Season’s End

Just as we near the end of the season the sun comes out and players start to complain about feeling uncomfortable in the heat – about as inconsistent and frustrating as the England cricket team.  With just one outstanding league game to come next week in the Collins and Shipley, this is the time to wrap up our summaries with a review of several successful matches in the last couple of weeks.

In the Nines league we played a double-header at Forest Hall, with two games of nine ends each.  These games aren’t entirely satisfactory, but things had reached the point where everyone was glad to have just one evening out instead of two.  For most of the season we have relied on the pairs and triples for points, but on this occasion (or if we maintain the fiction of two matches, these occasions) the formula didn’t work – so much so that the pairs and triples both switched team positions for the second game.

Even these changes didn’t make a lot of difference.  The pairs had won the first game 9-7 thanks to a three on the ninth (last) end; but despite scoring well in the ends that they won in the second game they just managed a 10-10 draw.  The triples meanwhile lost the first session 5-11, even with a four on the last end, but did then improve considerably to win the second half by a relatively resounding 8-7.  This left the fours as the star performers of the night, winning 13-3 and 11-2.  The result of all this in terms of league standings was that we won the first game 6-2 on points, and the second one 7-1.  Considering that the pairs and triples finished 32-35 down on shots for the night, this was a spectacular heist.  It also propelled us into second place in the Nines league – unheard of in recent years – although we shall certainly slip to third when New Delaval finally play the three games they have in hand.  However, third is a nice place to be after a long, hard season.

On Saturday of last week we played the West Tyne Cup Final against Hexham House B at Haltwhistle after the Prudhoe green had turned out to be unplayable earlier in the week.  It was a bright day with a really strong crosswind that made the draw shot rather unpredictable on one side of the rink, but obviously it was the same for both sides, and we went into a big lead on all three rinks, thanks to two of our rinks scoring a six on their seventh ends.  Hexham House came back strongly on Malcolm’s rink, but his team held on for a 16-12 win, while the rinks skipped by Trevor and Philip won by eight and eighteen shots respectively.  Of course, this competition is decided simply on rinks, so the score is recorded as 3-0, but it was a satisfyingly large margin on the day.

It was perhaps as well that the previous night our Nines game with Hexham House had been rained off, as we would also meet them in the West Tyne Gala Day hosted at our club on Sunday.   It was a really successful day, with a lot of close games in the round-robin format, but at the end of the day, in which we somehow escaped a whole heap of heavy showers along the valley, Elvaston emerged on top with four wins out of five.  Genuinely no one had seen this coming, and (if anything) getting a thumping from Haltwhistle in the middle game of the five had led us to think we had no real chance.  Other results went our way, however, and it was great to win a second trophy in two days – actually, the first time we have won the Gala Day since 1998.

A good way to finish the season, then.  The statistics provided by WordPress tell me that this is the one hundredth post since the “Green Green Grass” started growing.  With that century achieved, it’s definitely time to take a breather, before (maybe) taking a fresh guard for next season.  As ever, thanks for reading.

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Holding Operation

The season is coming to a close – every year there is the same surprised disappointment – and the last few matches are being played in cup and league competitions.  Last week was good for us, but with various other events going on away from the bowling green there was no real time to give a proper summary.  It’s neatest, then, to wait a couple of days and sum up all recent activity in one final post for the 2019 season.  The usual Saturday deadline (24 August).

“Are we nearly there yet?”

With the end of the season now in sight some of our regular players might be excused a certain weariness, and it was certainly difficult to keep up the momentum of last week, especially after the ladies’ triumph at the Gosforth Centenary event.  That turned out to be the Lord Mayor’s show compared to what happened at Bedlington in the league on Wednesday, as we went down to a 0-12 defeat with nothing to email home about.

On the same evening we took on Haltwhistle in a re-arranged West Tyne match, and things were hardly better.  A very convincing win for Keith Woods’ rink (23-6)  was more than offset by near-identical defeats (8-24 and 7-22) on two other rinks, which left our fourth rink in no position to be aiming for the bonus points.  As it was, Richard, Terry and Mike did very well to come back from 5-10, to not only level but then go into the lead (13-12) with one end to go – at which point the visitors really put the squeeze on and picked up a five to win.

