The Indian team of Lovely Choubey, Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki and Nayanmoni Saikia combined to win the country's first-ever medal in lawn bowls at the 2022 Commonwealth Games during the recently concluded event, to bring some new and much-needed fans for the sport.
Lawn bowls has been a fixture in the CWG itinerary since 1930, barring the 1966 edition in Jamaica. However, Indians have been oblivious to the niche sport.
Compared to cricket, hockey, boxing or tennis, lawn bowls is trying to establish itself in India's sporting map. After national-level competitions started only in 2007, Indians started competing when Delhi hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010.
The team, which is being hailed for winning a historic maiden gold medal in the 2022 Commonwealth Games, came into the event in Birmingham without playing a single competitive match on natural grass in the run-up to the event.
The players would probably not even remember when they last played on natural grass, since international events are mostly held on synthetic surfaces.
They had not even practiced much with the new balls that they bought after reaching London so as to avoid the high excise duty back home, officials claim.
Yet, the team went on to spring one surprise after another to win a historic maiden gold, beating a strong South Africa team that had won silver in the 2018 edition.
Most of the players that have taken up the sport come from poor backgrounds and started late as age and physical fitness are not the criteria. With little support from the government, through SAI and the Sports Ministry-funded schemes like Mission Olympic, Target Podium Scheme etc., the players used their own resources and those provided by the IOA to participate in the Asian and Asia-Pacific competitions.
Despite all these hardships, the players have exceeded all expectations by the sheer dint of their handwork, dedication, determination and devotion. With lawn bowls still lacking proper infrastructure and support in India, the women's team's gold at CWG 2022 is nothing short of extraordinary.
Not only the women, the Indian men's fours team of Sunil Bahadur, Navneet Singh, Chandan Kumar Singh and Dinesh Kumar also won the silver medal in lawn bowls at the 2022 Commonwealth Games.
However, there will be disappointment for the fans, who want to see both teams compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics - the pinnacle of sports.
Notably, lawn bowls as a sport is not part of the Olympics and it's up to the stakeholders and decision makers of the game to include it in future. Now that India have won medals at CWG, the game could reach greater heights in terms of popularity.
With a large population, India could become a big market and much-needed change-maker for lawn bowls in future, but as of now, it's not part of the Olympics.
''This is as big as the Olympics for us though lawn bowls are not part of the Summer Games,'' Lovely Choubey, part of the women's team, had said after winning the gold.
Apart from lawn bowls, squash is another sport, which is part of the Commonwealth Games but not Olympics.In squash, Saurav Ghosal won his first individual medal a bronze in men's singles beating a strong opponent in James Willstrop of England in three straight games in the plate final. The 36-year-old also partnered with Dipika Pallikal Karthik for the bronze medal in mixed doubles.
However, the big squash contingent was a bit of a let-down, given that it was only a few months back that India had emerged world champions in both mixed doubles (Ghosal/Dipika) and women's Doubles (Dipika/Joshna Chinnappa).
Remember, many Indian players in the past had expressed disappointments on squash not being part of the Olympics. However, nothing has changed since then.
"Squash has got everything to be in the Olympics. It ticks all the Olympics ideals, but unfortunately the world is not as black and white as we want it to be. There are a lot of grey areas.
Getting into the Olympics is not as transparent as what I believe it should be. We have tried hard for the last 14-16 years to get in, but it hasn't happened," Saurav had said.
"Frustrating. I think we all got to a point where all we could do was laugh. There are some ridiculous sports in the Olympics and if those sports deserve to be part of the Games, so does squash," Dipika had said.
"But I think a lot of good things have happened to our sport because of the bid. It has grown leaps and bounds. So, I think that as a sport, we have done our homework. If the Olympics don't want to have a sport like squash, it's their loss," she had said.
Only time will tell whether lawn balls, squash will become Olympic sports.