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CWG: Four athletes from different backgrounds put India into final in Lawn Bowl

Express News Service

CHENNAI: On April 6, 2000, Pinki, a cricketer from Delhi, was at Sri Ramachandra Medical College Ground, Chennai, representing North Zone against Railways women during the Rani Jhansi Trophy for 1999-00 season. Assam’s Nayanmoni Saikia was a national level weightlifter in early 2000s. Jharkhand’s Lovely Choubey was once a long jump athlete, and Rupa Rani Tirkey was a kabaddi player in the past.

A few years on, the four athletes would come together on a bright sunny day at Birmingham to make history for India, reaching the Women’s Fours finals of the Lawn Bowls event, overcoming New Zealand 16-13. But unlike their previous matches, it wasn’t easy.

At one point, they were trailing 1-6, but the players never gave up. They persevered, egged on, pushed one point at a time. They got to 7-6, even then it went down to the wire. But their captain Rupa held her nerves, delivered what the team needed in the penultimate bowl to take India to the final.

Now, Lawn Bowls isn’t among the most famous sports in the country. It wasn’t introduced in India until 2007. And that explains why all four of the Indian athletes were once involved in other disciplines.

“Everyone was playing different sports earlier. In cricket, for example you need a team of eleven to win. Here in lawn bowls, there are both individual and team events. Because there is not much awareness about the sport in the country, players started taking it up for various reasons when it was introduced in the National Games in 2007,” said Anju Luthra, the Indian team manager, from Birmingham.

“If you look at it, several players are from Jharkhand and Assam. Some are from Delhi, too. Many players have done well at national and international level and have been rewarded with jobs in the public sector, which is a big incentive for taking up the sport,” said Anju.

And, she is right. Lovely is employed by Jharkhand police, Nayanmoni is with Assam Forest department, Pinki is physical education teacher in one of Delhi’s reputed schools and Rupa Rani is a District Khel Officer, West Singhbhum.

But, it’s not as if the four of them came out of nowhere and converged at Birmingham this year to secure India a medal in Lawn Bowls. In the 2010 CWG, India missed out in the Bronze medal match, and in Gold Coast 2018, they reached quarterfinals in two categories. This time, however, despite the challenges due to the pandemic, they were determined to go all the way.
“We had a camp in Delhi as early as March 2021 and we reached England a few days early as well to prepare for the event,” said the Bowling Federation of India  general secretary Lokinder Singh.

A few hours after reaching England on the morning of July 20, the Indian team were at the Bishopswood Bowling Club, London to get ready for their challenge. “The grass that we have got in Delhi and what we would be playing in here are different. So, the BFI had arranged for us a few days of training here in London. The players rested for a couple of hours after we landed and then were at the club practising till 8 pm in the night,” said Anju.

They had their share of challenges, but the players never gave up. The team trained at Bishopswood day in and day out to get acclimated to the grass in Birmingham. “The players worked hard throughout the day as we continued practising there till July 24. Even when we were trailing today, they showed no nerves. After the heartbreaks of the past, they showed the nerves of steel. And it is their inner strength that has ensured a medal for our country.”

While a silver medal is secured, the Indian team is not thinking about it as they take on South Africa in the final on Tuesday. They know they are on the verge of making history and what a gold medal could mean to their sport.

“Till now, nobody was coming and asking questions to us about Lawn Bowls. Now, everyone is because we are going to win a medal. If we are going to make history, why settle for silver, we want to go all the way and win gold and make the country proud,” Anju signed off.

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