That 6-1 points win for Haltwhistle put them within one good win of clinching the league, which they duly did the next night at Prudhoe. Meanwhile, we were engaged in a “playing for pride” exercise against Hexham House A, and at least it turned out to be the best result of the week.  Mark’s rink were up against a strong HHA side, and found themselves 12-4 ahead before the ultimate score of 15-12 probably made it look closer than it had been all through.  The same could be said of Trevor’s rink, where a dropped five on the last end (when caution could safely be thrown to the wind) led to a 28-15 score.  Steve Bennett’s team were in no mood for festival shots, however, and indeed scored a five themselves on the last to record a 32-7 win.  So at least if we disappointed with an aggregate 51-69 against the champions we could be very satisfied with an aggregate 88-50 against the team likely to finish third.

Tuesday’s Nines game at Benfield was called off late in the afternoon because of a waterlogged green, and the home match this coming week is also off, as Collingwood cannot raise a team and have conceded.  All this is frustrating in a league which has such a helter-skelter of fixtures early in the season – one of those, against Hexham House, will be played this coming Friday, if the rain ever stops.  With a Cup Final against Hexham House B tomorrow (Monday) and games against HHA and HHB at various points in next Sunday’s Gala Day we’ll be seeing plenty of our neighbours this week…

 

 

A Frantic Week

A late posting this week, not least because of the number and extent of fixtures. It’s been the busiest week of the summer and a bit of a blur, so where to begin? Ok, let’s start with the worst bit.

The trip to Centurion Park on Wednesday for the Clegg was definitely one to forget. The home team could manage only 10 players, which was a bit ironical in view of the lengths we went to in order to get a full team, so two of our triples played against pairs. This isn’t an excuse for a poor showing on the night, as one of those unbalanced rinks won, but it was somehow typical of a dispiriting evening. We lost quite heavily on two rinks, so that even with the penalty of one third of their shots on two rinks Centurion Park still won by some 18 shots overall, and we brought home just two league points. It’s quite a pity that the bad weather which caused postponement of the ladies’ Collins & Shipley game earlier in the day didn’t reach Wallsend too!

The absence of key players not just for that game but for the Challenge Cup on Saturday was regrettable, but in fact the performance of the deputies in the latter event was really impressive. In a four-club round robin we looked to have run out of energy and enthusiasm just before the lunch break, with both of our sides losing to Forest Hall; but then after lunch both sides really took off, reversing the form and results of the very first games and ensuring two wins. In the end we came second, losing out by seven shots to Forest Hall. Of course, at that point it’s always easy to isolate one bad end in an “if only” scenario, but actually there’s usually more to it than that – and for us the crucial thing is that it was a great learning experience for our newer players and a really enjoyable event on our own green.

Eight men were unavailable for the West Tyne game at Haltwhistle on Thursday night because of another event, and although this game was also – as always – enjoyable in sporting terms, the result was a disappointing 0-7, with a shots margin of 44-77 showing a large disparity. At least our team gave it their all, with some good individual performances, but Haltwhistle are clearly determined to win back the title this year and didn’t let amiable chat and banter get in the way of a solid win. Considering that we won the league last year, our current position of sixth in a table of seven clubs is quite the downfall: all we can hope for now is a positive shots difference!

The rest of the week was rather dominated by the word Gosforth. We started with a Nines game at home, where the champions and league leaders brought a very strong team, only one or two off their first pick. Craig and Steve were in no way overawed by playing against current and recent County singles champions, and raced into a 14-6 lead by half-way. Indeed, after the first two ends they only bothered with singles on two of their eight scoring ends while at the same time restricting their opponents to singles on five of their eight ends, so that the result was an impressive 23-12.

The triples were also up against three County players in a match that was a good deal tighter. The first time that Gosforth edged ahead (6-7) was on the tenth end, and even then we then made it 11-7 (the biggest margin in the whole match) before they came back strongly with a three and a four to make it 11-14 against us with just two ends to play. One shot on the next end didn’t seem to be enough, but – somewhat against the odds – the Gosforth skip narrowly missed his target three times on the last end, leaving three of our bowls sitting there for a one-shot win that ensured the bonus points.

A points score of 6-2 was already good, and in the excitement nobody had noticed what was happening over on the far side of the green, where the fours fought back from an early deficit of 1-8 (and 7-15 with five ends to go) to reach 15-15 going into the last end. This was a fabulous effort, and there was every chance of a famous maximum point haul until the Gosforth lead put in a front toucher that no one could dislodge, but despite the two-shot defeat this was a great performance.

