Monthly Archives: July 2016

Feeling the Heat

The first league game of the week was a rearranged Collins and Shipley match against Gosforth West Avenue.  The original game had been rained off, but conditions this time could not have been more different – 30 degrees, in unrelenting sun. Players were more interested in how many drinks there were, not how many rinks, so it was very surprising to see how many started the match without a hat of any kind.  Indeed, it all got too much for one of the Gosforth players, who became more and more flustered until having to give up after 12 ends.  That Gosforth rink was winning 11-8 at the time, having been 10-2 ahead prior to her malaise, and now would lose a quarter of their score as well.

In fact, Betty’s rink continued their comeback so well that, despite having two Gosforth players with three bowls each, they won comfortably (17-12) even before the mathematical operation to reduce the Gosforth score to 9.    Our third rink was comfortably ahead throughout the game, all playing well and increasing the lead end after end to finish 21-11 up.  This gave a shots total of plus 18, and although Jean’s rink faced tough opponents they were able to limit the shots deficit to just four, so we won the bonus points for shots.  A 10-2 win was all the better for  knowing that Gosforth had beaten league leaders Chirton 12-0 the previous week, while Morpeth had lost 2-10 at home – our slip-up at Forest Hall might not have been the end of our hopes after all.

The Nines team played their home match against Hirst Park in conditions on a night when everyone at least knew there would be no need of any layers above the club shirts.  In fact, it might have been an advantage if there had been variation, as the two clubs not only have identical designs on their stickers but also club shirts that are so close in appearance that in any contact sport like football one team would have been asked to change.  Next year, Mr Treasurer: an away strip!

Hirst Park didn’t look like the away team in the fours.  After seven ends they were 14-0 up, and soon stretched that to 19-1.  However, at this point the home rink woke up, rubbed their eyes and started to play, with the result that they won seven of the last eight ends and took the score to 15-21.  “Another five ends and we’d have won”, was one verdict.  Yes, well…

The pairs recovered from the loss of an early three by scoring an excellent five thanks to a take-out by Darren, but in general things seemed very close, with the score 9-10 after ten ends.  At this point Darren and Keith really took charge (just like the fours, only without giving the opposition a start of 18):  they won almost all the ends after that, to come through with a 21-12 win.

Last week the triples almost lost a 16-7 lead after 16 ends, losing two fours on the last two. This week, after some really good bowling, they reached 16-9 after 16 ends, comfortably ahead all the way.  Surely they couldn’t let this slip.  After just a single shot lost on the seventeenth it was 16-10 with one to play.  Surely they couldn’t let this slip…  Oh no, they had to watch as Hirst Park piled shots in, falling just short of adding a sixth for a draw.  For the second week running Trevor elected not to bowl his last bowl with the score on 16-15.

Two rinks up meant six points.  It may not count for a lot in this horribly disjointed league, but it was a satisfying win all the same.  Even the shots ended up in our favour (52-48), not a relevant fact in league placings but a tribute to the fours for fighting back when they could easily have thrown in the towel.

With the ladies’ Wednesday game called off because of torrential rain, the only other competitive fixture was a West Tyne match at Hexham House, whose A team were clearly intent on reversing the earlier result at Elvaston, when we won 6-1.  In fact they did even better than that, with a whitewash that gets to sound worse when we record the shots totals: 31-84.  Ouch.

There was no disputing the quality of the opposition, or the comprehensive defeat.  Our closest rink was a 10-13 that proved really enjoyable for both teams throughout.  After 10 ends there had been eight singles and a no-shot, plus a three to Hexham House, who held an 8-3 lead.  Our own team pegged that back to 8-6, and were then lying seven shots after our first seven bowls when opposing skip Philip Telfer smacked into them and stopped for the shot – a brilliant shot considering the pressure.  Even after that reverse the score was just 10-10 after 16 ends, but we lost the last two ends to go down by three.

All the other rinks lost by 14 shots or more, and the record of scores through five, ten and fifteen ends would make a depressing graph with the Hexham House gradient a lot steeper than ours.  All we can say is that they didn’t manage to make 100 shots for the match, which is the milestone achieved on the same night by league leaders Haltwhistle.  Until tonight there was just the faintest glimmer of a hope that we could go there for the last game of the season looking to win the game (well) and maybe sneak the title.  Any such glimmer was extinguished tonight, but at least the result wasn’t close enough to allow for any lingering “if only”.


