooker frequently and now, she loves the real thing.

“It's a very challenging game, helps us to focus better too,” said Sruthi , who has just finished her 12th from the Elamakkara Bhavan's. She used to play chess earlier but she's spending more time on the RSC tables after taking up snooker two weeks ago.

K.P. Sruthi, her schoolmate, tried her hand at shooting at the summer camp but now she's ready to give up the rifle and focus on snooker.

“All the credit for the big turnout in the junior section goes to coach Sadanandan,” said Mr. Mundaden, a former Secretary of the Billiards and Snooker Federation of India. The good thing is, the coach saw to it that the children kept coming back.

A recent open tournament at the Cochin Club, organised by Team Sam, also appears to have raised interest in the sport among youngsters.

The Kerala State Billiards Association is now keen to make the most of the crowd around the RSC tables.

Apart from the junior championship which is making a comeback after a year's break, Mr. Mundaden is planning to have a junior girls' event too this time. The State junior and senior championships were supposed to begin on Friday but now, with the response from the juniors being very good, the championships have been put off by two days and will now begin on Monday.

There is also a plan to have a tournament for juniors during the Onam or the Deepavali holidays.

“We have to see that these juniors stick to the sport. They are our future,” said Mr. Mundaden.

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