Two days later we faced Gosforth again, this time in the round-robin format of the Bell Cup – like the Challenge Cup, two rinks for each club, with the scores aggregated. This proved to be quite an incentive, in that our A team lost by seven shots to Ponteland in the morning before a post-lunch revival saw the B team simply swat the Ponteland A team aside to win 18-3 and seal the win. The same effect applied in reverse against Gosforth: our B team had started badly in the first game of the day, conceding two fours on the first two ends and eventually losing by ten. However, in the final game of the day our A team ran riot, taking a 10-shot lead immediately and going on to lead by 12 with two ends to go. Sadly, Gosforth then scored a two and a one to reduce the deficit to nine shots, and therefore a one-shot win over the two matches. Another case of “if only”, especially as Gosforth emerged as winners on the day, with ourselves tied in second place, albeit finishing third on shots. It was, none the less, our best showing in the Bell Cup for many years.

“Best showing”…, “Gosforth”… – ah yes, where were we? Back at West Avenue, for the Centenary Invitation event organised each year by the Gosforth club, and where the ladies had two rinks of round-robin format just like those described above. This competition goes beyond the county, with Lyndhurst and Sunderland among the entrants. With three of our regular players away in Leamington it was a challenge but to the great credit of all involved the two rinks rose to the occasion, making clever tactical choices on things like jack length and carrying off the trophy for the first time in five years. It is fair to say they were all very happy, and so they should be. The week wasn’t all gloom and doom…

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Success All Round

We had good cause for celebration this week. For the ladies, Shelagh and Jean won the County pairs title, while Shelagh got to the final of the 2-wood as defending champion, only to fall at the last hurdle. On the same day Betty, Jean and Susan also played and lost in the final of the triples. Three finals in one weekend was pretty good going for the club! Meanwhile, in the men’s section, three club members were named in the County Middleton Cup squad to play in the semi-final against Kent at Leamington next Saturday as Philip and Craig were joined, not before time, by Steve Bennett.

In view of this excitement it was very impressive to see all three guys turning out against Innisfree in Division 5 game of the Clegg League. Innisfree were our closest rivals, 18 league points behind us before this match, for which we had a really strong team. Indeed, we needed it, as the early ends were much closer than we would have wished or expected.

But as the game went on we drew ahead on all rinks. After struggling to 10-10 our first rink scored a five – always a boost in a game with six shots on offer each end! – and then ran in a succession of scores to make it 26-12 as a final result. Three of our rinks scored 23 shots or more, and with the fourth managing 16 it gave us a huge 91-44 win. The lead at the top of the table is now 32 points, and requires Innisfree to win all three remaining games and for us to win neither of the last two, so it looks hopeful – as long as we don’t start the next game like we started that one!

If the performance on Wednesday evening was a second-half rally, the same had been true for the ladies in the Collins and Shipley in the afternoon. Facing Amble, they looked as if they might be facing defeat at the half-way point, with all three rinks down and a shots tally of 17-27. At this point a pre-arranged cooling-off break was taken, with ice lollies being handed out, and the effect was certainly invigorating for our team, as the scores rapidly changed when the players re-emerged. Shelagh’s rink immediately scored a five, having lost the four ends before the break to be 6-9 down, and then won the last six ends as well to finish 20-10 ahead. Betty’s rink had started a come-back even before half-way, and from 5-10 kept going to reach 10-10 before collecting an Audi (four zeroes) which led to a 12-17 defeat. That still left us five shots ahead overall, and Jean’s rink needed to keep things tight, which they did: level at 4-4, 8-8, 9-9 and 12-12, it was only fitting that they should finish the match on 13-13 for an important point and an even more important win on overall aggregate. Nine league points against one of the better teams in the league was a very good return, and we have now overtaken Alnwick for the moment. That ice-lolly break might become a fixture.

davThe hot weather at the start of the week again saw most of the Nines team in shorts at Throckley, where the hosts apologised for providing the three “least bad” rinks for our match. Here too there was a drawn rink, on a pitted surface which also featured stripy shadows – it was a bit like the effect at St James’ Park on a sunny spring day. As for the bowls, on this rink it really was like skittles, so it was fitting that we rescued a point with the last bowl of the match, straight up the middle to remove a shot bowl and actually finish  only an inch off two shots for the win. No such problems on the other rinks, where the pairs were soon in control, easing off a little towards the end for a 26-11 win; or for the triples, with a lead that got bigger all night to reach 35-6.

