Monthly Archives: August 2018

We (don’t quite) have lift-off!

In the week that Nasa launched a space probe that for the first time would touch the Sun we failed to achieve much of a lift-off in the Nines fixture with Hexham House. And you wouldn’t have known there was such a thing as the sun either.

The fours did give us an initial boost, especially in the very early stages when they went to 8-1 after five ends. They were then more than matched by the home team, so that after the next five ends the scores were dead level at 10-10. Things got very tight after that, with an unusual run of five singles, so that after 15 ends we were 12-13 down. But to the great credit of the group a strong finish meant that we won the game 17-13. That meant three consecutive wins for Ken as skip of the fours.

The triples might have been confident of doing well, and managed to reach a lead of 9-7 before a couple of dropped threes made it more of a struggle. There were still six ends left, but sadly we had the unique experience of two consecutive no-shot ends – no amount of space-probing could separate the bowls – and that made the “run rate” much more challenging. Those close ends did show that we competed hard, but the outcome was decided on the penultimate end and a three on the last was no real consolation: we lost 12-19.

For the pairs it really was a question of “Houston, we have a problem!” as the pattern of the first five ends (1-6) was exactly matched by the second lot to reach 2-12. Parity on the next five did make it 5-15 but that was really as good as it got, with a 6-19 score to finish. For at least the third time this season Geoff Lamb was the architect of a defeat, and at this rate will have us all nervously scanning the team sheets in future fixtures.

After losing to Hexham House, whose season in the Nines competition has not been brilliant, we were apprehensive about the visit of New Delaval for a rearranged fixture on Thursday. New kids on the block last year, they have done very well this season, sitting in third position before their game with us and definitely still in with a chance of winning the league – quite some achievement.

The match started a little late as they had been held up in traffic, though judging by appearances it was hard to imagine that they had enough players old enough to drive. Even with a father-and-son combination their fours team were on aggregate about two hundred years younger than ours, and overall it was certainly the youngest team we have ever played. Perhaps that was why they were also startlingly noisy, talking among themselves during play and carrying on conversations between rinks that weren’t even adjacent.

In fairness, they could also play extremely well, as shown by the fours side, who hit the ground running and had our own rink 1-14 behind after just six ends. This had the makings of a cricket score, but gradually we came back into it, stemming the haemorrhage to make it 4-16 after ten ends, and then sharing shots again over the next five to reach 7-19. As darkness descended the last three ends were even more profitable for us, and eight more shots meant a final score of 15-19, with the guys ruing the tentative start.

The pairs were even more of a “nearly” team. They started well enough but then dropped some shots so that after ten ends it was just 7-8 in favour of the visitors. Some high scores for both teams in the next phase meant the deficit grew to 12-17 with three ends to play, but another late surge saw our pair come up to 17-18 by the end – that one-shot defeat meaning we had lost the fixture but in view of the quality of the opposition it was a really good performance on the night.

The triples seemed to be heading for a tanking, 1-8 down after five ends and struggling to catch the pace of the green. However, largely due to some excellent bowls from skip Steve Bennett we clawed our way back, much to the frustration of New Delaval, so that after ten ends it was 7-8. They then scored three but we immediately countered with a  good six to go ahead – at which point the momentum shifted entirely. Steve’s fine form continued, and we went into the last end five ahead, eventually winning 19-17.

Once again we had lost 2-6 on points – a remarkably consistent trend this year. But just as in the opening match of the season at New Delaval, where a 2-6 defeat was only 42-45 on shots, so this one was just 51-54 on shots. Three shots in both games against a team that – even after we pinched two points last night – are still in with a theoretical chance of winning the league! Despite our poor league run the results have not generally been hammerings, but very often narrow shots defeats. Apart from the obvious suspects in Gosforth and Backworth, only Ponteland have beaten us 8-0 – so we really have to try to ensure we get something next Tuesday from our last league game of the season, against Ponteland at home.

