September 19, 2018

Asif, Babar to represent Pakistan in IBSF World Snooker Championship 2018


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The duo of Babar Masih and Muhammad Asif, by virtue of being the top two cueists of the country in the latest national ranking chart, will be representing Pakistan in the IBSF World Snooker Championship 2018 due to be staged at Yangon, Myanmar, from November 18 to 26. 

The confirmation was made by Munawwar Hussain Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), during his speech in the prize distribution ceremony of the Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 at the Karachi Gymkhana on September 17. 

Babar, who also became the top ranked cueist of Pakistan, by winning the Jubilee event, will be making his second appearance in the World Snooker Championship while Asif, only the second Pakistani to have annexed the world crown, gets yet another opportunity to have a crack at the showpiece event. 

It may be recalled that together Babar and Asif had won Pakistan the IBSF World Team Championship 2017 at Hurghada, Egypt, last year. Playing as Pakistan-2, they had overcome compatriots Pakistan-1, comprising of Asjad Iqbal and Muhammad Sajjad, in the epic all-Pakistan final. 

Babar and Asif have been the most prolific cueists on Pakistan during the current year in a period where the likes of Sajjad, Asjad and Muhammad Bilal have endured lean patch.

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Unbeaten Babar Masih regains Jubilee Ranking snooker title


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Second seed Babar Masih regained the title by toppling unseeded Asif Toba in the all-Punjab final of the Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 at the Karachi Gymkhana on September 17. The Rawalpindi-based Babar overpowered Asif, coming from the city of Toba Tek Singh, 8-5 in the best of 15-frame final with the scores being 44-82, 51-69, 63-48, 114-16, 102-19, 65-20, 9-98, 16-60, 111-8, 26-88, 107-27, 62-35, 52-7.

Babar extended his awesome form to regain the title he had first annexed in 2016. He remained undefeated in the week-long event, contested by 24 top cueists of the country. He notched up a couple of century breaks and missed one narrowly in the final which demonstrated him being on top of his game. 

It was Toba, however, who drew the first blood in the final. In fact he managed to double his lead with an impressive break of 63 in the second frame. 

Unperturbed at being 0-2 down, Babar entered the third frame in the typically calm manner of his and won it after a close fight. He bamboozled his opponent with a sizzling break of 100 in the fourth frame which restored parity in the game. 

Another cracking break of 91 in the very next frame saw him go 3-2 up. Toba was unable to come to terms with the rampaging Babar in the sixth frame either but delivered the goods in the next couple of frame to reduce the deficit to just frame. 

Once again Babar retaliated with a big break of 111 which put him back to two-frame lead. Toba refused to give up, chalking up a fluent break of 73 to keep the contest alive. But Babar was not frightened and he didn’t let his rival come close again. Starting with a break of 86 in the 11th frame, he also pocketed the next two frames to seal the fate of the match.

The mercurial Babar, who looked a picture of confidence all along, had emerged triumphant in all those matches of his which went to full distance. He wasn’t stretched that much in the final though. 

Earlier Babar had staged a magnificent comeback to overcome holder Muhammad Asif 6-5 in the all-Punjab semifinal with the frame scores of 55-14, 27-73, 57-61, 8-75, 1-70, 24-76, 59-47, 65-45, 88-31, 80-14, 74-1 while Toba, from Punjab, knocked over Sharjeel of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa 43-57, 61-54, 87-13, 28-90, 26-60, 46-66, 80-0, 57-14, 77-49. 

Babar became richer by Rs one lac as he collected the winner’s trophy alongwith the six-digit purse from Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, Jubilee General Insurance, who was the chief guest in the prize distribution ceremony which was also telecast live.

Runner-up Toba received a sum of Rs forty thousand with the runner-up trophy while the losing semifinalists, Muhammad Asif and Sharjeel Mahmood, got Rs 20,000 each and Muhammad Majid Ali was awarded a cash prize of Rs 5,000 for registering the highest break (118) of the championship. 

Tahir Ahmed, representing the sponsors, expressed the delight at the rising standard of snooker in the country and he hoped that greater efforts will be made in future to attract the teenagers as well as the women to cue sports. 

The top officials of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), Munawwar Hussain and Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, and the President of Karachi Gymkhana, Akbar Iqbal Puri, also spoke on the occasion.

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September 13, 2018

Asghar Valika desires Asif to perform well in Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The Chairman of the Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), Ali Asghar Valika, has desired title winning performance from ace cueist in the ongoing Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 to let him have another go in the IBSF World Snooker 2018 to be held in Myanmar later this year. 

With the PBSA having decided to send the top two cueists in the national ranking chart, to be issued after this event, in the World Championship, Asghar Vailka felt that it was in Pakistan’s interest to have Asif in the team. 

