Maureen Lenner, a volunteer at the Victoria Park was in awe of a boisterous bunch of Indian fans in the sleepy English town of Leamington Spa. “I am 83 years old, lived here all my life, I have never heard the kind of noise I have heard today. It feels so joyful and festive. The Indians have brought in Christmas cheer.”
It took a bunch of raucous Indian fans and 4 spunky Indian women to propel the sport of Lawn Bowls from oblivion to stardom, for Lemington Spa and the world to wake up to the power of this Commonwealth Sport.
52 Countries in 5 continents play Lawn Bowls. In India it came only in 2010 during the Delhi Commonwealth Games. In 12 years the Women 4s Team has made a gold medal finish. Sunaina Kumari, the Deputy President of Asian Bowling, who was instrumental in introducing the sport, back in 2010, was one of the few who were convinced that India had talent! However putting together the team was never easy.
When IOA was announcing the CWG team last month, there was no talk of Lawn Bowls being a medal event for India. It has sprung the biggest surprise to one and all in these games.
Brita Rawley, one of the senior officials with the Lawn Bowls team drives home the impact,” I would first like to say ‘Shukriya’ to you guys because this win by the Indian Women 4s team means 1.3 billion Indians are watching. That means we expect massive growth for the sport and its entry into Olympics in 2032. This win by the Indian ladies is a stuff of Bollywood movies.”
It truly is! So who are these 4 women to have become overnight stars?
Rupa Rani Tirkey works with the Sports Department of the Jharkhand Government.
Lovely Choubey is a mother and a Policewoman from Jharkhand.
Pinki is a Cricket Coach at a Delhi School.
Nayanmoni Saikia is a mother and a Forest Department Officer in Assam’s Golaghat.
They are professionals by day, dreamers of Olympic Gold by night.
“Ladies love Gold so we only wanted the yellow metal, was never going to settle for silver,” says Lovey Choubey.
Against South Africa, it was a tight finish. 17-10 may look like a big margin but it was a come from behind win. The Protea women went ahead and at 10-8 India nearly looked like surrendering. Then the quartet made a stunning comeback to seal the gold medal.
“It almost felt like Mahendra Singh Dhoni lifting the World Cup. I am from Jharkhand and that moment from 2011 will always be etched in our memories. We wanted to hit a sixer like Dhoni and seal the match. We did it too. No one will ask any more ‘What is Lawn Bowls’. We have given many men and women a reason to dream,” says Rupa.
“We have given the reason to mothers to dream as well. I left my six year old telling her that I will return with a gold medal and I am doing so. All mothers have the right to pursue their passion. And that is the message I want to convey through this win,” says Nayanmoni Saikia.
Pinki a Cricket Coach at DPS RK Puram in New Delhi is convinced that this win will see more kids in school take up the sport. “We had so far not realised the power of this sport. I am hoping that with this win, there will be greater assistance from the ministry, private, sponsors and schools will introduce Lawn Bowls. Girls, boys, young and old can play this sport. We will benefit by putting this in the school circuit’.
What next for this team?
Rupa got married a month before she joined the India camp with a promise to her husband that she will return with a medal, seeking one last opportunity to ‘play’ after marriage.
Nayanmoni has a six-year-old and says it is increasingly difficult to leave her home and come for tournaments.
For the history making team at Leamington Spa, a reunion is tough but with family support they might make it. Even if they don’t they would know that they have given Lawn Bowls an identity in a country where cricket is a religion.
And the sportsman in me is immensely happy to witness history and narrate this great underdog story from the sleepy English town of Lemington Spa.
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