By Thursday the unpredictable weather that had seen record temperatures linked to fierce thunderstorms disrupted the West Tyne semi-final against Alston. After about four or five ends the players had to flee the green in a violent downpour, and it at least says something for our green these days that they were soon able to continue whereas the other semi-final at Hexham House was abandoned. Two of our rinks won comfortably enough in a game that was decided on rinks won, not shots, so you could say the third one was a bit of overkill with a win by 48-1 – the sort of result which gives no great pleasure to either side, really. In view of the abandonment at Hexham House we now wait to find out who our opponents will be in the final.

A Mixed Week

digIn a week when we had our new irrigation system installed there was a certain irony in having some of the heaviest rain of the summer. There could hardly have been a bigger contrast between the weather conditions for our various games, but it wasn’t just the weather that was mixed – our results were up and down, with a couple of real downers to match the downpours.

On Tuesday, for the home game against Heaton Victoria in the Nines, the majority of the team were wearing shorts and the sun lingered almost until the final ends. The triples and fours built reasonable leads early on, though if the general wisdom worked whereby a visiting team aims to restrict the home side in the early ends, Heaton Vic should have felt pleased with being only four down on each of these rinks at the half-way point (10-6 and 9-5). However, in the next nine ends both the triples and fours almost precisely doubled their scores to 20-13 and 17-9) and that seemed to reflect the general play.

While those two rinks made 37 shots between them the pairs were determined to get some good practice for Top Club games, and racked up 37 points on their own. The game was pretty well over after nine ends (17-2), and one remarkable detail was that, apart from a single on the first end (limited to one shot anyway) there was not another end where Steve and Malcolm scored only one; there were seven threes, which at this level is pretty rare. So that meant another 8-0 win in the league, and we are now third in the table.

The next night was rather different, in that it was a first visit for many of us to the Gosforth Central club. Light rain set in late afternoon, and it was a damp evening on a green that would be heavy at the best of times. We were down on several rinks early on, but it was good to see the new bowlers in the team being able to adjust, and to keep the home team’s scores down to sensible proportions. Thus it was that Steve Bennett’s rink was 1-10 down after seven ends, but back to 10-10 after twelve and although they ultimately lost by four shots it was a great holding operation. Ken’s rink was 3-14 down after nine ends but still managed to come back, winning all the last six ends but finally wishing there had been one more as they lost 16-17.

The rinks skipped by Brian Norman (29-11) and Trevor (25-9) each managed two runs of five consecutive ends, but in a way the most important element of the night was the way that the rinks which lost kept their games so close. After six ends the aggregate shots read 12-21, and the pivot-point came on ends nine (29-32) and ten (35-33), increasing in our favour thereafter to 86-57. So that made for ten points on the night, keeping us well clear at the top. Now there is a big game on Tuesday against Innisfree, in second place, 18 shots behind us with a game in hand – since they won their match on Tuesday with only 80 shots (42-38) in a match of 84 ends, one can only assume that it was abandoned as a result of the rain.

For the rest of the week we might rather have preferred that our competitive matches had fallen prey to the weather. Even on the Wednesday the ladies had lost 0-12 to Ponteland, who clearly had a point (or 12) to prove after their defeat at Elvaston earlier in the season. Just to make things worse, league leaders Burradon lost 0-12 to lowly Chirton, so quite apart from missing a chance to get within a few points of the leaders we can now see the chasing pack in the wing mirrors. A couple more wins should be enough for safety, all the same.

In the West Tyne league we were looking to bounce back from last week’s 1-6 reverse at Prudhoe, but apart from being level on one rink with one end to go we never looked much like getting even that one point against Hexham House B. There was a tale of woe on every rink, and with some justification we could say that any wicks or rubs went the way of the visitors, but even so there was little to be cheerful about, and all four rinks lost by something between three and seven shots. So after last year’s League and Cup double, we are now languishing in fifth place of the seven teams, and that by just half a point!

It was possible to say, or at least think, that some of us had our minds elsewhere, more precisely on the Top Club match at Shap on Friday, where we were to meet Heaton Hall from Manchester, but if that was the case, it just showed that we should have been more focussed on the job in hand, as the outcome in Cumbria wasn’t very good either. The weather over there was dreadful, with buffeting gusts of wind bringing heavy squalls of rain. You can always say that it is the same for both teams, but in fact, apart from the fact that anyone from Lancashire is obviously more used to playing in the wet than we are, it’s also true that the more experienced you are at top levels, the more you will have had to play in difficult conditions.

