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Fab five bowl for Glasgow glory

As the XX Commonwealth Games kick off in Glasgow, Scotland, from Wednesday, it will be a momentous occasion for Jharkhand for reasons five many.

Of the 215-strong Indian contingent across various disciplines — the second largest ever — a quintet from Jharkhand will represent the country in lawn bowl events. India has fielded a 10-member lawn bowl squad comprising five men and five women. Of them, Sunil Bahadur, Chandan Kumar Singh, Dinesh Kumar, Lovely Choubey and Rupa Rani Tirkey hail from state capital Ranchi.

“It is a matter of great pride for Jharkhand,” chief coach of the Indian lawn bowl team Madhukant Pathak told The Telegraph from Glasgow on Tuesday, adding that except for this discipline, no other player from the state had been able to bag a berth in this year’s Games.

Team India will begin its hunt from Thursday at Kelvingrove Lawn Bowls Centre, Glasgow, which will continue till August 1. Although India has never won a medal in this particular event at the Commonwealth Games, coach Pathak claims history will be made in 2014.

“The composition is very good this time. We have experienced and talented athletes in the team. Most importantly, the five aces from Jharkhand will secure India’s place in top eight. Lawn bowl players from the state have always led from the front. We are sanguine,” Pathak, who also happens to be the secretary of Jharkhand Lawn Bowl Association, said.

Unfamiliar conditions in Glasgow may, however, prove to be deterrent.

“It is raining in Glasgow and is cold too. The maximum temperature we have witnessed since we came here 15 days ago was 14°C. The average reading is hovering between 10°C and 12°C. Our main concern is the rain because all the matches will be held on grass turf,” said Pathak.

Back in India, lawn bowlers normally practise on synthetic turf. The only consolation is that Jharkhand players had clinched silver during the nationals in Calcutta last year where they played on grass turf for the first time.

“That was a great learning experience for us. Since January this year, we practised on semi-grass turf in Ranchi. It has boosted our confidence too,” said Lovely, who struck gold in the Sime Darby Merdeka Asia Pacific Lawn Bowling Championship (mixed pairs) in 2012 and won silver in the Calcutta nationals.

Sunil, also a Jharkhand Police jawan, said that ever since they touched base in Glasgow, they were practising under rain and sun, and also competing with local clubs. “It is a confidence-building measure because during the tournament, matches won’t be called off because of showers,” said the player who bagged gold at the 9th Asian Lawn Bowls Championships in 2012.

Pathak said despite harsh weather, the athletes were striving hard to make the cut. “The (Jharkhand) government hasn’t given them anything like protective gear, which none of them can individually afford. But, they are battling well against odds. So far, the team has done well in friendly matches. The local press is seeing us as a great force in lawn bowl,” he said, adding that Australia, England, South Africa, Scotland and Malaysia would be some of their strongest opponents this year.

Players too rued government neglect. “At times we think for who we are winning medals. The state doesn’t seem to care. Recently, some athletes got jobs, but most are ignored despite their national and international successes,” said Lovely.

Pathak pointed out that a sudden change in Jharkhand’s sports policy had literally made it impossible for many players to get jobs in the state. “In 2005, the government came up with a notification that medal winners will be given jobs. This year, a new notification states that only World Cup, Olympic, CWG and Asiad medallists will be employed. What about those who win in South Asian meets and the SAF Games?”

Mr chief minister, do you have an answer?