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December 11, 2008
Independent India's first world sporting champ remembered

Wilson Jones at Mumbai airport with the world billiards trophy with wife Peggy and son Geoff in tow. Photo/Pradeep Vijakayer

From Pradeep Vijayaker

PRADEEP VIJAYAKAR, vice-president Sports Journalists Federation of India, on an event the cue sports fraternity of the world would cherish, Wilson Jones' first world billiards title, on December 11,1958


MUMBAI, December 11, 2008 - When India won their first series against England in Enland under Ajit Wadekar, a giant concrete cricket bat was erected in Indore.

Last week I passed that bat in a bus carrying India's cue great who were giving a demonstration of snooker at the Emerald Heights International School. An idea came to mind: why not commemorate the golden jubilee of Wilson Jones' first world title on December 11, similarly with a giant cue that all Mumbai people would see. Well, Shyam Kotak, of the PJ Hindu Gymkhana, who has developed a Wilson Jones website (www.wilsonjones.com) took up that challenge and erected such a cue and it was there when the golden jubilee of post-Indepedence India's first world title in any sport - _Wilson Jones' world amateur billiards title in 1958 - _ was ushered in style by Rosy Blue and PJ Hindu Gymkhana on December 10.

I also made a plea that henceforth every December 11 should be celebrated as World Billiards Day and they should revive a project close to Wilson's heart, the Western India Juniors Championship once sponsored by Amirali Merchant of Rexello Castors, the father of two-time Asian snooker champion Yasin. Yasin wsas there to compere the Jones show with great spirit.

Fifty years ago on December 11 1958, Jones beat another Indian, Chandra Hirjee, for five wins in a row to claim the title at the Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta. He had beaten greats Tom Cleary of Australia and Leslie Driffeld of the UK earlier. Jones, an Anglo-Indian from Pune, won the title again in 1964.

Jones' wife Peggy and her family mingled with later world champs like Geet Sethi, Ashok Shandilya, Asian snooker champ Yasin Merchant and Jones' proteges like Subhash Agrawal, Devendra Joshi and Dhruv Sitwala to recall the good times. Asked why Jones quit the game when he was good enough for more titles, the wife said:``He quit when people asked `why' and not `why not?'''

Son Geoff said his dad was one of the greatest gentlemen sportsmen of India and believed in giving back to the game till his end. There were also Jones' contemporaries- Tony Monteiro, 70-year-old Prakash Rajani, 89-year-old Uttam Chandarana and Bharat Vissanji, at whose father RK Vissanji's home Jones practised as much as he wished.
Vissanji got Jones a job at Wallace Flour Mills soon after his world title.

A cake in the form of the Arthur Walker trophy for world billiards was cut by the wife and son Geoff. A Wilson Jones commemorative mug was unveiled. The gymkhana president, Ramesh Panchmatia, announced the launching of the Wilson Jones Billiards Academy.

Among those present were women players Meenal Thakur and Sangeeta Hemchand, for whom snooker is a therapy for a life-threatening disease, snooker pro Aditya Mehta,and former Test cricketers Bapu Nadkarni, Umesh Kulkarni and Yajurvindrasinh - _all residents of Sportsfield where Jones lived in the latter part of his life. Nadkarni said Jones who used to chair the society's meetings was ``a gentleman the likes of which are hard to find''. Geet Sethi said Jones' 1958 world title counted more than all the other world titles that came later (Geet himself has won eight), for it ``gave us self-belief that foreigners could be beaten in a sport that they had dominated for decades together.''

Sethi, like Jones' successor, Michael Ferreira (who couldn't make it), said they were always given a fatherly treatment by Jones and little tips that made a big difference. Four-time world champ Ferreira, at 13, was fired by Jones' triuph in the Evening News of India trophy event.

Subhash Agrawal, World No 2 and among the earliest to be coached by Wilson along with his world snooker champ brother Om, said:``Sir impressed on us on discipline on and off the table.''

Ashok Shandilya, Jones' most successful student, said:``I went to him after I won the national title so as to prepare for the world event. He had 12 sessions after which Jones said,`You have learnt all you need all will depend now on how much your practice'. I became No 2 and later world No 1. He told us to keep things simple, not be avaricious to play the top-table game that was Jones' forte.''

Devendra Joshi said:``Jones coached me on the condition that I would give up cricket, my original game. I never regretted the decision having reached the world No 2 spot in 1995.'' Asian snooker champ Yasin Merchant said:``I was coached by Shyam Shroff and had just one session with him because I was staying in the suburbs. But Jones always wrote congratulatory letters when I did well.''

Yasin hoped suggestions that came from the media of a commemorative postage stamp to mark the jubilee and to celebrate December 11 every year as World Billiards Day would be implemented.

Seventy-year-old Prakash Rajani, a contemporary, said: ``People like Ferreira had better strokeplay but Jones was the greatest tournament player.'' Prakash, like Uttam Chandarana, who will be 90 in June, is playing in the Wilson Jones memorial event being conducted at the gymkhana. ``We shared a platform once in 1950 when the call came to ban communal tournaments and Jones made a strong speech. He was a class act,'' said Chandarana also India's six-time National tt champ. Another tt great, Farokh Khodaiji, was also present.

Truly it was an evening one will cherish and hopefully Wilson Jones' family.

Below: SJIF president Pradeep Vijayaker addressed the Jones celebration. Photo/Pradeep Vijayaker

 

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