Things have changed since Tuesday for India’s lawn bowls fraternity after the women’s fours team of Rupa Rani Tirkey, Pinki, Lovely Choubey and Nayanmoni Saikia won the country’s first-ever gold medal in the sport at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham.
Madhukant Pathak followed the proceedings from his hometown Ranchi but basked in the afterglow of the triumph having played a major role in helping establish the sport in the country.
While the rest of India took notice of Pathak this week, he has been a well-known figure in the Ranchi sports fraternity. A local cricketer, he was an umpire for many years. In the movie on Mahendra Singh Dhoni, “Mahi: The Untold Story”, in the famous scene from a school game where word spreads around the town that “Mahi, maar raha hai”, Pathak was the umpire with Bhranti Mishra. “I have done many of Dhoni’s matches. This particular game which is shown in the movie was played at Harmu ground, which is in front of my house. Dhoni (then 13) got a double hundred in the 40 overs game,” says Pathak.
Whenever there is a big cricket game at Ranchi’s JSCA International Stadium Complex, Pathak is still on duty as the local coordinator for the match referee and fourth umpire. The former state panel umpire is the Jharkhand State Cricket Association’s most experienced man for the job.
“I was in the state panel of umpires for many years, starting from the mid 1980s, for Bihar and Jharkhand. I stood in many inter-office, inter-district matches. Apart from Dhoni, I did many matches in which (former India) cricketers like Saba Karim and Subroto Banerjee, and KVP Rao (former Bihar Ranji player) played. I lost interest in cricket after twice clearing BCCI’s written exam for the all India umpires’ panel but fell short in the medical due to eyesight. There’s no one to blame, they (BCCI) also couldn’t ignore when the person is wearing thick glasses,” says Pathak.
As it has turned out, it has been lawn bowls’ gain.
The sport actually took off after Pathak took the initiative. He first formed the lawn bowls state association in Jharkhand in 2004. Although the national lawn bowls association was established in 1985, it was merely on paper. Only seven nationals have been held so far out of which four have been hosted by Pathak and Co at Jharkhand.
He is in the limelight for lawn bowls, but has many interesting tales to share from his umpiring days. His favorite story is meeting Australia batter Mark Waugh during an India-Australia game in Jamshedpur.
“Earlier, the concept of fourth umpire was not there, the local umpire used to be in charge of the ground. We used to prepare everything and keep, the main umpire would come and just check.
“I was supervising the rolling of the pitch, marking the course, under the supervision of the main umpire. That time I got to meet Mark Waugh.”
While his interaction with the Australia star ended with that meeting, his journey into lawn bowls has an Australia connection.
“When the 2005 World bowling championship was being held in Melbourne, I went there on behalf of the Bowling Federation of India. Randhir Singh (then secretary general of the Indian Olympic Association) asked me if I would like to go and understand the game, but it would be at my own expenses. I decided to go. I extended my stay to do a coaching course from a local club. It’s a very popular sport in Australia; there are 2,000 bowling lawns, in India we have four. Imagine the difference,” says Pathak, who was India coach from 2011 to 2018, including the last two CWGs.
Almost all the current players have been trained by him.
“In 2009, I did a professional lawn bowls coaching course from Malaysia. I am the only qualified coach in India, so whenever there is a tournament, the players come here (to Ranchi) and train for 8 to 10 days. If there is any problem, we discuss it on WhatsApp.”
It is difficult to convince people about taking lawn bowls seriously as a sport, but after the CWG gold, Pathak is elated. He calls his sport a battle of nerves.
“Now we are feeling quite elevated; Our team had been reaching the semi-finals, but we were marginally falling short, losing by one ball, one point. This time fortunately the players did very well. The New Zealand team came under pressure in the semifinals and the South African team came under pressure in the final. In this game, if you come under pressure then you are not able to execute what you want to.”
When Pathak first approached Dhoni to visit the bowling green at Namkum, on the outskirts of Ranchi, he asked: “What is this game and who plays it?” Pathak had to explain about its popularity in countries like Australia and New Zealand. Dhoni did visit the green as it is on the way to the Dewri temple where he goes. Now, Dhoni’s reaction to the victory is awaited.