This all became painfully clear as the night went on, with Heaton Hall boasting six internationals in their team of eleven. In four previous rounds our two singles players had lost just one match, and that on the last end. Here both lost, so we were immediately in a position of needing to win all three of the team disciplines. The pairs held up very well, and were separated by just a couple of shots for most of the game. The triples, with Darren back in action, also stayed very close, but then fell behind 11-15. However, at this point, and with the pairs now 14-12 up, it became obvious that the fours were going down to a heavy defeat. They had started well enough, scoring a four to off-set losing a five, but the turning point came at 7-11, as they were lying four shots – which was when the Heaton Hall skip played his best bowl of the night to draw the shot. From 7-12 we never got another shot and at 7-26 raised the white flag. This meant a 1-4 defeat, but we should never forget that we got to the quarter-final stage for the north of England, and had some great experiences on the way.

There were yet other games to go at advanced stages of County competitions. Jean and Shelagh won the final of the ladies’ pairs, and will be at Leamington at the same time as Northumberland’s Middleton Cup team – some vocal support from the men, no doubt! However, in the men’s semi-finals we had trouble with the number 14. First, Steve Bennett (singles) got marooned after leading Alan Stewart 14-11. On the next end he was lying two very close shots, so Alan burnt the end; then, two ends later at 14-13, Steve was again lying shot with a bowl just inches from the jack when Alan managed a trail for four shots – all of which led to a 14-21 result.  Then Keith, Matthew and Philip had a really close and exciting match against a Gosforth trio led by Peter Duffy, and after finishing level on 14-all went to an extra end, where they were holding two before a riotous wick meant they lost by one shot, 14-15.  Hard luck, lads, but these runs in the county championships have been a fabulous effort and have really put the club back on the map. Well done, all.

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Mixed Fortunes

After a jam-packed report last week there is much less than usual to report this time, as we played only two league games instead of the usual four. The ladies had a bye week in the Collins and Shipley, while our opponents in the Clegg called off and conceded the points on the morning of the match. It’s fair to say that with our fortnightly trip into Newcastle (and beyond) in each of three leagues we tend to forget that for some opponents a trip to Hexham appears to be quite an event, with various logistical issues.

The Nines match was at Cramlington, with most of those playing still on a high after the Top Club game at Whitehaven on Sunday, and Steve Bennett definitely on a high after winning his County quarter-final match at Gosforth on the Monday night. He and Malcolm certainly dominated their pairs game here, although after nine ends the lead was just 8-4, with only one end scoring more than a single. At that point they really took off, and it was soon 18-4, with a final score of 23-6 being a true reflection of the game. The triples were also in full control, though here too the half-way score of 6-6 was immediately boosted by a four and a couple of threes, so that even a brief final rally by the home side left it at 19-12 in our favour.

With the game and the bonus points sewn up, it was down to the fours to go for maximum points, but here the close first half (6-7 after nine) was mirrored in the second, as the Cramlington skip time and again frustrated hopes by disrupting a dominant position. The most notable example was on the last end but one, where we were lying five, only to have a wick go against us for one shot and a scoreline of 11-12. So it was that we required a fine bowl skip’s bowl from Craig to level the scores with the last bowl of the match, and earn a 7-1 win in league points.

On Thursday the West Tyne match at Prudhoe was a great chance to stay in contention near the top of the table, as Prudhoe had lost most of their matches. However, a couple of players were away in County competitions or for family reasons, so it was always going to be a good examination. In the event, whether it was the physics involved in bowls running over an unfamiliar surface, or the chemistry between our own players, the maths at the end confirmed a fail – just one point out of the six. Even this one was a struggle, as our one winning rink went from 13-6 to 13-15 in the space of three late ends, before restoring order with a four and a run of singles for a 20-15 win.

The second rink not only wobbled but totally collapsed: leading 8-6 after nine ends, we lost the next five by every number from one to five, and a score of 8-21 with four ends to go was an impossible task – six more shots in our favour made it respectable, but nowhere near a win. The adjacent rink were actually closer (12-16), but were never ahead or even level; here the issue seemed to be losing the first five ends – although each was a single, that margin was crucial because despite winning nine of the remaining ends we could never make inroads into the home lead. Meanwhile, away on the far side of the green, our final rink managed to hold the opposition to low scores for the most part, but managed only five ends themselves on the way to a 10-18 loss.

On the same night Steve and Malcolm’s run in the County pairs came to an end against top-class opponents (the holders, playing on their own green), so there was no disgrace there. It wasn’t a great night for results, though! Next week will see us back to a full league programme, not to mention a trip to Shap on Friday for a Top Club match against Heaton Hall from Manchester. Let’s just make sure that Thursday was a minor blip.