New Delhi: Many a times you have been to a bowling alley with friends and family and enjoyed a set of games - competing, laughing when the 'gutter' happens or just sharing high-fives when there's a strike or a spare. But how many times you have taken the game seriously?
India has a professional bowling team and a federation based in Bengaluru but it is not one of the 48 recognised national sporting federations in India because it is not an Olympic sport.
After staying in the 'other sports' category for the longest time, it was upgraded to the 'general sports' category after Shabbir Dhankot and Dhruv Sarda won a bronze medal in doubles at the 2017 Asian Indoor and Martial Arts Games.
Dhruv, his father Harsh Vardhan Sarda and his mother Anuradha Sarda are all active bowlers. Dhruv is the one in the national team. However, the three are participating together in the national championships. The first Nationals were held in India in 1989 and Dhruv has won four titles while his father has got three to his name.
"It's a beautiful sport. Age or gender is not a barrier. I have lost to women and kids and vice versa. It's all about you and the lane. I am not competing against him or her, I am up against the lane and whoever beats the lane, wins.
"Bowling looks easy, you take the ball and roll it but you need some physical fitness in every sport. When you enter bowling professionally, you need strong legs, strong lower back, shoulder, everything," Dhruv told News18.com.
The sport of bowling in India is currently centred in Bengaluru. It is the one centre in India where they have an oiling machine and the infrastructure is closer to international standards. There is a centre coming up in Chennai but the sport is mostly centred in the 'South' because of that.
"Thankfully for me because they've (parents) been in bowling, I had their support for me to leave my job and everything else to pursue this (bowling) 100 per cent," he said, adding that he shifted to Bengaluru for around 11 months for training.
"Because it's (training centre) situated in one place, the outreach hasn't been that great. So the majority of the bowlers in the national team have been from the South. It's only now that there is one girl from Haryana in the national team," Dhruv explained.
The lack of information and attention on bowling makes it difficult for the players and the federation to handle the expenses around the sport. There have been only a couple of times when the sport has made it to the television sets, one time being in 2010. The lack of limelight makes the bowlers almost unrecognisable as sportspersons.
Such is the apathy around bowlers that even their travel for tournaments becomes difficult. Since bowling is not a recognised sport in the public forum, it becomes difficult for the bowlers to carry their equipment as they do not get weight exemptions.
For example, a golfer's kit is exempted from the weight allowed on a plane but that's not the case for bowlers.
Sometimes at the airport, the bowlers are asked to roll the ball and show that it's really a ball or they carry photographs of their tournaments to prove they are sportspersons.
Dhruv says that he and his family are in the sport only for the passion they all have for it. Otherwise, for bowlers, there are no salaries since they are not funded by the Sports Ministry.
Each bowling ball costs Rs 15,000 and the bowlers take six to eight bowling balls for different conditions for every tournament. On top of that they have to buy new equipment every year because it has a shelf life.
Because of the expense around the sport, the bowlers have to juggle between following the sport and finding work that can help them pursue it.
Dhruv joined the national team in 2009 and it was in 2017 when he won his first medal for the country. "In India, most start around the age of 20 and it can take us six to eight years to win a medal. We are that far behind. But we are still in a position to compete, which means that we have the talent and we can put in the hard work," he said.
India has never hosted any of the Asian Championships because of the lack of infrastructure. Kegel is one of the companies that make good oiling machine and only Bengaluru and Chennai have one each.
While the federation bore the cost of getting an oiling machine for practice purposes, it is not enough to hold a tournament. And because of funding issues, they have to choose between spending on more oiling machines or developing bowlers - and they choose the latter.
Bowling is not a part of the Commonwealth Games, so for Indian bowlers, Asian Games is the biggest platform to prove themselves. However, they weren't allowed to go for the Games in 2014. News18.com has learnt that the bowlers were willing to fund their own team but they were still not given a go ahead. They were practicing for the Games in Malaysia when they got the news that they will not be sent.
However, India did got for the 2018 Asian Games, where they could not get a medal. But just a year after the Asian Games, India won a silver in the Asian Championships, which is bigger than the Asian Games for the sport since Arab countries and Australia are not a part of the Games.
"The top Asian countries like Japan and Malaysia look at India and wonder how we are still able to produce results. They go without a coach sometimes and still win a medal. So there is something in India, there is something in our blood that we can adapt, fight and pick up a medal," Harsh Vardhan Sarda exclaimed.