“Don’t Give Up”

Our early-season promise has turned out to be more like the famous promise on NHS funding recently made by a senior politician and soon re-defined as “a series of possibilities”.

One of the possibilities was a rapid bounce back to the top division of the Collins and Shipley, but this hope was dented by a disappointing visit to Forest Hall.   The match started off well enough, and by the half-way mark Sylvia’s rink was 10-4 ahead with the other two rinks one shot up and one shot down.  But having started as if we were the home team we fell away badly after that.  It was hard to see what went wrong.  Certainly on Sylvia’s rink there was a problem with short bowls – consistently nine of the first 12 bowls were short of the jack – but that of course affected both skips, so it wasn’t the sole reason.  The pace of the green changed after one really heavy shower, but again that was the same for everyone.

Betty’s rink was always competitive while Thelma and Jean had notably good games at either end of their rink, but somehow in the second half the game drifted away on every rink.  After five ends we were collectively half a dozen shots ahead, after ten ends that had been reduced to a couple, and by fifteen ends it was 41-42 against. The last three ends continued the graph, so that with Jean’s rink scrambling a draw and the other two rinks being four and five shots down it was another league loss.

On the previous night the men had also suffered on the road, facing strong opposition just down the road at Backworth.  The fours had a torrid time, and would have given anything to have stopped the game after four ends, when they were 5-2 ahead. Unfortunately, they then lost the next eleven ends, conceding 32 shots with some very big numbers, and then another four towards the end even as they scored a couple to make it 7-38.   The Backworth green is notoriously two-paced, but the fours clearly had bigger problems than that.

The pairs were soon 0-10 down, and although they then got into their stride the damage had been done, so that although they matched the scores after that the final score was 11-22, thus giving Backworth the bonus points.  The triples for some reason got off to a flier, going 10-2 ahead and clearly getting the home side rattled by some pretty elementary tactics such as taking the mat up the green.  Quite why it worked so well we couldn’t make out, but it did.  The score continued to mount up, and at 16-7 with two ends to go it seemed a formality – until late panic set in, and Backworth sensed a chance to grab an unlikely win.  They scored four on each of the last two ends, but we clung on for a 16-15 win.  To have lost that wouldn’t just have been falling away; it would have been falling off a cliff.  The overall shots tally on the night didn’t look pretty, but in the Nines that doesn’t matter: at least we came away with two precious league points.

After that result it seemed that John Lambert might be trying some new motivational technique when he turned up to take half the team to Alnwick for the Challenge Cup final, with the car radio playing a song called “Don’t Give Up”.  But no, it was just one of his favourites, even if the next one on the playlist seemed to be preparing for a dejected journey home: “Don’t Speak”.

As it happened, the motivation wasn’t much required.  As in the semi-finals last month the A team performed consistently better than the B team, but the important thing was that the B team never lost by very many shots at all.  They lost the first two games (out of five) by four and three shots, then were down by three and two in the last two games of the day.  Both teams lost to Willington Quay in the middle game of the day (irritatingly, the only game that Willington Quay won), but in three of the others the A team managed to win by sufficient shots to earn an overall victory. These winning margins were mostly very small indeed, but each one earned two points, and then with the last game came a 14-2 win which lifted our shots margin to +13.

challenge cup photoStanding around for the presentation we noticed a smile from the County officials, but even then it was a genuine and total shock to hear that we had finished as runners-up behind hosts Alnwick.  Since Elvaston has never won the Challenge Cup since its inception in 1932 we can safely say that this must at least equal the best performance in that competition.

Special thanks are due to Brian Elstob, who stood in as a replacement at very late notice (as in: 10 pm, the night before).    We can only hope that his enforced change of plans will be compensated by the large coffee and walnut cake he had otherwise planned to take to a friendly match on the Saturday.