“Asif is currently the top ranked cueist of the country as well as the defending champion in the ongoing tourney at the Karachi Gymkhana. Although he may still make it to the World Championship by securing a place in the semifinals, it would be an icing on the cake if he retains the title. That's why I wish him all the best in this particular national tournament” the PBSA Chairman stated.
“Asif, who is only 36, stands a very good chance of capturing the world title for the second time. He had done it in style in 2012 and there’s no reason why he can’t do it again. He seems to be in possession of all the ingredients of becoming the world champion once more,” Asghar Valika, who headed the PBSA with distinction for a couple of decades, reckoned. 

“During the last six years he has had his share of ups and downs but as they say form is temporary and class is permanent. He has come close to winning the World Championship a second time in the past as well but he has looked in the form of his life which makes me believe that he could do it this time,” he added. 

“It’s indeed a blessing to have a crop of youngsters seriously challenging Asif in the national tournaments but personally I feel that he among all our present day cueists he stands the best chance of bringing home the world crown,” the PBSA Chairman concluded.

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September 11, 2018

Arif Abbasi better choice than Ehsan Mani to head PCB


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The challenges to Imran Khan, the Prime Minister, are far too many. As he has been saying it repeatedly and publicly, he’s fast becoming sick of the problems coming to his knowledge during the presentations he has been taking from the various Ministries and departments after assuming office.

The one area where Prime Minister Imran Khan is most likely to deliver is cricket, the game which earned him fame and fortune. 

Arguably the greatest and the most gifted cricketer ever to have played for Pakistan, his passion for cricket is known to everyone. 

Najam Sethi, instead of going to courts, chose to resign as Chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) as Imran Khan prepared to take oath as the Prime Minister of Pakistan. 

All eyes were then on the Prime Minister himself as he was to decide the successor to the outgoing PCB chief. Imran Khan, after being sworn in as the Prime Minister, also got the constitutional right to nominate the Chairman of the PCB.

He opted for Ehsan Mani, who has also been a former President of the International Cricket Council (ICC) besides having represented the country in the game’s governing body for a number of years. 

Ehsan Mani can be considered as a good choice but given the current situation it would have been advisable to have gone for Arif Ali Khan Abbasi instead, if the idea was to recover the lost ground and conquer new frontiers. 

Arif Abbasi looked the most suitable person to lead the revival of Pakistan cricket in the current scenario when a lot of additional qualities are required besides mere experience of handling the affairs of the game. 

Having proven track record and possessing the contacts in the concerned international circles, Arif Abbasi would have stood a better chance of restoring the image of Pakistan cricket, which was severely dented during the last one decade in particular. 

Interestingly it was Arif Abbasi who had played the pivotal role in having Imran Khan installed as the captain of the Pakistan cricket team in 1982. It was a bold move which made immediate dividends.

Imran Khan was handed over the captaincy when many of the senior members of the team had revolted against Javed Miandad. 

The Pakistan cricket was facing a crisis those days but it went to the credit of Arif Abbasi, the then Honorary Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Pakistan (BCCP), to have converted the problem into an opportunity and the rest is history. 

Something of that sort is the need of the hour once more. The Pakistan cricket needed a go-getter like Arif Abbasi to turn it around at this time. 

Imran Khan should have opted for Arif Abbasi, instead of Ehsan Mani, if he desired implementing his own ambitious plans of overhauling the cricket system in the country. 

The Prime Minister may still involve Arif Abbasi in some capacity but when and how it remains to be seen. It will be in Pakistan cricket’s interest to have been in the leadership role somewhere.

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Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 underway


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

The third edition of the Jubilee Insurance Ranking Snooker Championship 2018, featuring the 24 top cueists of the country, has got underway at the Karachi Gymkhana on September 11.

The media launch of the one-week event was held at the Gymkhana’s Banquet Hall on September 10 in which the salient features were shared by Munawwar Hussain Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA), and Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, Co-Chairman, PBSA. 

The PBSA top functionaries acknowledged the support of the sponsors and the hosts, besides the electronic and print media for having brought cue sports to such high levels. 

They announced that the top two cueists of the country in the national ranking chart, to be issued after this event, will represent the country in the IBSF World Snooker Championship 2018 scheduled to be staged in Myanmar later this year.

Like the last few years, the PBSA has decided to retain 12 cueists for the next year’s National Championship whereas the remaining slots will be filled on the basis of the performances in the upcoming provincial cup tournaments. 

Tahir Ahmed, Managing Director, Jubilee General Insurance, reckoned that snooker has now become the most popular sport in the country, after cricket. 

He described the PBSA as the best performing national sports body on the basis of its performance over the past couple of decades. 

