Muhammad Ikram was born without arms. He steps up to a snooker table in the small town of Samundri in Punjab and sizes up his options. With a firm flick of his chin strikes the cue ball ht then slots a red into a corner pocket.
The sport was perhaps an unlikely passion for Ikram, 32, to pursue. However, the player has spent years honing his skills. He can now give anyone at his local snooker hall a run for their money.
“It is a tough job that requires hard work. If there is a player like me, I am ready to face him”, Ikram told AFP.
Born into a poor home, Ikram and his eight siblings did not go to school. He spent much of his childhood feeling isolated.
As a teenager, Ikram started to watch players in the local snooker hall. He was inspired to start practicing “in secret”.
“In the beginning, I used to push the balls by myself on an empty pool table,” Ikram said.
“Gradually, I improved my game and started playing with others.” Ikram can now challenge the best players in town.
He demonstrated a range of shots, giving a solid and assured flick of his head to sink reds. He then sent colors into pockets, drawing applause from other players.
“Chalk your chin,” one of them quipped after Ikram eventually missed a shot.
Worried he might injure himself, Ikram’s parents initially barred him from snooker for several years. However, last year they allowed him to return to the sport.
His skills quickly turned him into something of an internet celebrity among Pakistan’s snooker-playing fraternity.
“I became famous,” Ikram said, though he confessed to having no idea what social media is.
Pakistan keeps no up-to-date statistics on people with disabilities. However, non-governmental organizations estimate there to be more than 30 million in a country of about 220m. A lack of a social safety net means the majority of the disabled population stays home.
Muhammad Nadeem, who owns the Samundri snooker hall, described Ikram as a “true sportsman”.
“We don’t charge him for a game. Instead, people pay him to play with them,” Nadeem said.
“He has no competition, in cricket and football there are disabled players but when it comes to snooker he is a one-of-a-kind player.”
Last year, Pakistan won against India to become champions of ‘The Asian Team Snooker Championship 2019’.
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