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.
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.