This good result followed Friday’s news that Jean, Betty and Susan had reached the semi-final of the Benevolent triples (to be held, with the final, on Tuesday 19 July), and of course those three, with Shelagh, are going to Leamington as winners of the County fours.  Shelagh and Jean are both in the County final of the ladies’ singles, and therefore both going to Leamington, where Jean will also be playing in the two-wood competition.  Altogether, and bearing in mind the difficulty we have in putting together teams from time to time, the club is definitely punching above its weight.  Don’t give up…

A (very) mixed bag

When the men played their Nines game at Cramlington earlier in the season they came away with a hard-earned six points, confirmed only on the last end.  Hopes were high that with home advantage we might get a similar result in the return, and those hopes if anything rose when one of the visiting triples team announced that he had only two bowls, so that we loaned him a set.

We soon wished we hadn’t, as he played a blinder.  We were always playing to retrieve the situation, and it was telling that although Cramlington won 14 of the 18 ends, none was by more than two shots, with eleven of them being singles.  We were always able to get in quite close but never close enough, and crucially not early enough.   On the other hand, when we did get a chance to build the head we scored well, with a four and two threes in the ends that we did win.  When we were lying shot on the last-but-one end it had seemed we might be within two shots going into the last, but the end was lost and the final result was 11-17.  However frustrating that might be, it was the right result on the night.

The pairs had an almost identical score, 10-17, and although they won eight ends it was probably true to say that this score was fair too.  At least Keith and Darren (unlike the other teams) did manage to be in the lead at one point, and even at the halfway mark were level at 6-6, but losing a late four when there was already a gap of four shots between the teams was the killer blow.  Whatever good shots they pulled off – and there were a lot – the opposition seemed to match them with interest.

The fours won five of the first 12 ends, reducing an early 1-6 deficit to 8-10.  Unfortunately that was as good as it got, as they then lost five of the last six ends, losing fourteen shots in the process, so that the final score, 9-24, looked decidedly one-sided.  In the second week of Wimbledon this was definitely a case of game, set and match to Cramlington, and we really will need to improve our game for Hirst Park in a fortnight – winning the home fixtures should be a given, but on Tuesday we looked like the away side.

At least the men could say that they were beaten by better bowlers, or certainly by players who adapted better on the night.  The ladies really had no such excuse for losing 2-10 to Seaton Sluice at home the next day.

Jean’s rink won comfortably enough, 16-10, bowling neat and well-placed bowls to maintain a lead throughout the game, easing ahead over the last few ends with no alarums.  The measure of their efficiency was that when they finished the other two rinks were just finishing the fifteenth end.  Or perhaps that says something about the glacial pace of the other rinks, with regular deliberations and measures.

For whatever reason, those other two rinks let promising positions slide.  Betty’s team had been 7-5 up, but gradually the visitors started to dominate and the final score of 10-17 showed the scale of the surprising turn-round.  There seemed to be no particular reason; it was just one of those things that happen on the bowling green. But the result obviously left us one shot down overall, and in a league system where there are six bonus points for winning overall on shots, that made the result of the third rink really significant.

Unfortunately Shelagh’s rink also saw a good position fade.  At 13-8 with five ends to go  it looked quite comfortable, but a tendency to play too aggressively proved our downfall, and the final score was 13-16.  This meant that we had lost the whole match, including the bonus points.  In view of the men’s poor result the night before it was not shaping up as a very good week, with Prudhoe, who beat us 7-0 at their place earlier in the season, still to visit.

This West Tyne match turned out to be very good quality, with all four rinks well-matched. David Ashworth, David Boaden and John Lambert had a particularly close encounter, though any of our members watching it might have been viewing between their fingers: 11-3 up, and then 12-6, they let things slip to 12-12 in the course of losing five ends, but then managed to get the single that took them over the line.  Compared to that, Brian Elstob, Blanche and Alan had a positively comfortable two-shot win: trailing until the fourteenth end, they then created a 17-12 lead before losing the last three ends for a 17-15 win.  Here again the secret lay in keeping the opposition scores down to one for most of the time, whereas most of our own scores were more than that.

Darren, Sylvia and John McArdle won ten of the 18 ends, with three threes and a four, and this enabled them to re-establish a lead which had been pegged back from 14-8 as Prudhoe won three ends on the trot to make it 14-14 after 14 ends.  It was then our turn to go on a run of winning ends, and by sealing all the last four it finished 20-14 in our favour.

