What do you get when you put together a team of two former physical education teachers, a police constable, and a forest department official? Answer – a champion lawn bowls team, ready to take on the world.
Victoria Park, on Monday, bore witness to history as the Indian women’s fours team of Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki, Lovely Choubey, and Nayanmoni Saikia guaranteed the nation at least a silver medal in the event. The side trumped New Zealand 16-13 after 15 ends to set up a title clash with South Africa on Tuesday.
“Rupa, pumped up and quite understandably so, screamed right into the microphone. “Our journey isn’t over. We are just starting. Tomorrow, we go all out.”
India’s journey towards a Commonwealth Games medal in lawn bowls started with the National Games in 2007, in preparation for the 2010 edition of the quadrennial event at home. In the women’s triples at that edition, the country lost by one point in the semifinal against Australia. That defeat gave Pinki and Rupa, ex-PE teachers, countless sleepless nights. But tonight, they will need to sleep well and charge up for the greatest day of their lives.
“In 2014 and 2018 too, our journey ended in the quarterfinals,” Pinki said. “The one medal missing from India’s cabinet has been confirmed today.”
India did not have the perfect start on the rink, trailing 5-0 after two ends. “It might be difficult when you are trailing but we never lost faith. We kept going. We thought we would start creeping up to the opponent, taking one point at a time. But we couldn’t afford to be too greedy at the same time,” Saikia, a forest official, said, stopping briefly for a quick phone call to her six-year-old daughter.
“She just gave me a kissie,” she grinned.
The ladies aren’t looking to settle for anything less than gold. “This is our first medal. So, it must be gold. That will be the perfect start. We have nothing to lose,” Pinki, who works for the police, said.
India, trailing 12-13 at the penultimate end, was under a bit of pressure as Rupa went in for the last attempt. With another point confirmed off the last end, her teammates, seated in the stands, asked her to call the draw. Rupa, however, was adamant that she could pull it off.
“We already had three balls in, so why risk it? Because sometimes you end up hitting your opponent’s balls and they end up rolling in the mark,” Pinki explained.
For manager Anju the end was nerve-wracking. “It was scary in the end, but Rupa did her job. All of them did their job. We couldn’t have asked anything better.”
Sunaina Kumari, deputy president of the Asian Bowls Federation and board member at the Bowling Federation of India, told Sportstar, “A medal in lawn bowl bodes well for the future of the sport in India. It has always been more of a sport for the elderly. But we are working each day to popularise the sport, with new programmes for schools. Even the men’s team defeated England yesterday. So, overall, we are in very good shape and hope to do better every day.”