Darts: Four years after throwing his first dart, Sayed enjoys a flight of fancy

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The Independent Online

Sixty-eight players from 19 different countries started the PDC World Championship this week. Some of the international competitors are clearly short on experience, but it is a safe bet that nobody else can compare with Ashfaque Sayed, a 33-year-old biomedical engineer from the Indian city of Pune.

Sayed had never thrown a dart until he was invited to play in a tournament at his local sports club four years ago, but there he was yesterday up on stage here competing in a preliminary round of the world's biggest darts event. He lost 5-0 to China's Shi Yongsheng, though there was plenty of evidence of the Indian's talent. Yongsheng, 37, is a comparative veteran, having lost to Andy Smith in last year's first round.

"I didn't play well but I still feel on cloud nine," Sayed said after the match. "I know I need to work on my game, particularly my finishing, but this has been a wonderful experience and it makes me determined to come back." Sayed won his first tournament back in Pune in May 2003 and has been hooked on the game ever since. "It was the first time I'd ever seen a proper darts tournament, let alone play in one," he said. "A lot of people in India know about darts as a game, but I don't think many know the rules." Within a year Sayed was Indian national champion 100 players take part in the country's annual tournament and he has since retained the crown three times. He has played in a number of international events in Asia and Australia and was thrilled to be invited to take part in the world championship.

Sayed's family, who watched live television coverage of the match back home, have also taken up the game with great success. His wife is the Indian women's No 2, having twice won the national championship, and his 13-year-old daughter is the national youth champion.

Yesterday's afternoon session was a truly international affair. Miloslav Navratil, from the Czech Republic, gave a particularly impressive performance. He led Andy Jenkins 2-1 before the world No 16 recovered his form in time to win 3-2. Navratil hit five maximums but was ultimately outscored as Jenkins won six legs in a row to take the match.

Erwin Extercatte, of the Netherlands, beat New Zealand's Alan Bolton 5-0, although the standard was not high, with only one maximum in the whole match. Another of the strong Dutch contingent, Leroy Kwadijk, was beaten 3-1 by Andy Hamilton, who hit eight 180s despite an ankle injury.

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