Commonwealth Games: Tenpin Bowling - Malays strike out for first gold

Mike Rowbottom
Sunday 13 September 1998 23:02

BEING A Royal in these days of social change required adaptability. Yesterday it fell to Prince Edward to strengthen Commonwealth ties by visiting the tenpin bowling competition as it got underway in the Sunway Lagoon Shopping Centre.

So it was that his Royal Highness arrived at the vast Faux-Egyptian edifice that now stands in this city suburb, its entrance dominated by the sandstone sculpture of a lion which monumentally bestrides a taxi rank.

Under the impassive gaze of the eight-tomb figures fixed around the arcade's central well, he made his way past the Sesame Street children's entertainment area - where Big Bird was singing to loitering shoppers - past the Sports Boutik, British Home Stores, Kedai golf shop, the James Dean and B.U.M. fashion outlets, past KFC Chicken, past the Sony Power Station music shop, past the life-size hanging model of a space ship, complete with floating astronaut. Past the Kenny Rogers roasters restaurant. And there he was, watching tenpin bowling.

Unless you are an aficionado of the sport, it is one which has limited appeal for the spectator. To paraphrase the comment of West Bromwich Albion footballer John Trewick upon visiting the Great Wall of China - seen one strike, seen them all.

As he strolled from the venue, tugging at the sleeves of his blazer, his Royal Highness was asked if he had enjoyed what he had witnessed. "Very much," he said. "Thank you." He sounded like a boy trying to be grateful to his headmaster for caning him.

But if the experience was faintly bemusing for Prince Edward, for the Malaysians it was one of almost unalloyed joy as their doubles' pairing of Kenny Ang and Ben Heng earned the home country their first gold medal of these Games.

The host's decision to introduce a sport which ranks only below badminton, squash and hockey in national esteem was vindicated by a performance which gave a sell-out crowd all the excuse it needed for rowdy celebration.

Malaysia's day would have been perfect if its women's pair of Kin Ngoh Lai and Zulkifli Shalin, already regarded as a national treasure at the age of 20, could have won as well. However, they found the Australian favourites, Cara Honeychurch and Maxine Nable, too strong for them in a competition where the bronze medal went to the English pairing of Pauline Buck and Gemma Burden.

Prince Edward was not the only guest of honour - the Malaysian Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, watched Ang and Heng respond to the incessant chanting of "Malaya Boleh!" - "Malaya you can!" - to maintain a comfortable margin of victory over Bermuda and Australia.

The Malaysian national anthem was very thoroughly sung by the majority of those present as the flag rose at the end of the 48-lane alley alongside a placard for Lang Homes (only from L and G property companies).

In a city where shopping ranks with bowling in terms of popularity, it was fitting that this newest of Commonwealth sports should be housed in something that resembled Lakeside with a Las Vegas flourish.

The Americanism on view went a little further. Every bowlers' effort of any merit was followed by an extended ritual of high-fives and partner patting. At first glance, an astonishing number of the competitors appeared to have artificial hands - but these turned out to be wrist supports. For the congratulations presumably.

Standing on a chair to get a better view of the medal ceremony, the Malaysian coach was a patently proud man. And, with a name like Sid Allen, a patently non-Malaysian man.

He had taken a roundabout route to his current job - born in Romford, Essex, he emigrated to Canada at 16 and played and coached there before taking up his current post eight years ago. His nationality now is something he is unsure of. "I'm a mixture," he said. "But I still support Luton Town, so I guess there's a bit of England in me."

Meanwhile the more definitively English citizens standing on the podium were staring thoughtfully at the cuddly toy orang-utans - versions of the Games mascot, Wira - which they had received along with their bronze medals. "Smile!" one of the England officials shouted as the cameras began to flash.

There was every reason for Buck and Burden to smile, given that this was only their second competitive outing as a pair, and that the latter, a 20-year-old from Weston-super-Mare - was suffering from "flu.

"We hoped for a medal, but we were not counting on it," Burden said. "The Australians were a different class, but there were six other teams who were very good."

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