World Snooker: Pankaj Advani says India needs snooker on TV

By Shamoon HafezBBC Sport

Snooker needs to be televised in India to raise the sport's profile in the country, says the nation's top player.

Pankaj Advani, the world billiards champion, became the first Indian player to reach the quarter-final of a ranking event at February's Welsh Open.

"Snooker is becoming more popular and people are following the sport, but it is not on television," he said.

"That will be the key now. It would make a huge difference and will improve the game in the country."

World Snooker plans to stage a ranking event in India next season for the first time and, with himself and countryman Aditya Mehta competing on the tour, Advani feels it can only help to increase interest.

"There has been more exposure recently, more people have started following how I get on," he told BBC Sport.

"The event in India next season will make more people aware of the sport and I am very excited about that.

"If I can get to the main stage, it will be an unbelievable feeling. For the game to be popular, you need your own stars to be playing at the event.

"If myself and Aditya can be there, it will add so much more value in India."

Despite stating in 2009 that he had "given up" hope of playing professional snooker, Advani decided to give it a go last year and has gone on to enjoy an impressive debut season on the circuit.

He now spends six months back home in India and six months in England, currently living with a Punjabi family in Sheffield, and trains at the renowned Star Snooker Academyexternal-link in the city - the main practice base for China's number one Ding Junhui and many others from the Far East.

"I never hid the fact that I had absolutely no intention of playing snooker in England, I always spoke candidly about it," said the "Prince of Pune".

"But having finished runner-up in the Asian snooker championship in 2011, I had an entry onto the tour.

"I thought it was going to be the only chance I would get before having any responsibilities and so I gave it a shot and it has worked out well for me."

Ranked 72nd in the world, Advani was "surprised" by his own performances in defeating former world champions Shaun Murphy and Graeme Dott in Newport, before his remarkable run was halted by Judd Trump.

On Sunday, he begins his first match on the long road to qualification for the World Championship, needing to beat four opponents to advance, which would include Mark Joyce in the third round and Michael Holt in the fourth.

Advani added: "I am very excited about playing in the qualifiers, it is my first time so I have nothing to lose but I know how important this event is. The World Championship is the biggest ranking event of the season.

"It will be tough, there are a lot of good players out there, but I will try and win as many games as I can.

"I have never been to the Crucible and it is my dream to be playing there. I have come to England to try to fulfil my dream."

Advani's winning pedigree speaks for itself. An eight-time world and five-time Asian billiards champion, the 27-year-old has dominated the three-ball format over the last decade.

Hailing from a country with a population of more than 1.2 billion people, Advani stood out from the cricketing idols in 2006 and received recognition of his cueing credentials by claiming the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award - India's highest sporting honour - won in other years by superstars such as Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Dhoni.

"It is the highest government award I have received," he said proudly.

"It is a huge award because it is only given to one sports person for the most spectacular performance of that year. It has to be outstanding otherwise you are not even considered for the award.

"I will always cherish it having received it from the president of India - it was the icing on the cake."