In this driest of summers we looked forward to a friendly at Lyndhurst on Monday. We left Hexham under grey skies, but as we passed the Metro Centre the heavens opened, and we got to Gateshead just in time for that downpour to catch up with us. Within minutes the green was flooded, and it took only a few minutes more to call the match off.
It was even stranger to get back to Hexham and find the roads dry, while at Gosforth Blanche Adamson and her playing partner from the Gosforth club also had a fine afternoon, made all the finer by winning the County Over-55 Pairs competition. Their opponents in the final were Susan and Shelagh from our own club, so we can be proud of our prominence in the ladies’ game.
Through the rest of the week it was back to the normal routine of regular games in men’s, ladies’ and mixed leagues. The Nines team played at Collingwood (North Shields) on a green that was extremely similar to our own in terms of brown, parched grass and occasional bumps. We were reduced to eight players just as we about to leave Hexham, following a bizarre mix-up that had nothing to do with bowls, so the fours played as three, facing the loss of a quarter of their score.
This seemed not to trouble them at all, as they were soon 12-0 ahead, and even when you took that penalty into account 9-0 still sounded pretty good. Collingwood then came back into the game, basically sharing the shots, so that after 16 ends the score was a gross 22-8 in our favour. That was not the time to lose a count, but in an eerie echo of the Cramlington match back in June, we dropped a five on the penultimate end, to make the score 22-13, or (in net terms) 16.5-13. It would have been hairy if that half-point had been needed, but in the event we conceded just a single on the last end, for a win that was much narrower than had seemed likely.
The pairs were also ahead throughout, extending an early four-shot lead to seven or eight for much of the game – at the end the scoreboard read exactly the same as the fours, 22-14, but this time we got the full benefit. Having said that, Collingwood made a spirited recovery at various points, pinning us back to just a couple of shots early in the second half and causing some furrowed brows on the part of Brian and Darren.
The triples really looked to be too strong for the opposition on paper, especially taking into account the fact that the Collingwood second had been playing bowls only for a couple of months. The trouble was, he hadn’t read the script, and also had a background in archery, so that his ability to see the right line was phenomenal for someone new to the game. Allied to that, the skip was extremely good, and managed to cut down our potential shots on several ends – a quick calculation suggested it was well into double figures.
So it was a game of attrition, just having to be satisfied with single shots, of which there were plenty – from 4-4 after five ends the score plodded to 17-5 after fifteen. Still Collingwood didn’t give up, and after yet another corking bowl from their skip to turn a two-shot deficit into three for them on the last end, it finished 17-10. By that time most of the home team had gone home, probably dispirited after yet another defeat. It was still a good win for ourselves, even if a clean sweep against a team that hasn’t notched up a single point since May won’t gain us too much ground in the league.
The ladies got back to winning ways in the Collins & Shipley league – by coincidence they too were playing the bottom team in the league. The strong start to the season had tailed off in recent weeks with three defeats, but against Seaton Delaval the engine sparked back into life. Betty’s rink took a few ends to get the better of the opposition but from about the mid-point pulled away to win just about every end for a 19-7 win.
The other rinks were closer for most of the match, but at least that solid victory on the first rink meant that the bonus points were all but assured. Blanche’s rink had trailed consistently for the first half of the game, but a four with just two ends to go established a clear lead for the first time, so that from 11-10 with three ends left they took the match 16-11. The third rink were actually lying two shots on the last end for a tied score, but the opposition skip trailed the jack to earn Seaton Delaval one shot on the end and a 17-14 win. The overall result was therefore two rinks to one in our favour. With ten points this week and another nine guaranteed next Wednesday because Seaton Sluice have conceded the game, the points tally is suddenly looking a lot healthier.
After those two matches against teams that were bottom of the league we were able to send out a West Tyne team that was top of the league before playing Hexham House B at the Abbey green. The green posed some interesting challenges, with bowls occasionally running against the bias and some doing an elegant little slalom. On one rink a slight depression meant that well-weighted bowls speeded up in the last yard of their journey to travel at least another yard past the jack – a novel twist to the game.
Of course, these conditions applied to both teams, and once we had worked out the vagaries of the runs it was quite straightforward (with the emphasis on straight). Three rinks won quite well, with Darren’s rink progressing consistently from a lead of four (after five ends) to eight (ten ends) and sixteen by the end (a score of 24-8). Keith’s rink also finished well ahead (21-9), after being just 8-6 up at the half-way point. Trevor’s rink looked to be on track for a big win too (15-5 after 14 ends), but then lost five shots on two ends before finishing 18-10 ahead. Meanwhile the two Steves and Blanche played really well, even leading after ten ends, but were unfortunate to come up against skip Mike McDonnell in awesome form: the loss of a late five made the score (11-20) look far worse than the performance had been.
This meant a 6-1 win on league points, which in the light of other results means we are now three points clear at the top of the table with one game to go. Five points against Haltwhistle next week would guarantee the title, and although four might be enough with our current shots advantage that is an unusual points score to achieve as it means winning only one rink while also winning overall on shots. At least, as the football managers say, it’s in our own hands. And by the end of the week, unlike our experience at Lyndhurst, we could be home and dry.