Trevor, Jean and Susan’s game was also close early on, tied at 8-8 after eleven ends, at which point a run of five ends out of six took the game away from Prudhoe, with the final result (19-12) being both satisfying and slightly flattering in terms of how the ends had played out. Susan’s consistent delivery of the jack to our preferred length was notable, quite apart from the bowls, and as on the other rinks the teamwork was very good.

Overall, then, it was a 7-0 win to cancel out our bad night over there in May, with a shots margin of 69-53.  Most of that difference of 16 shots was accounted for by the higher number of threes and fours that we scored in what was a very close and exciting game all round.  It also, thankfully, saved this blog from being completely doom and gloom!



Little Action

This has been a stop-go season.  When we plotted the schedule, based on league fixtures and friendlies, it all looked quite full.  But for various reasons large gaps have appeared, some of them due to weather, some because another team has dropped out of the league, and on one occasion because we were propelled into hosting an external event.

This week was a case in point.  Even our internal Shield game suffered on Monday as a probable result of the England football match being on TV, though anyone who stayed at home to watch the match might have ended up throwing bowls at the telly rather than towards a jack.  It’s when you see highly-paid professionals having a brain-freeze or becoming totally inept that you realise just how skilled so many of us are as amateurs.

Anyway, there was no game on Tuesday because so many of our Nines team were away on the Gosforth tour.  The Gosforth Tourists, that is – a club which exists solely for the purposes of touring, for a week each year. By coincidence our match would have been against Gosforth, who have no members in the touring club (keep up!) but who agreed to postpone – albeit with some dark noises that technically only county tours should be valid reasons for postponement.  That does seem a bit precious, even in a sport as obsessed with rules as bowls.  Since both clubs have a bye on 26 July we are playing the game then.

So that left the ladies to be first up for a real game on Wednesday – or would have done, had it not been for a downpour overnight, and then more on Wednesday morning so that postponement was inevitable.

Try again, shall we?  Thursday night saw us at Hexham House, playing their B team in the West Tyne league.  Rain was forecast for mid- to late evening, but in fact it arrived ahead of schedule.  It wasn’t very heavy, but anyone who has spent the thick end of two hours playing in the rain knows that you still get pretty wet, with all the attendant extra things like cloths and waterproofs to consider.  For a while it looked debatable as to whether we would reach the 12 ends needed to constitute a match, but once that checkpoint was passed we carried on in much the same conditions to the end.

Three rinks were very close.  Brian Elstob steered his team calmly as ever, and needed to be calm as – despite never being behind – they dropped two fours and a three so that nice leads kept on being reduced to a single shot (6-5, 12-11 and 16-15).  It was perhaps just as well they stopped when they did on 17-16.
Steve Benson’s rink got an early 4-1 lead but that was the biggest lead of the match, as there were never more than two shots in it; they were level at 10-10 and 11-11 before going into the last end 11-12 down but then scoring  three.  It will be no surprise if we note that this match finished nine ends apiece.
The third close rink was Trevor’s.  Although the result seemed secure for most of the game, a late fightback, helped by an unlikely fluke, put the home side four behind with one end to go.    The way the game had gone, this was easy to defend, and losing just a single on the last end ensured a three-shot win.
So that meant a shots lead of just six from three ends.  We could easily have lost the overall match if the fourth rink had gone down badly.  However, Darren was in no mood to mess about, and was – as someone said – on fire.  Drawing to the jack or taking out opposition bowls to increase our shots tally he was winning ends for fun.  It was fun for us on the next rink, anyway, though certainly not for the opposing team, and a final score of 32-8 was built on having three fives and a four in the total.   It was also the case that with one massive lead on the scoreboard the other rinks could judge their own tactics with less anxiety. Overall, then, an 80-50 win, and all seven league points.
Our green was used today for a ladies’ County match (vs Yorkshire), so at least there was one bit of enjoyable activity on the green this week.  But otherwise we have to wait for Tuesday (Cramlington in the Nines) for our stop-go season to proceed.