By which time Nasa’s Parker probe will be rather nearer the Sun, eventually travelling at about 430,000 mph. That would be London to Newcastle in just over two seconds – or, if you struggle with that comparison, about the same speed as one of Darren’s piledrivers!

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Non-stop Bowls

Image result for treadmillEvery year we wait for the outdoor season, and when it starts we’re itching to get as many games as possible. Then, as fixtures accumulate, it soon seems like time for a breather. But when – as this week – there are competitive games every day, it definitely feels like a treadmill.

First up were Benfield, riding high in the league, in third place before our match, and with some notable players like Jim Taylor, formerly of Ponteland. By the end of the evening we rather wished he had stayed at Ponteland, as he had a great game in the pairs and was largely responsible for the Benfield win.

The pairs had a rather rural feel, with Woods, Field and Hill all taking part. The bowls was anything but agricultural, with some really tight heads. We were unlucky to be 0-5 down after five ends, but couldn’t complain about a terrific end from the visitors which earned five and left us 3-13 behind. From this point things improved, and at 10-14 with five ends left there was hope, but we then seemed to run out of puff. Overall it’s fair to say the visitors were better, but not 14-21 better.

The fours also had reason to say that the losing margin (12-21) was a bit harsh. They actually won almost as many ends as Benfield, but in our case almost every end was a single. The notable exception was when Steve prodded the jack through to the back to score a three and take us into a 7-6 lead. Unfortunately, it was like prodding a wasps’ nest, and Benfield were soon swarming all over us – in no time at all it was 7-16, and then 9-20.

The triples followed the trend of the other teams early on, going 1-7 down after five ends, improving to 8-12 after ten and then slumping to 11-16 after fifteen ends. At this point a two improved things but could not have prepared anyone for what happened next – a six on the penultimate end to make it 19-16 with one end to play. In fact, the Benfield skip hit our collection of six bowls pretty hard, but his wood somehow managed to run through and away without taking any of ours out. He also then had the last bowl of the match, with Benfield lying two shots and with his bowl potentially making it a draw, but he fell short, so we at least picked up two points on the night – a really gutsy performance.

It seemed no time at all before most of us met up again for the scheduled game against Cramlington. The fours started well with a six on the third end, and they looked after that lead all the way through with the minimum of fuss. Ken Hurst, skipping in a league match for the first time in a couple of years, has a tactical sense second to none, and it paid off here – or maybe the opposition were in awe of his multi-coloured hat.

So that was two points in the bag. The pairs started well, and needed to as the opposition were quickly out of the blocks. It was 3-2 after five ends, and then we started to pull away, reaching 11-3 after eight ends. On the next end we had a bowl touching the jack, so the Cramlington skip (the villain of the piece in our post of 9 June) blasted it, sending the jack literally up and over the back bowls, into the ditch for a three. We promptly made it 12-6, but from then on the visitors won five ends, almost all by a single shot, to reach 12-12 going into the last. Keith drew two good shots, at which point the other lead followed orders to ditch the jack, and did so. Another promoted bowl stopped just short of the ditch, and getting rid of this proved too much of an ask. A most unlikely 12-14 defeat left us shell-shocked.

This meant the triples had to win to give us a match win. The rink here meant that any wide bowls stayed very wide while anything tight pulled away inside the line. It had been a close game throughout, with our three overcoming an early deficit to lead 9-6 after ten ends. Things drifted away after that, however, and over the next five ends Cramlington scored eight shots to one, eventually going into the last end with a 19-14 lead. Maybe inspired by the thought of the previous night’s win our front end put several good bowls in and we found ourselves lying four shots with two still to come from Darren, but – just like his opposite number the previous night – he left both of them short, and we lost the game by one shot.

The result of this final anti-climax on two rinks meant that we lost yet another match 2-6 even though we would have won on shots, with the added irritation of knowing that just a couple of successful bowls could have made it a tie or even an 8-0 win for ourselves. It felt a bit like football matches where there is a winner in the fifth minute of stoppage time – but the result stands, and usually it’s full credit to the team that keeps going to the end, which the Cramlington pairs certainly did. It’s worth remembering that after ten ends we were leading 32-15, and while that is a great come-back from the visitors there has to be some concern about our own concentration.

