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Can bowlers deliver in Delhi?

Bowls has earned South Africa more modern era Commonwealth Games medals than any other sport, And the buzz is it will be business as usual when the Indian capital New Delhi opens its doors from 4-13 October.

South Africa’s Proteas ÔÇô six men and six women, plus a manager and three coaches are red hot. But it will not be easy, writes Alan Simmonds. It’s tough in the tropics. Among the four top bowling nations in the world, the Proteas are lean and mean and honed to a high degree of fitness. They acclimatised to curried food and a slow carpet at a tournament in Delhi in June and in August played as a unit with success in Spain in similar conditions ÔÇô hot and humid – on a similar slow carpet.

Head coach Theuns Fraser, a tough, former judo and bowler Springbok, said this week: ÔÇ£We can do no more. Everyone knows their task; all are ready in mind and body. We are not over-confident, there’s strong opposition everywhere you look, but we anticipate a good showing.ÔÇØ

Now 30 000 South African lawn bowlers will inspire their squad when they embark as part of the South African team.

When the president of the South African Sports Confederation and Olympic Committee (Sascoc), Gideon Sam, announced the South African squad in Johannesburg to an enthusiastic audience of sportspeople, families and media he said: ÔÇ£This will be another step forward. We send disciplined, honed athletes each capable of bringing back glory.ÔÇØ

And Bowls SA president Debra Ferguson is upbeat. ÔÇ£I am confident that skill added to dedication and preparation will bring medals. But competition is extreme; any success will be hard-earned.ÔÇØ

This time, by bowls standards (worldwide the accent is on youth) SA’s players are younger ÔÇô the men’s average age is 42, the women’s at 38; our message is clear.

Two of the world’s youngest and most exciting women bowlers will wow the banks. Tracey-Lee Botha (Johannesburg BA), 22, voted player of the tournament at the August African States Tournament in Zimbabwe, 2010 SA Masters champion, a multiple international gold medalist and newly-married Southern Free State’s Brunhilde Gerber, 25, a flaxen-haired Wagnerian beauty, a pairs (lead) champion at Delhi’s 8-NationsTournament, runner-up in the SA Mixed Pairs finals at Umhlali and a proven winner at domestic level, will turn heads and alarm opponents with their power, touch and concentration.

Skips Susan Nel (Sables) a ÔÇ£clean sweepÔÇØ winner of all SA’s main events in 2009 and Johannesburg’s highest world ranked woman, Colleen Piketh (31st), a glorious drawing bowler gold at Delhi with Gerber) with Commonwealth Games experience at Melbourne, steer the sides.

Boland’s Susanna Steyn, an African States gold medallist also a multiple districts gold medalist, is reliable and tough; singles player Helen Grundlingh (Port Natal) is respected for her bulldog attitude.

The men are itching to get going. In the 2002 Commonwealth Games in England, Johannesburg’s Bobby Donnelly, a late substitute, sat in Manchester’s pouring rain, a singles gold medal clutched in his hand, a South African flag plastered to his body. He returns to try to win that crown again; like athletics’ 100m blue riband sprint, a daunting task; his all-round gold medal tally in 10 years is worth a king’s ransom.

SA’s top world-ranked (26th) Shaun Addinall (Western Province) is a sublime performer, no stranger to all, the 36th ranked ÔÇ£babyÔÇØ at 28, Wayne Perry (SFS) and incomparable ÔÇ£leftieÔÇØ Gerry Baker (37th) are gifted, genuine performers. Back after a glittering start to his career faltered is Port Natal prison officer Gideon Vermeulen, built like a rugby loose-forward with a touch like a pickpocket. He and silky smooth Johann du Plessis (JBA) are also multiple champions.

With Fraser, Dr Simon Botha, a brilliant coach and motivator, the non-stop workhorse Jessica Henderson and manager Ron Weddell of the SA Bowls executive to help, who will deny us?