Akbar Iqbal Puri, President, Karachi Gymkhana, recalled that the club has been the hub of snooker activities in Pakistan since 1987 when his father, Mazhar Iqbal Puri, had revived the cue sports by laying the foundation of the PBSA of which he was the first President.

Meanwhile the 24 participants have been divided equally in four groups for the preliminary rounds which will continue for four days. 

Top seeded and defending champion Muhammad Asif (Punjab) has been placed in the Group A in the company of eighth seed Asjad Iqbal (Punjab), Sohail Shahzad (Sindh), Asif Toba (Punjab), Agha Bilawal (Sindh) and Sirbuland Khan (KPK). Second seed 

Babar Masih (Punjab) and seventh seed Aakash Rafique (KPK) feature in the Group B alongwith Khurram Hussain Agha (Sindh), Sharjeel Mahmood (KPK), Muhammad Naseem Akhtar (Punjab) and Muhammad Shahbaz (Punjab).

The Group C comprises of third seed Muhammad Majid Ali (Punjab), sixth seed Zulfiqar Abdul Qadir (Sindh), Rambail Gul (KPK), Muhammad Ahsan Javaid (Punjab), Abdul Sattar (Sindh) and Umair Alam (Sindh) while the Group D contains fourth seed Muhammad Bilal (Punjab), fifth seed Muhammad Ijaz (Punjab), Sultan Muhammad (Sindh), Shahid Aftab (Punjab), Haris Tahir (Punjab) and Ali Haider (Punjab). 

At the end of the league matches, the top two cueists from each of the four groups will be advancing to the knockout phase of the competition starting with the quarter-finals on September 15. 

Both the semifinals will be taking place on September 16 with the final and the prize distribution to be organized on September 17. The semifinals as well as the final will be beamed live on Geo Super.

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August 13, 2018

Giant-killer Ijaz stuns Babar in final to clinch NBP snooker title


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Giant-killer Muhammad Ijaz staged an incredible fightback to stun third seed Babar Masih in the marathon final of 10th NBP Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 at the NBP Sports Complex in Karachi on August 13.

Trailing 2-6 in the best of 15-frame encounter, the unseeded Ijaz, making his maiden appearance in the final of any national ranking tournament, pulled it back dramatically to win the all-Punjab final 8-6 with the scores of 43-63, 78-42, 21-83, 39-93, 94-20, 20-79, 58-67, 17-57, 68-45, 58-51, 56-40, 62-1, 58-02, 77-50. 

Hailing from the city of Sargodha, the 30-year-old Ijaz, younger brother of Muhammad Sajjad, the three-time national champion and a former world number two, who was also watching the final, kept his cool and never lost belief in himself. 

“I was indeed concerned at having gone to interval 2-6 down. But I kept saying to myself that it’s just matter of one frame to turn the tables. Thankfully I won the very first frame after resumption and I didn’t let the momentum slip out of my hands. Indeed it was a very tough match for me but honestly I never lost hope,” Ijaz remarked in a brief conversation soon after collecting the first national ranking title. 

The 31-year-old Babar, a seasoned cueist from Rawalpindi, was disconsolate for obvious reasons at having let the trophy get out of his hands from a vantage position. 

“Oh yes I really don’t know how it happened. I was supremely confident about running away with the title when the interval was announced at which point I was leading 6-2. It looked a matter of time for me to complete my victory. But I was unable to exercise much control in the latter half of the match as I ran out of luck. Indeed it’s disappointing to have lost the match which I should have won comfortably,” he regretted. 

The first half of the final was all about Babar as he fired breaks of 62 and 81 in successive frames to establish his dominance. Ijaz did win second and fifth frames but he seemed down and out when his opponent won the next three frames on a trot to move 6-2 up. 

But the story changed in the second half which was all about Ijaz as he pulled it back magnificently and all attempts from Babar to stop the carnage didn’t yield results. Ijaz emerged as the deserved champion in the end, signing off with a superlative break of 54 in the 14th frame. 

Saeed Ahmed, President and CEO of National Bank of Pakistan (NBP), who was the chief guest in the prize distribution ceremony, presented a cheque of Rupees one lact to Ijaz alongwith the glittering trophy. 

Babar had to be content with a purse of Rupees forty thousand with the runner-up trophy while top seeded Muhammad Asif, who was edged out by the eventual champion in the semifinals, collected the award of Rupees five thousand for registering the highest break of the nine-day event (138). 

Munawwar Hussain Shaikh, President, Pakistan Billiards & Snooker Association (PBSA) and Alamgir Anwar Shaikh, Co-Chairman, PBSA, addressed the ceremony which was also attended by the top NBP officials, including Iqbal Qasim and Shaukat Mahmood Khattak.

