True sportsman

KANDA Sami Mudaliar is a true sportsman still going strong at the age of 73 years.

Mudaliar, a retired Fiji Sugar Corporation (FSC) employee, is an avid bowler and has also taken up snooker to spend his leisure time.

He is part of the FSC General Workers Union team in the General Machinery-sponsored tournament at Lautoka Bowling Club (LBC) which started last week.

Being a skip at his age, shows the experience he holds having played the sport for more than three decades, which led to a collection of multiple national and club titles.

A Jack of all trades

Mudaliar began work with FSC in 1963 as a general driver.

Though he did not drive a locomotive, Mudaliar was at the wheels of the other vehicles used by FSC including heavy machinery. He then went on to work at the Lautoka power house and the electrical department.

He ended his employment in 1999 after serving his final five years at the headquarters.

The start

In the colonial era the Colonial Sugar Refinery not only set up the sugar mills but also bowling, tennis and golf clubhouses for their expatriates.

The locals were not allowed to play sports at these clubs until independence in 1970. The bowling club at Penang and Rarawai are defunct now, however the FSC bowls club at Veitari in Lautoka is still around surviving many cyclones and hardships.

Mudaliar was born in 1942 in Lovu, Lautoka but moved to Rifle Range as a two-year-old.

He took up football and played for the Lautoka Colts team in 1963 and 1964 and was part of the Rangers Club in the local league competition which featured the likes of Arjun Gopal, Dorsami, Ranga Muttu and Ratu Kalliapan.

Mudaliar said he left football in the 1970s.

“It was because I got married and was more committed with my family,” he said.

“And when I started work at FSC, I used to go down to the bowling club to just witness the games with my friends. After a lot of persuasion I took up the sport in 1983 and it was Suruj Narayan who introduced me to bowls.

“He told me why don’t you try it. Suruj is known as Suki by his peers and a well-known personality in the sport.

“At first I thought the sport was very boring and did not have much interest. But then other friends who were field officers encouraged me and also paid for my club registration just to practise. Still I thought it was a hopeless game and I did not want to play it at all.

“But when they forced me on the first day to try the game, I did something that I wasn’t supposed to do. All the bowls that I rolled went into the ditch.

“I thought I was playing well, but when my friends told me it was wrong and I tried to run away. Three of them who were sitting on the other side and facing me were laughing. Then they explained that I should draw the ball to the jack.

“I tried that several times and probably touched the jack twice. From that I got confidence. I knew I could play it but needed patience. I practised during the lunch hour and rolled the bowls daily.”

Tournament success

“I went on to win a handicap tournament within two weeks,” Mudaliar said.

“It really came as a surprise. Then I practised with Krishna Gounder who taught me how to play skip and Uday Singh taught me how to draw the bowls.

“Uday once told me that if you maintained consistency then one day you will play for the Fiji team. So I started playing seriously. I won the club singles for six continuous years and the club pairs for five years.”

After a title slump Mudaliar won the Victa Clark title in 1991.

In 1992 he travelled to play in the Labasa Open but lost in the final. He went again in 1993 and was a winner.

The titles again eluded him until 2002 when he paired up with Som Padayachi to win the Banana Cup.

“We went to Suva to play and defeated Curtis Mar and Samuela Tui in the final,” he said.

“In the same year I played in the National Singles Championship but lost in the semi-final.

“I won the Pineapple Cup in 2004. I won the Masters Pairs with Gounder but lost it with Suku.

2012 and 2013 were the golden years for Mudaliar.

In 2012 at the age of 71, he regained the Banana Cup with Shorab Khan and also lifted the prestigious Masters Singles title.

In 2013 he won the Masters Pairs title with LBC mate Victa Shri Ramlu at the Vatukoula Bowling Club. The Masters Championships are exclusive tournaments in the country which only allow club and national champions to participate in a restricted field.

He won the LBC’s opening tournament this year and the club’s pairs title. Mudaliar is still in contention for the club’s singles, triples, fours and handicap title a feat he is determined to achieve.

“I played golf at the Lautoka Golf Links course where businessman Raymond Singh had a lot of influence on my game,” he said.

“I was on a handicap of 18 and then moved to 12 after winning many weekly prizes.”

Future of bowls

“Now I have taken up snooker just to relax my mind apart from the regular bowls,” Mudaliar said.

“The LBC has gone through a lot of tough times. It has faced many cyclones and has had many renovations over the years. The members have sacrificed a lot to get things in place.

“The sport of bowls has no age limit. You can start bowling as a primary school student or cross 80 years and still enjoy the sport. If you think bowls is for old people then you are wrong. You just gain experience as you get older. Bowls is a sport for all and is interesting.

“Golf requires more strength than bowls. In Fiji there are not many golf courses which have carts for hire so it becomes difficult to walk around the course pulling your bag to play.”

Mudaliar represented Fiji in 2002 against the touring Queensland team.

“They were very experienced knowing which bowls to knock to get the points,” he said.

“It was a learning experience for us because they had been playing internationally for more than two decades.

“The sport here needs more support from the business community and government. We need to get the youngsters playing at a higher level and this will only come through proper coaching which we lack in Fiji.”

Mudaliar lives with his wife at Golf Links Road and has five children, Patrick, Peter, Paul, Doreen and Shirley.

He is a life member of the LBC.

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