The next night was a case of “It’s Wednesday, so it must be Throckley” – another catch-up game, this time against a team below us in the league with only two wins out of 19. So was it simply tiredness, or was there a touch of complacency as we saw the visitors go ahead on two rinks early on? Certainly the fours showed no weakness, with Ken again skipping and guiding the team to a lead which increased on a steepening gradient, all the way to finishing 24-9 with the minimum of fuss.

The triples found their game to be an uphill struggle, and took a while to get going. They were 3-4 down after five ends and this had slipped to 7-9 after ten. Once they reached parity at 12-12 and then edged ahead 13-12 after fifteen ends the mood was set, however, and a run of 3,5,1 on the last three ends made it 22-12.

The pairs also struggled badly to find the pace early on, losing three threes so that it was 6-6 after six and 9-9 after nine. It got even worse with another dropped shot on the next end, but at 9-10 they scored a seven, and then a few more ends on the bounce, so that Throckley won only one of the last eight ends and the match finished 23-11 in our favour.

The 8-0 score was fair enough in view of our overall dominance, but that slow start was worrying. After five ends we were 11-13 down over the three rinks; after ten ends it was just 26-25 in our favour; then, with a turbo-charged start to the second half, it was 54-30 by fifteen ends and 70-32 by the end of the match. Definitely one that will look easier on paper than it was on the grass. And we knew we would definitely have to play better at Haltwhistle the next night in the final of the West Tyne Cup, against Hexham House A.

It was a lovely evening at the centre of Great Britain, albeit with a chill in the breeze. One of the Hexham House rinks was considerably better than the other two, and Trevor’s rink definitely drew the short straw here. After a couple of ends Hexham House were leading thanks to a couple of lucky wicks (made worse by the opposition’s applause!) but thereafter there could be no complaints about the way we were mauled. The Hexham House lead played a blinder, while we merely looked peeky. A five on the seventeenth end took us into double figures at least, but the 11-22 score said it all.

Equally, Darren’s rink was ahead all the way, and did get to 22-2 before the opposition came back into the game a bit. Indeed, they pulled things back to reach 22-12, but by that stage there were only a few ends left and they didn’t have much left in the tank. Brian and Steve were just too accurate all through to allow any serious damage, and the result was genuinely never in doubt.

Malcolm’s rink was, for a while, the closest affair, with a score of 4-3 after six ends. After this we were able to open up a lead, and although Hexham House kept on trying, more than once lying two or three shots as the head developed, some excellent pinpoint bowls by Mark and Malcolm nicked the shot several times when the most that one might have expected was a good second. The lead increased to 11-3 after ten ends, then 17-6, and the teams shook hands after seventeen ends. With that the Cup was secured – a nice League/Cup double in 2018. And to make things even better, there was no game on the Friday!

Ups and Downs

The Nines squad travelled to league leaders Gosforth this week looking to pick up maybe two points.  You have to be realistic – it’s never a place to expect a win.  The green looked great, as ever, but was surprisingly spongy after the previous day’s downpour.

The pairs had something of a re-run of last week’s collapse, except that it came even earlier.  The first three ends had been well contested, with Gosforth leading 2-1, but on the next end one of Darren’s spectacular efforts went wrong and when the dust had settled it revealed a loss of six shots.  So that was 1-8 against us, and with the knock-on effects on morale over several more ends it was soon 1-13.  In fact, from 3-13 the shots were equally shared, even down to the curious detail of each side scoring a four in the last two ends, and the game ended 13-23.  Perhaps the imposition of a speed limit on bowls might help matters…

The triples also lost a six, although this turning-point was the result of excellent bowls by Gosforth.  The early exchanges had been quite close, and at 5-7 after eight ends we felt comfortable.  On the ninth one of our bowls was lying second shot and apparently locked in between two Gosforth bowls – it seemed as safe as houses.  However, this is where the vast experience and skill of these guys comes in, and after setting up the position the skip found perfect line and length to send the jack through and claim six shots at the back.  Although the great majority of the home team’s scoring shots were singles, with a lot only counting by an inch or so, Gosforth were always ahead and always dictating terms – a score of 10-19 did feel harsh, however.

