The trend setter
By Jamshed V Rajan
Saturday, 04 October, 2003, 18:41
Jones Wilson, the first Indian World Champion, was a pioneering hero who won the World billiards championship in 1958. He went on to win his second title six years later.
Till he beat Leslie Driffield of England in the Championship final in 1958, in Calcutta, the only sportsmen to had made Indians proud on a world stage were boys of the hockey team.
Wilson's success was received warmly in the country, hungry for a role model to follow. His win provided a boost to the popularity of the sport in the country. So much so that, in the years to come we were to have three other World Champions - Michael Ferreira, Geet Sethi and Manoj Kothari.
Ferreira won the world amateur billiards championships thrice - 1977, 1981 and 1983. In 1977, he had also won the World open championship. Geet, on his part, was the world amateur billiards champion in 1985 and 1987. Later, he won the world professional title four times in 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1998. Manoj Kothari provided the icing on the cake by winning the world amateur billiards title in 1990.
At his peak, Wilson was such an entertainer that he was invited to Buckingham Palace in 1951, to play exhibition matches. Aficionados liked him as much as his play. He was unmatched within the country. A fact explained by his 10 National Billiards and five National Snooker titles.
Five years after he had put India on the sporting map, he received the Arjuna Award. His second World title in 1964 brought him the Padma Shri, India's highest civilian award.
But awards were not what Wilson was after. He breathed billiards and snooker. Legend has it that he could gauge the talent on cueists by looking at the way the player held his cue.
After his playing days were over, he moved to coaching and raised a good crop of cueists who now promote his brand of play. All the while, he remained in the background. Wilson stayed at Sportsfield, Worli in Mumbai with his wife Peggy, whom he married in 1951.
In April this year, he was admitted to Bhatia Hospital in Mumbai after a stroke. The doctors later found a tumor in the pituitary region. His was also diagnosed with diabetes and blood pressure. And as if it was not enough, his wife Peggy ran out of money for his treatment.
It was at this juncture that an article in a national daily made everybody sit up and realise the plight that India's first World champion was undergoing and donated money.
One could go on raising questions like - Is it a must that sports personalities of yesteryears need to project themselves as victims of circumstances before help started pouring in? What about dignity? Are they really happy receiving the charity? Perhaps, we will forget these questions until misfortune hits some other ailing sportsman.
This morning, Wilson passed away in his sleep after a prolonged illness. A reminder to us all that our sportsmen - healthy or ailing - are our national property. And a source of pride.