Deepak Bala ousted Lawrence Millington 6-5 in a thrilling finish to win the 2023 New Zealand National Snooker Championship, claiming the title for the second time in his career.
Organised by the New Zealand National Billiards and Snooker Association (NZBSA), the national tournament – first won in 1945 – was this year held across four days at the Mount Maunganui RSA in Omanu within the Bay of Plenty on the North Island.
The 48-player field was initially split into eight round robin groups of six, with the top two players from each pool qualifying for the knockout rounds.
Bala, a 41-year-old from Auckland, won all five of his matches as he topped Group C. He then eliminated Thomas Cook 4-0 and Joseph Conchie 5-2 in the last 16 and quarter-finals respectively before seeing off four-time winner Mark Canovan 5-2 in the last four.
Emerging from the other side of the draw was Millington, who was competing in the event for the first time.
In a memorable semi-final encounter, Millington trailed three-time finalist and current North Island Champion Matthew Scarborough 4-1 in the race to five. However, the 45-year-old recovered, hitting breaks of 118 (the highest of the tournament) and 54 on his way to levelling up at 4-4.
Momentum swung again in the deciding frame as Scarborough made a break of 48, although he missed a pot on the brown when 42 points ahead with just three reds remaining. Millington clung on and got back into contention, eventually clearing with an effort of 26 to the final pink to book a final berth.
Millington won the opening frame of the final and doubled his lead with frame two, taking it on the final black having crafted a counter-attacking 52 break up to the final pink. Bala responded by winning the next two frames to square up at 2-2 going into the mid-session interval. Millington went back in front at 3-2 but Bala notched up three of the next four frames as he led 4-3 and 5-4.
The contest went all the way after Millington secured frame ten, but Bala was not to be denied the title as he triumphed on the colours in the eleventh and final frame. His maiden victory in the 2018 Championship also arrived via a deciding frame.
In the Plate Championship, Ian Muir defeated Stephen Thomas 2-0 in the final, and in the B Grade Championship held at the same venue earlier in the week, Dave Judd got the better of Chris Skelling 3-0 in the title match.
The two images above are courtesy of the New Zealand Billiards and Snooker Association.