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Saturday, 29 December 2012

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Cueist Lafir brings Sri Lanka' first world title

Sri Lanka's first sports title was in Billiards in 1973 the World Amateur Billiards Championship held in Bombay and Sri Lanka's M.J.M. Lafir crowned himself as the champion beating India's Sathis Mohan in the final. He also added to his crown a world's record break of 859 points in one set against Erick Simons of New Zealand.

Billiards had been played in Sri Lanka almost from the beginning of the last century. People recognized this game with great enthusiasm and some caution. This was due to several hotels with billiard room facilities, with sign boards indicating "Bar & Billiards" inviting Billiard fans to take up this sport when relaxing in a hotel atmosphere. The close association with the bar and billiards was a disservice to the game in the good old days gone by with this sport being the first to bring a world title to our mother land.

However the formation of the Ceylon Amateur Billiards Association, which was the original name of the present Billiards and Snooker Asocaiiton of Sri Lanka, In May 1948, did much to establish the game as a respected sport in the country. The credit of this is due to large measurer to late M.M. Tawfeeq, the former Sports Editor of the Daily News. He was the then billiards secretary of the MICH It was he who convened the first meeting of billiard playing clubs in the country. Eight clubs responded to this invitation, another two clubs assuring support came from Kandy YMMA and Kotehena CYMA. came from the meeting was held on May 30, 1948 at MICH Dematagoda.

People like Siri Perera, M.M. Thawfeeq, S Karunarthne, Peter Senavirthne, P.H.J Wijesekara, Col. L.C.J Cabral, Frouse Saheed, A.M. A Marzook, Falil A Gaffoor, U.W.Sumathipala, Jagath Sumathipala, Trevo Bultjens, D.G.Daluwatte, Capt. Sarth Alwis, Kamil Ghouse, Stanley Silva are some of the names which came to my mind.

M.J. M Lafir's achievement was commendable to Sri Lanka at that time. It was on April 17, 1981, one month before his 51st birthday, this great man put Sri Lanka sports into the world map, breathed his last.

Lafir was born on May 27, 1929 at Messenger Street. After his death, the Colombo Municipal Council re-named the Messenger Street, as M.J.M. Lafir Mawata. That was the initiative and leadership of late Frouse Saheed and some of the Billiards and Snooker Association members.

Jagatha Sumahtipala the head of the cue sport in Sri Lanka in 1988's, was responsible in hosting the 5th Asian Snooker Championship, with the help of the government, honored the maestro by issuing a date stamp for the value of Rs. 5.75. In the early days the Asian Tournament was played for M.J.M. Lafir Cup. Now the tournament is there but the cup is missing, this tournament came in because of late Maurice Kerr of Thailand and late Frouse Saheed of Sri Lanka.

Lafir was the son of late M. Junaid, who taught his son Lafir the rudiments of the game at the age of 16, The experience he gained by rebuilding the game and improving by handling the cue himself, he mastered the art to out beat his guides and mentors. Lafir was always a loner in his cue game. He was the only Sri Lankan individual to win a World Title in any sport and the only cueist to be accorded a National Welcome.

There was a story that Lafir and his brothers used to play this game with brooms and marbles when they were kids. It is said that one day when Lafir's father was known as "Vatjhiyar Junaid" found him playing billiards at Hulftsdorp, slapped him and drove him off, his friends pleaded with him and they told his father "your son is playing well, he will be one day be a top player, so please let him go on with his game". Then the father was relented but after a few years later the Moors Islamic Cultural Home (MICH) discovered his talent and introduced him to big time Billiards and Snooker at National Tournaments and exhibition matches with over seas players like Tom Cleary, Wilson Jones, Bob Marshall, and Horace Eindruy.

He was the first cueist to win the National Billiards and Snooker title over 30 times.

At that time the first and the only one to win an All Indian Tournament six times. He was runner-up in 1969 and third in 1963 and fourth in 1965 in the World Snooker Championships. He won 32 tiles in 20 years. In 1963 when the first official World Snooker Championship was played in Kolkuta he lost by a whisker to Frank Harris missing the vital blue, in the final decider the crowd was stunned when Gray Owen the winner left his cue a side and embraced Lafir and said you are a great player although he was placed third.

In the second World Snooker Championship in Karachi in 1965, Lafir ended in the fourth place to Gary Owen of England, John Spencer (England) and Bill Barrie (Australia). In 1973 World Billiards Championship in Mumbai, saw him becoming the champion.

In this championship he beat every opponent, the only one to do so. He beat Clive Everton (Wales) 1410-1094, Michael Ferreira (India), 1652-1267, V de Marco (Scotland) 2859-762, Alfred Nolab (England) 1217-1131, Satish Mohan (India) 2213-1079, Eric Simmons (New Zealand), 2189-796, Brain Kirkness (New Zealand) 2032-1002, Phil Taraqnt (Australia) 1775-1281 and Paul Misfusd (Malta) 1917-1427 and had the privilege of scoring the highest break of 859 and the second highest score 2850.

In Sri Lanka, the first ever National Billiards and Snooker Championship was held in 1948, A.C.Cambal won the Billiards and M.J.M. Lafir won the Snooker, both were from Moors Islamic Cultural Home, at that time Lafir was only 19 years of age, He won the first Billiards title in 1949 by beating M.S.A. Hassan , form 1949 to 1953 he won all events in a row and then in 1957, and from 1949 to 1962, 1964, 1966, 1979, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973 , then the Snooker title from 1948 to 1952, 1952 to 1957, 1969, 1973, and in 1974.

So the great Maestro of cue sport is no more, the man who brought fame and glory not only for himself but to out Mother Land - Sri Lanka, the king of the blaze is no more, the cue sporting crowd will remember him for ever. Every other year Moors Islamic Cultural Home organizes a cue tournament in his memory.

During Lafir's playing days, late U.W. Sumathipala gave him a big hand along with so many others from MICH, Moors SC and the Sri Lanka Billiards and Snooker Association.

Later his son Jagath did his best to promote the game, he was brought in by king pin of he cue sport Froouse Saheed, who introduced the Asian Championship with Maurice Kerr in memory of M.J.M.Laffir. Today this tournament is not heard.

Frouse Saheed became the president of the Asian Body and the World Body first Sri Lanka to do so, he too gave a very big hand for the sport. Still Lafir's name is on air in the billiard and snooker scene. The Maestro is no more but people in Sri Lanka will ever remember him of for his contribution to our soil.

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