Aditya downs Chinese wildcard to enter pre-quarters

Around the time Alistair Cook breaks for tea at the Cricket Club of India with coach Andy Flower on Tuesday in their practice-game another Essex pro Stuart Bingham will take on Aditya Mehta, a regular of the Mumbai club's green baize, in the biggest match of the Indian's career.

In the distant Chinese city of Chengdu, it's a different green carpet that the Indian snooker pro will compete on, against his hard-nosed English opponent; and minus visible home pressure. But followers of snooker's combative pro circuit will agree that Mehta playing in the International Championship — the sport's richest event outside of the Worlds — will step inside nothing less than his own gladiatorial coliseum.

Thousands of hardcore Chinese snooker fans packed into the host hotel at Sichuan hoping to sight their cue heroes, ahead of the International with prize money of $600,000 (almost a crore rupees). The world's top players were ferried by horse-drawn carriages to a red carpet, where they went Live primetime on Chinese national television — such is the craze for snooker.

Amidst all this, Mehta played out a terribly tense 6-5 win over local wildcard Zhu Yinghui — one man vs a rockshow crescendo of spectators cheering their lad to make the 'Last 32' of the tournament. Scores went 2-2, 4-4, 5-5 before Mehta showed nerves of steel to win the decider. The Mumbaikar who turns 27 on Wednesday would like to gift himself an added round at the big event, and showed good form recording the second-highest break in the wildcard round on Sunday.

"It's a massive breakthrough for Indians, as we've never ventured this far into professional snooker since Yasin Merchant. The prize money's phenomenal - almost Rs 50 lakhs for the winner," he said, excited about playing in the round of 32 against the very best. "When you qualify, you automatically run into a Top 16 player, and even their B and C games are very good," he said, of the challenge against World No.10 Bingham.

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