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Rulers of lawns, wish list on bowls

- Silver haul at nationals proves state prowess, players go unsung

Autograph-seekers don’t throng them, paparazzi don’t stalk them. But, over the last six years, they have arguably brought more glory to Jharkhand than sportspersons of any other discipline.

Meet Jharkhand’s lawn bowlers, who have yet again asserted their prowess at the 4th national championship at the Maidan tent of Royal Calcutta Golf Club (RCGC) from December 13 to 17.

While a change of turf — from synthetic to grass — affected their performance a tad bit, Team Jharkhand nevertheless managed to clinch four silvers in as many events till Monday.

Jharkhand players are considered formidable contestants in any national-level lawn bowls tie.

Ever since the sport was introduced in the state in 2007, the likes of Sunil Bahadur, Dinesh Kumar and Lovely Choubey have clinched top honours in a host of national and international tournaments.

What is it that helps Jharkhand players dominate lawn bowling in India?

General secretary of the state’s lawn bowling association Madhukant Pathak came up with an answer.

“In metros such as Calcutta and Delhi, lawn bowling is pursued as a leisure activity. But, for Jharkhand players, this sport promises livelihood. In lawn bowling, they see a chance to gain recognition, maybe clinch a government job,” he said.

Pathak who coaches both Jharkhand and national teams, added the state players practised ceaselessly and waited for national and international competitions.

The national coach pointed out infrastructure boost in the state over the last few years had contributed to better performances.

“Earlier, our players practised at Astroturf Hockey Stadium, Morabadi. But ever since we set up a lawn bowls facility in Namkum, the players are practising regularly. The free facility is open to all. So, interested persons from all backgrounds are encouraged to give lawn bowls a try,” he said, adding bowling outfits should work towards introducing the sport in schools and universities so that it gains popularity.

Still, for players, life isn’t easy.

“Lawn bowling is yet to gain popularity in India. We hardly get sponsors for our overseas tours. Whenever we participate in national or international ties, we have to pay for our own expenses. It is a huge investment. That’s why winning is everything,” Sunil Bahadur, a jawan in Jharkhand Armed Police, the only member in the state contingent with a stable job, said.

Among the state team’s mainstays is Dinesh Kumar, who earlier played football for East Bengal Club in Under-19.

“My ankle got injured and I was advised not to play. Then I started working as a football trainer. A friend told me about lawn bowling and I thought of trying it out. Since then, I have not looked back,” Kumar, who clinched a gold in mixed pairs along with Lovely Choubey at Sime Darby Merdeka Asia Pacific Lawn Bowling Championship 2013, said.

All attempts, however, don’t yield victory. For people walking on such a taut rope, defeats are crushing.

“When we win prizes, mediapersons turn up at our doors, felicitation awards flow in and family members are happy. But, when we lose and practise to regain form, the same people tell us to quit,” said player and Karamtoli resident Krishna Xalxo.

For some, victories get only assurances. Dhanbad-based Farzana Khan, who won a gold medal at the 34th National Games in Ranchi, asked for a lawn bowls facility at the coal town and a government job for herself.

Two years later, nothing has materialised.

“If there was a facility at Dhanbad, people would have been inspired to take up the sport. I stay in Ranchi and practise at the Namkum greens. That’s not possible for everyone,” said Khan, the only Jharkhand bowler based in Ranchi.

Besides cash prizes at overseas events, medal winners are entitled to a stipend from the state. But players lamented the nominal amount often came in late and the delay affected their morale.

If hordes of sponsors came their way and made their lives easy, would Jharkhand lawn bowlers lose their will to win? Coach Pathak disagrees: “Winning has become their habit. They can’t change that.”

What is your message for these players?