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Bowling ’em Over

Indians are falling like ninepins to the lure of the sport’s magic

Bowling ’em Over
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IF you’re unfit and unsure of what sport to take up, try tenpin bowling. It demands no backbending exercises, no great skill. There are no age/sex restrictions. The credo’s simple: if you’ve got the cash, you can lose the calories. And the entire family can have a good time too. That’s what companies setting up bowling centres promise.

So far, all the activity has been in and around the capital. A brand-new centre has come up at the 32nd Milestone Complex in Gurgaon; the old manual alley at the ITDC-owned Qutab Hotel—set up for Americans who were here as part of the PL-480 aid programme in the 1970s—has been upgraded, and another one at Surajkund is scheduled to open before Diwali.

Others are following: Bangalore’s first four-lane centre will open in Koramangala by December, a 12-lane centre is coming up on Airport road; a 20-lane centre in Goreg-aon in Mumbai, an eight-lane centre elsewhere in the metropolis. While in Pune, Chennai, Calcutta, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh and Ludhiana. 150 lanes are expected to be installed by next year-end, 500 by 1998.

The reason international bowling companies want to come to India: big middle-class, big incomes and big spending power. Industry surveys reveal an immediate potential for 10,000 lanes in hotels, clubs, residential townships and complexes.

What prompted them to eye India is that Taiwan and South Korea have each installed over 13,000 lanes in the last five years; China 5,000 lanes in seven years. Says the US-based bowling market leader AMF’S India representative, Deep Kalra: "Our mission is to create another China." That may be a tall order for a sport which sells ‘lane-hours’ to ‘customers’. That too, in a country where the pay-and-play culture is still alien. But US-based AMF and other US bowling majors like Brunswick and Mendes, make no bones they’re targeting the cash-flush.

What’s in bowling’s favour is that it requires less skill and even lesser fitness to get started, unlike squash and swimming. Plus, it’s an all-weather, all-age social game with no body contact.

With the result that posh apartment blocks like White House in Delhi are queuing up. It costs Rs one crore and 1,000 sq feet of space for setting up a basic four-lane centre. But bowling companies say returns are easy and almost immediate, as it’s a cash business with few overheads and virtually no cost of sales. 



"At Rs 125 a game (20 throws) daytime and Rs 150 in the evenings, a centre makes up to Rs 30,000 a day, plus Rs 15,000 in food and beverage sales and the investment is back in a year," says Kalra. "Even less, if you’ve a video arcade, cybersurfing and billiard/pool facilities."

 That is already happening. Last weekend, the Qutab centre totted up 350 games in just two days. Says Davis Tomy, who worked 13 years at a bowling centre in Dubai: "Even in the US, the average is around 150 games a day.... I never thought bowling would be a hit in India."

 Facilitating the boom is a slash in import duties on bowling equipment from 200 per cent five years ago to 51.5 per cent. What used to be a manual sport—pin boys oiling the alley, placing the pins and picking up the deadwood—is totally automated today.

Microprocessor-controlled pinspotters monitor fouls, roll the ball back, and keep the scores. All you’ve got to do is pay, choose a ball (weighing between six to 16 pounds), and try to strike down the 32 pounds of wood, 60 feet away.

Sounds simple. But it isn’t. You have to choose the right ball (unless you get one custom-drilled at between Rs 2,000-5,000 to fit your grip) and hurl it to strike the kingpin at an angle of 46 degrees. Incredible but true, between 600 and 1,000 degrees of heat is generated when the ball strikes the lane.

Says Len Charney, an Israel-based coach, who conducted a camp for budding bowlers before last month’s nationals: "Bowling is the second most technical and testing sport after golf. It’s mental, tactical and physical. There has to be a balance of calculation and creation. You can burn up to 300 calories an hour, the same as in swimming. It’s more stimulating than jogging which is aerobic."

 A medal sport in the Asian and Commonwealth Games, bowling could be included in the next Olympics, where it’s an exhibition sport. In April, a bowler walked away with $100,000 (Rs 30 lakh) for a perfect game shown live on TV. And AMF, which is sending winners of this year’s nationals to the World Cup in Ireland, hopes to bring the 1999 event here provided Mumbai can get a 24-lane centre ready. 

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