Come on over for lunch, I said to Wilson Jones the other day after the two of us had batted undecidedly on the venue for my much-sought-after interview with him. Thank you and God bless you, he answered politely.
The last three words so generously offered by this kindly World Amateur Billiards Champion who put our country on the map just fourteen years ago, is, in my opinion, the full measure of the man as he is today a deeply religious man whom success and overwhelming public adulation have not succeeded in changing or turning his head one bit either.
Holding the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shree, which were given in 1962 and 1965 respectively for his meritorious contribution to sport in this country and his recent appointment as a J.P. too, Wilson Jones who retired from the game in 1966 still believes that with the extra bit of hard work and dedication our present players will eventually win the world crown for India in Billiards and Snooker as well.
WITH WILSON JONES AND BILLIARDS
By Maurice L. Pearce
Pearce: Mr. Jones, could you tell us exactly when you became the title holder of the World Amateur Billiards Championship?
Jones: Yes, I first got it in 1958 and again in 1964. The 58 championships were held in Calcutta and it was also the first time India won the title. The second occasion was in 64 when the championships were held in New Zealand in a small place called PUKEKUKA which is about thirty miles from Auckland.
Pearce: Could you give us a small resume of that game in which you first clinched the title?
Jones: Yes, is one game which I think will be quite interesting. This was in the 1958 world championship which, as I said earlier, was held in Calcutta. I had beaten Tom Cleary, the holder of the title and I had to play the last but one game with Leslie Driffield who was Englands representative. He was an extremely tough opponent and a dour man to beat in most circumstances. We were playing a four-hour game, and as we were coming to the end of the session Driffield was leading by about 660 points and there was about 105 minutes to go.
It looked as if the title, which was quite close before that match, was slipping away from our country. I sort of gathered my senses then and got out of the doldrums I seemed to have been in when I was playing the first session with Leslie Driffield. Everything seemed to have gone wrong in the earlier stages, but thats a game and thats how it goes.
Somehow I made up my mind that something had to be done. I started playing with far more concentration as I reeled off the breaks. It didnt seem possible, but the breaks came quite easily at that stage, and I made five centuries and one double century in those 105 minutes! Driffield had hardly scored very much in that stage. The highest break he got to, in fact, was about 60 if I remember correctly. And when time was called it seemed difficult to believe that I had my nose in front by 135 points!
That game is still remembered and when I was asked by All-India Radio, a few weeks ago to say something about a game to remember, this is the one I spoke about. I think its one of the finest games played by two opponents, even though I was involved. And apart from the personal values the game might have brought to me, I think it was more important that India won the title because immediately after that game I played the Indian representative, Chandra Hirjee, in the last League tie and I beat him fairly comfortably and India won the title for the first time in the history of Indian Billiards.
Pearce: Where is Leslie Driffield today?
Jones: Leslie Driffield has become a professional and has also won the World Professional Championships.
Pearce: You must have put in a tremendous amount of work and preparation for the big day, I am sure?
Jones: Yes, Nothing comes to anybody who sits and waits for it to come to him. Youve got to work very hard youve got to practice a lot. You have to have a firm sense of dedication with a lot of sacrifice, too. And I very sincerely and honestly say that I worked very hard because I had set myself a goal. It is not the individual so much as the country he represents and I was very, very keen on winning a world title for India. And all I can say is thank God that the goal I had set was eventually realized on those two occasions.
Pearce: What is your present assessment on the game in India today?
Jones: India today holds a very, very high position as far as the game of Billiards is concerned. We have Michael Ferreira of Maharashtra and Satish Mohan of Gujarat. Mohan today is the national champion and Ferreira is the runner-up. Both have represented India on two or three occasions, and without any doubt they have credited themselves extremely well in the various championships.
In 1969, Ferreira was the runner-up when the championships were held in England. And he also made a record break of 629 points which is also a world record today. In 1971, Mohan did extremely well and came very near to winning the title for India. In these championships they usually have two pools, and A pool consists of four or five players in one and an equal number in the other B pool. They play on a league basis and the winner and runner-up then meet in the final play-offs. Mohan won his section and in so doing he beat some very good exponents of the game from various other countries.
In the final play-offs against Norman Dagley, who was eventually the World champion, Mohan was about 500 points behind. And at one stage, I think, he came to about 50 or 60 points of Dagley. Now that was a very remarkable recovery at a stage when there is so much tension involved in a game of this nature. Mohan lost but only by a few points and Dagley who was a wonderful player with a fantastic temperament never seemed bothered at all that Mohan had made such leeway and finished the game in the 15 minutes that were left.
I repeat that India has the talent; the very fact that these two boys have come s close gives every hope of India winning the world title one day. But I feel they have got to work a lot harder to concentrate and dedicate themselves a little more than they have been doing. In all these years Ive felt that the title should come to India, and by their not working a little harder they are only postponing the winning of this title. I hope they will not take this as a form of criticism. Its really a form of trying to help out to make them realize that we have the talent and that with just a little extra effort we can definitely win.
Pearce: You dont take an active part in the game now as a player that is?
Jones: No, not in any tournament except the Billiards League which is played in Maharashtra under the auspices of the Maharashtra State Billiards Association? Thats the only tournament I play in because my firm puts a team in, and I feel that I owe my firm so much that I should play in this particular tournament. Its a thoroughly enjoyable League where everybody gets to meet everybody and that you play under various conditions, trying conditions and various atmospheres which I feel could help a lot of the boys that are coming up in the game
Pearce: How do we rate in Snooker over here?
Jones: Yes I would like to say something at this stage. We are not at the moment quite at the top in Snooker, but we are not very far behind either. The gap that has been there has been narrowing, and each year that our representatives play in the World Snooker Championships they certainly do a lot better. The other countries particularly in the amateur ranks are not as strong as they used to be and a number of their talented players have also become professionals.
Again here I feel that our players are not making enough effort players like Monteiro who is at present the national champion and Sandhu who is also the runner-up. There is also Shroff who was the past national champion. We have a certain amount of talent there is no doubt about it but there is one very detrimental factor as far as Snooker is concerned: we dont have a lot of foreign players coming to India and giving exhibitions so that these boys could learn and model their game on these better players or professionals that come to our country.
This is exactly what happened in Billiards in past years practically from the year 1946-47 right upto 1956-57. Every year there was a Billiards player invited to come to India for exhibition matches and even participate in our Nationals. Now this is what is required for Snooker, and if this could possibly be done it would help the game considerably. Our boys need tough opponents, and they can then learn the different movements from each one of these players. I hope this can be done by the authorities and I am sure that Snooker will eventually take its place as Billiards has been doing in these years.
Pearce: Have you a final word of advice for young players who are now in the game, Sir?
Jones: Yes, Id like to pass on a few hints to those who are now representing our country and those also who aspire to be good players. They must work hard very hard, be prepared to make a lot of sacrifice and to dedicate themselves to the goal of winning the world title for India some day. With this purpose in mind and with the natural talent that is available I am sure that nothing will succeed like success. That is all.