Just after half-way both the triples and the fours had scoreboards showing 13-7 in Gosforth’s favour.  The fours did considerably better in drawing back, and by the close had managed to win nine of the 18 ends.  In fact they won eight of the first 14, showing real character after losing 3,4 and 2 on successive ends to go 2-9 down after five.  A really strong run saw them come back to 15-15 after 14 ends, and even after Gosforth then scored singles on three ends our rink weren’t finished.  On the last end we were lying three shots for a well-deserved draw until the very last Gosforth bowl took two of them out. There was no way for Malcolm to restore the three shots, and we lost 16-18.   That score looks even more impressive in the light of the overall 39-60 scoreline. And it did at least mean we were no worse than the norm, as Gosforth had averaged a 23-shot advantage in their previous 17 matches.

Friday marked the start of a punishing run of Nines matches to catch up on earlier games that were postponed for various reasons. At least they are all at home. Next week we have games on three consecutive nights, but even that wasn’t as strange as the situation on Friday where High Heaton had asked us to play twice on the same night, playing two games of nine ends. It was on our green, so it saved a journey and we agreed.

We then needed agreement on the rules of engagement in this unique set-up. What about the normal rule of having one shot on the first two (of 18) ends? Would we now have the one-shot rule on the first two ends of the night, or would it be just one end in each of the mini-games? (Answer at end of the post.) Once that had been sorted out we had to remember that we were the home team in the first game, but the away team in the second game, thus changing our position on the scoreboard. Oh, it keeps your brain active, does bowls!

When we finally got going, on a rather soggy green, there was a certain symmetry about the scores. The pairs won both games, albeit thanks to one shot on the last end of the first game to make it 9-8; the fours lost both games (the technical expression “stuffed” featured in the post-match analysis); and the triples won the first game before going down in the return, “away” fixture. So that meant that we won the home match 6-2 and lost the away match 2-6. All that re-organisation just to produce a totally neutral outcome!

The ladies went to Forest Hall for their final league game with hopes of gaining enough points to secure promotion to Division 1. There was plenty of mental arithmetic here, too. Before the match we were 9 points ahead of the only other contenders, Morpeth, with 12 points on offer both both clubs this week. The calculation, therefore, was that four points would be enough.

Forest Hall may have been languishing on the half-landing above the basement teams, but they were clearly determined to have us as opponents next season as well, and certainly not easing off with “nothing to play for”. One of our rinks had a solid 25-14 win, but unfortunately this was exactly matched by a 10-21 defeat for a second rink; and with the game absolutely in the balance it was a surprise and a disappointment for our third rink to lose 13-16. The overall three-shot deficit meant a paltry haul of two points on the day. Just to make it worse, that was the first time this season that Forest Hall had won more than one rink against anyone other than the two clubs below them in the table. In short, it was a surprise result.

But then, on the modern version of Teletext, came the news that Morpeth had also slipped up (was it nerves?), winning only nine points at home to lowly Seaton Sluice. The result of that, of course, was that Morpeth gained only seven points on ourselves, leaving us two points clear in second place. So, assuming that the numbers and format of the league remain the same next year, it will be another promotion. It’s a few years now since we described both the Nines and the Ladies as yo-yo teams, too good for Division 2 but not quite good enough for Division 1. There have been a few “ups and downs” since then to prove the point – let’s hope next season confirms a place in the top tier.

Yo-yo

And the answer on the Nines:  a trick question in a way, as the eventual decision was to have one shot on the first two ends of each match.