The concluding month of 2012 proved fortunate for Pakistan; where it brought wonderful victories for hockey team by winning bronze medal in Champions Trophy and gold medal in Asian Champions Trophy, it also proved lucky for Muhammad Asif who made the nation proud by winning amateur World Snooker Championship in Sofia, Bulgaria. Asif was the third Pakistani who succeeded in playing the finals of the tournament. Earlier, Muhammad Yousaf played and won the title in 1994, whereas Mohammad Saleh lost the title to India’s Pankaj Advani in 2003.This was Asif’s fourth appearance in the World Championships in which 102 ace cueist of the world participated. Asif played 10 matches without losing a single one. In the final he beat England’s Gary Wilson in a match that lasted over nine hours. In an exclusive interview with Sunday Plus world’s top cueist talked about his experience of playing this championship and how he started his career.

Talking about the beginnings that how he started to play snooker, he said that it was in 1999 when he started playing snooker with his friends. “I used to play Snooker with my friends but never thought about playing professionally. My interest for the game increased when I started winning matches with my friends. They pointed out to me that I should take part in competitions.

“Initially I started to play at city level and won all the tournaments in Faisalabad. Then I played Punjab Cup in Lahore which I lost for the first time but was regarded as a favourite player. In 2003 when I qualified for the National Cup I made up my mind to play snooker professionally. I worked hard and my whole focus was the National Cup. In 2009 I became the national champion after beating the reigning champion Muhammad Sajjid at Karachi Gymkhana,” Asif said. On a query about the coach who trained him, he said that he owed it to Shahid Ilyas because his coaching polished his game. “His tips helped me during the World Championship,” the champion maintained.

Curious to know about the duration of practice he used to do before going for the match, Asif said that he used to practice 4 to 5 hours daily. On a query that which was the toughest game in the tournament, he answered without thinking for a while that it was the final match. Explaining about his feelings while he was playing the final, he said, “My every match was comfortable except the final one which built a lot of pressure. But I was determined that I had to win this championship for my country; it was a goal on which I was working for more than 10 years. Allah helped and made things favourable for me.

“Let me tell you that the match continued for more than nine hours and not for a single moment my hands trembled in pressure. It all happened due to prayers of my parents and the nation, which proved greatest moral support for me,” Asif was of the view.

Sharing his feelings after winning the final he said, “It was a marvellous and unbelievable moment for me. I was happy that I had made my nation proud. I had achieved which Pakistan could not win after 1994.” During this happy conversation Muhammad Asif did not forget to give credit the President of Pakistan Billiard and Snooker Association (PBSA) Alamgir Sheikh who provided funds to the team in the absence of government grant. “These are the efforts of our President Alamgir Sheikh, which bore fruit,” he added.

As the news of Asif’s victory in World Snooker Championship made headlines, there were many announcement made from the federal and the provincial governments for cash rewards and other prizes for him. When inquired as to how many of those announcement been fulfilled, Asif said that he had received a few of those announced prizes. Pointing some of unfulfilled promises he said, “I have not received the cash prize of Rs. 1 million the Punjab CM Shahbaz Sharif announced. I know he is a busy man but I am optimist that he will fulfil his promise because he is a sports-friendly personality and encourages players. I expect either he will contact me or call me in his office.”

As the conversation moved on towards the future of snooker in Pakistan and how did he perceive, the ace cueist of Pakistan said that his victory had opened the door for snooker players. “All the sports in Pakistan should enjoy the same status which cricket enjoys. It is high time that such sports also be focused. To hone talent, the government should make snooker academies in Lahore and other main cities of the country.

“There is no dearth of snooker talent in Pakistan. All my co-players are good in playing. What is essential is that those players need to be acknowledged and should be supported. Players do not find proper time for training when they also have to financially support their families as well,” he stated. Appreciating the role of media for the promotion of games, he said that one way the initiative of promoting snooker in the country had been taken in form media coverage. He also showed his willingness to pass his experience on to the junior players if any academy contacts him in this regard.

Talking about his future plans he said that after winning the amateur World Snooker Championship his focus was on professional championship. “My aim is to play professional World Snooker Championship in England. It will require financial support; but I hope this time the government will take some initiative and help me in winning more laurels for the country,” he said in optimistic tone.

There is no doubt that Asif’s zest to excel has certainly taken him places. Players like him should be supported as they are pride of the nation.