PETALING JAYA: Malaysian bowlers have been simply smashing thus far this year.
And Shalin Zulkiflis victory in the opening leg of the Aviva Asian Tour at the Pyramid Mega Lanes in Subang on Monday to keep the winning streak going has only enhanced Malaysias reputation of having world-class bowlers.
Shalin beat Cecilia Yap of the Philippines to give Malaysia their sixth success in five consecutive international tournaments.
Malaysia started the year with a bang in Singapore in January. Wendy Chai won the Open Masters and then in the 2002 Asian Tour Grand Slam Finals, Shalin and Lai Kin Ngoh made it a grand 1-2 finish.
In February, both the mens and womens team turned world beaters. They produced awesome performances to win the World Team Cup titles in Odense, Denmark.
The success was the first on the world stage for Malaysian bowlers in 23 years since J.B. Koo, Edward Lim and Allan Hooi won the trios gold at the 1979 World Championships in Manila.
In the Malaysian Open, which preceded the Tours season opener, Shalins boyfriend Azidi Ameran showed superb fighting spirit to come from behind to win the title on Saturday.
Shalin was unlucky not to score a double for Malaysia in their home Open. She failed to strike the final frame and handed the title to AMF World Cup runner-up Liza Del Rosario of the Philippines.
Azidi also fell short of a double, losing the Tours final to Filipino Paulo Valdez.
With Malaysia on a hot streak, they will certainly be closely watched by their rivals ahead of the World Championships from Sept 9-20.
Malaysia will host the championships for the first time and a lot will be riding on the hosts to rise to the occasion.
National coach Holloway Cheah was delighted with the performances of the bowlers thus far.
They performed well under pressure at home. The girls, like Shalin and Wendy, did very well on the overall, he said.
The men are also coming up strongly and I have faith in them. Azidi, especially, has improved a lot in recent months. He rejoined the squad last year and performed superbly to win the Malaysian Open and finish as the runner-up in the Asian Tour.
But Halloway also preached caution, saying that it was important for them to maintain their form leading up to the World Championships.
I have to plan properly with Mats Karlsson when he returns from Sweden this month on the training plan for the bowlers, he said.
Our priority is to make sure the bowlers do not suffer a fade-out before the world meet.
Shalin will not have a breather after this. She leaves today for London to take part in the World Invitational Tenpin Masters. The top ranked Asian bowler took the title in 2001 and is one of the three women invited to compete this time.
I am a bit tired but I think I can manage ... I have no choice but I cannot afford to stay away from not bowling in the run-up to the World Championships. I want to do well this time ... I do not want to wait for another four years, said Shalin.
Azidi said that he hoped to keep up his winning form.
In the past, I did well in one tournament but not the next one. I have to be more consistent. I want to be in the team for the World Championships, said the 30-year-old Azidi, who played a pivotal role to steer the mens team to their historical success in the World Cup.
There is now all smiles in the Malaysian camp but they cannot afford to not take stock of the threat posed by the Philippines and even Singapore.
The Philippines, coached by Johnson Cheng and American Purvis Granger, also had winners in the back-to-back tournament at the Pyramid Mega Lanes and will be strong challengers when they return for the World Championships.
They missed out on the last championships in Abu Dhabi in 1999 because of financial constraints.