In October 2011, six members of the Bahrain national bowling team made their first appearance in the Professional Bowlers Association’s World Series of Bowling at South Point Bowling Center.
Ever the optimist, Bahrain’s team coach, American Tim Mack, told his players they would learn to compete against the best bowlers in the world. But realistically, he knew 2011 was going to be a learning experience. And it was.
One year later, Mack and his seven-member Bahraini team returned for the 2012 edition of the GEICO PBA World Series, and 35-year-old Fawaz Abdulla carved out a piece of PBA history by becoming the first player from Bahrain – or any other Middle East country, for that matter – to qualify for an ESPN-televised stepladder final.
Abdulla, who was on the brink of making the semifinal round of the Scorpion Championship a year earlier – only to have his hopes dashed – exemplified the progress the Bahraini team has made when this time he advanced from sixth place in the final game of qualifying in the Chameleon Championship Monday to claim the fourth and final spot for the ESPN stepladder finals.
The Chameleon finals, along with four other Tour events including the PBA World championship, plus the World Bowing Tour finals will be conducted this weekend in a special two-lane bowling arena inside South Point Hotel’s Exhibition Hall. The Chameleon finals will be taped on Sunday at noon PT and will air on ESPN Sunday, December 30.
How Abdulla got to that point is the real story.
“With experience has come more confidence,” said Abdulla, with Mack sitting by his side. “We put increased emphasis on practicing on different conditions in different centers and it has made me a more competitive bowler mentally and physically.
“With the training Tim has given me, I have the knowledge that I need to stay ahead of the lane conditions and make the right adjustments. I have a much better eye now to read the lane conditions.”
Abdulla’s confirmation was an impressive 238.07 average for 14 games on a challenging lane condition, which put him ahead of 236 other world-class bowlers in the World Series field.
Mack, a renowned international champion who has won more than 70 titles around the world, is in his second year as Bahrain’s head coach. He knows what it takes to win on the international stage, and he has shared all of his years of experience and wisdom in rapidly elevating the Bahraini players to elite status.
“We really looked forward to this year because we had a year of experience under our belts,” said Mack, who also competed in this year’s World Series. “The players knew what to expect after last year and I’m not surprised at all about how well Fawaz and the rest of the team have been doing.”
Abdulla was happy just making the top 16 for the Chameleon Championship semifinal round, but Mack reminded him that he had more in the tank and needed to focus on reaching the stepladder finals.
“Tim reminded me that this is not done yet,” Abdulla said. “The hard part is done and I have some more to give. Bowling in the finals will be a new experience and I’m looking forward to it.”
In 2011, Abdulla learned a valuable lesson. He finished 18th in the Scorpion Championship, bowling a 300 game in the process, but he missed a chance to move into the semifinal round when PBA Hall of Famer Norm Duke struck on the final ball of the 10th frame to bump Abdulla out of the top 16.
This year, bowling on a pair of lanes next to Duke, Abdulla returned the favor. Needing a strike in the 10th frame to knock Duke out of the top four, Abdulla threw a critical strike in the 10th frame of the last game of qualifying to qualify for his historic American television debut.
Whether he can become the first Middle Eastern bowler to win a PBA Tour title or not remains to be seen. Abdulla will have to first defeat 2009-10 PBA Rookie of the Year Scott Norton. If he wins that match, he will have to beat PBA Hall of Fame legend Walter Ray Williams Jr., who has won an all-time record 47 PBA Tour titles. And if Abdulla makes it past Williams, his final task will be to defeat five-time Tour titlist Jason Belmonte of Australia, the two-handed star who led all Chameleon qualifiers with a 247 average.
”Before the television show, I will tell Fawaz what I have told other players who have never bowled on that kind of stage before,” Mack said. “I tell them, don’t be good. Be great.”
Title or no title, reaching the TV finals is a monumental advance for Bahrain and the Middle East. The Middle East is one of the regions of the world that has experienced a dramatic increase in competitive bowling popularity and talent in recent years. The region has 10 countries (Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Syria) among the 115 nations that are members of the World Tenpin Bowling Association, the world governing body for the sport. Most bowlers know that bowling traces its origins to ancient Egypt where a rudimentary version of the game was played more than 5,000 years ago.
Since its appearance in the 2011 World Series, the Bahrain team has won 16 medals, primarily in tournaments conducted in the Middle East region, Mack said. One of the team’s stars, Yousif Falah, is currently the No. 1-ranked player in the WTBA Asian Zone. Falah, who also is competing in the World Series and cashed in 33rd place in the Viper Championship, recently won four medals in the Persian Gulf Coast Bowling Championships, including gold medals in team and singles, a silver in the Masters and a bronze in all-events.
A third member of the Bahrain team, Mohamed Sultan, made it into the semifinal round of the Viper Championship before finishing 12th.
Abdulla said the reaction to his World Series performance back home has been overwhelming. The IT manager for telecommunications company Batelco has reportedly rewarded him by giving him the rest of the month off after he returns home to Bahrain. He plans to use that time off to practice and train.
“I have had so many people contact me through Facebook that I can’t read all the messages. Many are people I have never met,” Abdulla grinned. “Many people want an autographed (bowling) jersey.”
Mack noted that the support that the Bahrain team has received from the Bahrain Bowling Association and the Bahrain Olympic Committee has been integral to the team’s success.
“They take the sport and international competition very seriously,” Mack said. “They see the importance of this event (World Series) and they make it possible for us to be here. When you talk about the support we get from those organizations and the support the players have for themselves, it creates a very healthy environment for us to succeed.
“It’s been very encouraging to see the progress this team has made,” Mack continued. “It’s been exciting for me as a coach to see not only this program grow, but to also see the growth of the sport in this part of the world. I also take pride in being an ambassador for the sport and the whole experience has been very rewarding.
“And it’s really special to know that the rest of the players bowling in the World Series know the Bahrain team is here. To earn that kind of respect means a great deal to me and to our players.”