Two days before he turned 32 last Friday, Delhi cueist Sandeep Gulati was gifted in advance when he beat Chandigarh’s Sumit Talwar 9-6 in the final of the 8-ball title in the NSCI-National Pool Championship held in Mumbai. More important than the win making his birthday special, Gulati finally avenged his defeat he experienced against the same opponent two years back in his own backyard at Delhi. He had lost a close final to Talwar 7-9 despite lagging 4-1 in the first five frames, and then leading 7-4 before Talwar surged ahead to win his first 8-ball national at the YMCA.
For Gulati, the victory doubled his national title count as in 2010, he had won the 9-ball title while this year, he won the 8-ball trophy as well to decorate his cabinet. Gulati feels if 8-ball was his gift then the loss in the 9-ball has to be the return gift. But while he could accept that his outing in Mumbai is actually at par - winning one and losing the other - he got an additional fillip with the NSCI president awarding him with the honorary membership of the National Sports Club of India as a gesture of appreciating Gulati’s talent.
“Everyone said that I have gotten my birthday present and I should be happy with it. But the exit in the 9-ball on the other hand was disappointing. But when I was awarded the membership, I felt honoured that my talent has led me to secure membership of such a big institution,” said a happy Gulati.
One finds it hard to believe when Gulati says that he started his campaign in the nationals with a 5-4 loss. Thankfully in the last league match, which was also a do-or-die game, Gulati got lucky getting a walkover directly into the knockout stage. He also got the benefit of being the No.2 player in the event. It may look easy but Gulati had to rub shoulders with top cueists in the knockout stages and his first prey in the quarterfinal turned out to be national champion Alok Kumar. A tough opponent known for his prowess in pool, Kumar was put to rest by Gulati 8-5. Immediately after, Gulati was to play the semifinals against PSPB cueist Manan Chandra. Without getting enough time to prepare for the penultimate stage, he relied on his mental strength to pip Chandra 8-2.
“It was a grinding session as in space of three hours I had to play both the quarterfinal and semifinal. Once I was assured of the final, only then did I enjoy a break. But I had to recover fast because the final was scheduled only two hours later.”
Last time when Talwar and Gulati met in Delhi, there were phases in which both players outplayed each other. If Talwar surged initially 4-1, he lost momentum to lend the advantage slip. Gulati used the opportunity to overtake him 7-4 but till date he is firm that luck favoured Talwar a great deal in 2010. “I remember after leading 7-4, I didn’t get enough chances after that as he used to clear the rack with a perfect break. Further the balls were used to get placed really well which made things easy for him. But this time I was confident that I will win,” Gulati explained. “I know how to control nerves and this is where I got the better of Talwar. Playing with him all these years has helped me analyse that once he starts playing poorly, it is difficult for him to come back,” the cueist said.
Being a snooker player, playing pool is sometimes a hard nut to crack for Gulati. But with World Championships in February, he knew the importance of the pool nationals. Gulati stopped playing snooker and gave all his time to ironing out his flaws in pool. “The World Championships are a great opportunity. But with the Delhi state ranking tournament round the corner, I know snooker is the need of the hour. I generally don’t mix up disciplines as it disturbs focus. So before every tournament I switch my mind and start playing that particular discipline,” Gulati signed off.