NEDUMBASSERY: From one end of the bowling green at the backyard of the CIAL Golf Course on Saturday, Sarita Tirkey bent over to roll down a black ball the size of an ostrich’s egg.
She rose and smiled as the ball came to rest just aside a white ball somewhere in the middle of the green — a perfect throw in a game that awards points for the black’s proximity to the white one. But her smile was short-lived.
On her next turn during that practice session, her faux-opponent Lovely Chaubey, rolled down her ‘wood’, knocking Sarita’s ball away from the white ‘jack’ as her own ball rested just inches away from it. This uncertainty of fortunes is what makes the obscure sport of lawn bowls interesting. And like the game, the players mentioned too share a twist of fortunes in their lives.
Sarita and Lovely are members of the Jharkhand bowling team for the 35th National Games that begins at the same golf course backyard on Monday. For Sarita, whose sister is a sweeper back home in Jharkhand, bowling is what she thinks her only shot at providing a decent livelihood to her family.
“Things had not been smooth back home. But after I started bowling, it got better. There is no regular money, but it is there,” said Sarita, who is even more happy at the fact that she, who has seldom been on a train, was able to fly out of the country to participate in an Asian bowling championship.
For Lovely, bowling is the only solace she could find after her career as an athlete, competing against the likes of Anju Bobby George, came to an abrupt end following injury.
Similarly, the entire Jharkhand lawn bowls team for the 35th National Games is an incongruous mix of unlikely sportsmanship. There is a former under-19 East Bengal defender alongside the daughter of a push-cart vegetable vendor, a kabaddi player and the son of a green-keeper in the team.
But that does not mean they are just a bunch of warm-up opponents for established teams in an event like the National Games. Rather, they represent one of the most accomplished bowling teams in India. Formed in 2007 by former first-class umpire Madhu Kant Pathak, the Jharkhand bowling team is the favourites to win gold this time. In the 2007 Guwahati National Games, the team won three of a maximum of four medals. In Ranchi in 2011, they improved their tally to five gold and two silver medals.