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August 9, 2018

Cueist Muhammad Sajjad confident of regaining form, titles


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Muhammad Sajjad, one of the most prolific cueists of the country during the last one decade, has sounded confident about regaining his top form and recapturing the titles having slipped out of his hands during the current year. 

The three times national champion and who has remained the runner-up in both the World Championship as well as the Asian Championship, was reacting to his early elimination in the 10th NBP Ranking Snooker Championship 2018 being staged at the NBP Sports Complex in Clifton, Karachi on August 9.

Sajjad, having clinched the National Championship in 2008, 2010 and 2017, failed to force his way into the knockout rounds of the second national ranking event of the year which may not allow him to participate in the third and final competition of the year due to be held next month. 

“By the look of things I am unlikely to qualify for the upcoming ranking tournament in September. Neither do I stand much chance to be given direct entry in the next year’s National Championship for which I will be required to qualify by playing and performing in the Punjab Cup,” he remarked in a brief conversation after succumbing to yet another defeat in the last league outing of the ongoing NBP Ranking Championship.

“Indeed it has been a nightmarish year for me at the table. But this is not going to be the end of the world for me. I have enough belief in my capabilities to bounce back and reclaim the trophies,” he said. 

“As far as this particular tournament is concerned, I just couldn’t recover after been hammered in straight frames in my opening game. But such things do happen in every athlete’s career and I am not too perturbed about it,” the 32-year-old Sajjad, hailing from Punjab’s city of Sargodha, shared. 

When inquired about the decline in his form leading to inconsistency and failure, he reckoned that one of the reasons could be the changes in his style of play which he had brought about by watching some of the top cueists of the world. 

“Probably that proved to be my undoing and I was unable to gain the usual command over my game. Therefore I will revert to my original style of play which had earned be laurels and medals,” he added. 

He didn’t consider the young and emerging cueists of the country as major threats to him in future. Neither did he feel threatened by the vastly experienced hands in the circuit.

“The youngsters are talented but I have the skills and the confidence besides the experience to take them on. I am capable of defeating any cueist, irrespective of his name or reputation,” he asserted. 

It may be recalled that Sajjad, acclaimed for his potting and break-building abilities, had gone down fighting 7-8 to Yan Bingtao of China in the epic final of the IBSF World Snooker Championship in 2014 while he was also the runners-up in the Asian Snooker Championship 2010 having lost to Issara Kachaiwong of Thailand in the final.

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August 7, 2018

Kizilbashing win Aslam Memorial Bridge Tournament


By Syed Khalid Mahmood
(Pakistan News & Features Services)

Kizilbashing emerged as the champions in the 23rd edition of the Aslam Memorial Bridge Tournament 2018 which concluded at the Aslam Bridge Hall, housed in the National Stadium, Karachi, on August 5. 

Comprising of Anwar Mumtaz Kizilbash, Tehsin Gheewala, Anis-ur-Rahman, Hasan Askari, Rashid-ul-Ghazi and Sheikh Abdul Muqeet, Kizilbashing won the two-day event by accumulating 96.03 points in seven rounds. 

The Karachi Bridge Associates (KBA), led by its President Dr Minhaj Qidwai, and also featuring Faraz Hyder, Abdul Ghaffar Qureshi and Abdul Kader Bhurgri, claimed the runners-up slot with an aggregate of 89.02 points. 

The Mind Sports Association of Pakistan (MSAP), captained by its chairman Khurshid Hadi, and also having seasoned campaigners like Kemal Shoaib, Abdul Rahman Allana, Major Akhtar Zaidi and Javed Ahmed Miran, finished third with its tally of 76.44 points. 

The fourth position was clinched by Shahab IV, containing Shahab Latif Khan, Abdul Qadir Sakaria, Farhat Abbas and Muhtashim Ashai, who aggregated 70.85 points. They were leading the table at the end of the second round. 

Another fancied team Bilal, having the presence of Shahin Iqbal, Parvez Mirza, Gulzar Ahmed Bilal, Farrukh Liaquat and Muhammad Ghufran Ashraf, had to settle with the fifth position as they secured 70.29 points. 

Only eight teams contested the annual event having offered handsome prize money of Rs 150,000, donated by Khurshid Hadi, Founder Chairman, MSAP and a former President of the PBF. 

The championship is being organized by the KBA to pay homage the late Muhammad Aslam Shaikh, a former Secretary of the Pakistan Bridge Federation (PBF), acclaimed to have devoted his life for the development of the game. 

The PBF and the KBA had jointly instituted the memorial event in 1996 whose declining attendance over the last couple of years has caused concerns. As compared to the average of 16 to 17 teams participating in the earlier years, the participation had gone down to 11 teams last year and it further dropped to only eight this year.

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