'From red balls to red list' – How Covid-19 travel chaos almost killed off Hammad Miah's snooker career
Hammad Miah has revealed how his snooker dreams were almost buried alive by Covid-19 travel chaos. The English player was stranded abroad for six months after Dubai was placed on the UK quarantine red list before being forced to travel to Russia and Uzbekistan in an attempt to return to Sheffield for Q School in late May. Astonishingly, Miah did enough to earn a new two-year tour card.
Hammad Miah's dreams of reaching the top of the professional snooker world won't be as difficult as battling Covid-19 travel chaos to keep his career alive.
Miah regained the World Snooker Tour card he lost in 2020 by topping the Q School Order of Merit in Sheffield last month, but only after a frantic six-month dash across Europe and Asia saw him touch down in South Yorkshire just days before the event broke off on 27 May at Ponds Forge.
The former world number 71's green baize odyssey began with a trip to Dubai last December that was only supposed to last three weeks, but ended with him forced to put his career on hold due to the global pandemic's onerous travel restrictions.
Forced to consider the red list rather than red balls, the anxious Hertford hopeful did not want to hear about any snooker news from the UK and was unaware of 750-1 outsider Jordan Brown's stunning 9-8 win over world champion Ronnie O'Sullivan at the Welsh Open in February as he played Russian billiards in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan, to keep his cue arm flowing.
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“I’ve got family and friends over in Dubai, so I just went out for a few weeks to forget about the world and relax," he explained.
"A week before my flight home, it was put on the red list. All of a sudden I started getting all of these invites to snooker events as a top up. It became very demoralising knowing I had no way to play.
I ended up staying there for five months, before I went to Uzbekistan as there was a route back from there via Turkey. I was there for six weeks and had four flights cancelled on me, because Turkey was put on the red list. I spent time in the capital city of Tashkent and another village called Jizzakh.
“I hadn’t followed any snooker at all while I was away. I didn’t even know that Jordan Brown had won the Welsh Open. I had no knowledge of anything that was going on in snooker.
"If you look at something you love, but you can’t do, you are going to miss it and it is going to hurt. I knew if I had any knowledge of it, then there would be negative emotional feelings.
"When I was in Uzbekistan, I started missing the game and really wanted to play. They don’t have snooker tables there, but what they do have is Russian billiards.
"It is the same size as a snooker table, but the balls are way bigger. They are all white balls and they only just fit in the pocket. I found it amazing. I was right in the middle of Central Asia and every club was packed with people playing this game. They love it. I only played it four or five times, but I just wanted to be in the club again and that gave me a buzz."
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Miah paid tribute to Eurosport's celebrated global snooker coverage for reigniting his passion for potting when he was sitting listening to Russian commentary in a cafe during the World Championship in April and May.
"What really got me my hunger back was when I saw snooker on television in a shisha cafe with Russian commentary," he said.
I was in the middle of the world, 5000 miles away from my home and all of a sudden I saw my sport on television right in front of me. I went back to where I was staying, switched Eurosport on and was glued to the TV from that point. I’ve never watched so much of the World Championship before. Every day I was watching it and that gave me the hunger.
"I don’t think they even really know about snooker out there and all of a sudden it was on a television in front of me. At that moment, I knew I needed to get back to Britain and start playing in time for Q School. I managed to get a flight back via Moscow and landed on May 15. By the time I had done my quarantine, I had just four days to prepare.”
Despite suffering a 4-3 loss to Craig Steadman in the final round of event two at Q School and two narrow 4-3 defeats to James Cahill and Michael White in the other two events, Miah's consistency over the duration of the cut-throat qualifying event was enough to top the order of merit to regain his tour card.
"I was doing one every day in Uzbekistan waiting to see when I could get on a flight and then had to do one once I got home while I was quarantining. The minute I got out of quarantine, I was straight into the club. I was so excited to play and there were no expectations. I would be buzzing with a 50 break at that point.
“I lost three games 4-3 and within myself I know how hard Q School is. There are top players at it that won’t get through, players that are comfortably good enough to be in the top 64 in the world. It is brutal.
"There are normally about 20 or 30 players that have a good chance to get on, but when these players meet each other it is like being in a ranking event. There are no easy runs. It is brutal because it is a best of seven and after it you either have a job or you don’t have a job. What are you going to do?
“I needed to turn professional. It is huge for my life. Every time you come back to the tour after falling off it is like a fresh start, a new chapter in your life. I have this fresh start and now it is the time to get my head down. There are no excuses here. I’ve got good people around me and I’m settled. If I work hard then it will come.”
Miah first turned professional in 2013, but has yet to go beyond the last 16 of a ranking event.
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The 27-year-old hopes that will change over the next few years and admits he is inspired by world champion Mark Selby, who clamed his fourth world title in seven years with an 18-15 win over Shaun Murphy.
The new snooker season begins on Sunday 18 July with the Championship League staged by the Morningside Arena in Leicester. Miah faces Mark Williams, Peter Lines and Jak Jones in Group 8 on the first day of the new campaign.
“Anyone that can win a tournament is inspirational. I’ve seen Mark Selby away from the public eye and how he conducts himself," commented Miah.
"I know why this guy is a world champion. You have to learn from these people. There were a few guys at Q School who haven’t made it on tour yet and I told them, you need to surround yourself with the right people.
Don’t head straight out for a drink when you lose. The top boys are so disciplined. If you want to be them and see the fruits of your potential, you have to conduct yourself in different ways. You need to make the sacrifices.
"I would say to the youth they should read as much as they can about sport. The top guys and the crème de la crème are zoned in. They have that bullet proof mentality. That is what I want to get.”