One of the oddities about bowls, and one which we have commented on several times over the years, is the way that almost every league involves a different scoring system, while even the various knock-out competitions organised by, say, Bowls England have different formats too. This week was a perfect example of the variations.
The ladies had a tough-looking fixture against Bedlington Dr Pit in the Collins & Shipley league, but got off to a good start, with two rinks leading 6-0 and 7-0 respectively after four or five ends – the picture was only partly spoiled by the third rink being 0-6 down at the same point. This last score was against the best of the Bedlington rinks, and things continued to slide so that at half-way we were 2-15 down. But as it happened one of the other rinks were trouncing the opposition by a remarkably similar score, so that the overall position on those two rinks was 18-17 in our favour. From then on our losing rink did well to limit and indeed restrict the deficit, so that our advantage on these two unbalanced rinks grew even more by the end. But at the same time our third rink saw their early lead whittled away until it disappeared altogether just before the end. The result of all this was that we won just one rink but also – crucially – managed to win the overall match on shots, thus getting the six point shots bonus and coming away with an 8-4 win. This was an excellent result, and with the two teams above us playing each other it should – barring a very unlikely set of scores – be enough to lift us off the bottom of the table. It was only the third case of an 8-4 scoreline in the 17 C&S results recorded so far this season.
There was even rarer result in the Nines league, played against Benfield in steady but bearable rain on Tuesday. The temptation was there to agree on a game of 11 ends before we started, but we took a chance on it – just as well, as at the 11-end mark we were leading by one shot on one rink and losing by a shot or two on the others! Most of the second half was tight as well, but the pairs drew ahead against a strong Benfield pair for a good 16-11 win. The fours had seemed to be in line for a great win, 13-13 after 14 ends, but then inexplicably gave away two fives and a three so that it finished with a most misleading 14-26 scoreline. One-all!
By this time you could just make out the players on the green, but the triples fought on, going into the last end one down, and then lying two until the Benfield skip promoted a bowl to make it one in our favour. It was now one of those situations where you have to either accept the draw or go for the win with a chance of failure; Matthew bravely tried to play their second shot out to restore the two-shot margin, but it was too tricky and we had to settle for a draw after all. So (with one end having been burned) here we were after 19 ends, all square on a rink that made the whole match level. The two-point bonus for winning most rinks was therefore split and the overall score was 4-4 – only the second occurrence in 35 Nines league results this season.
After these close games based on some very different rink performances, it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to see a repeat performance in the West Tyne game against Hexham House A. Here two of our rinks went well ahead early on, but a glance at the other scoreboards showed that the overall game was actually going away from us. One of our winning rinks found themselves being caught, but held on well for a 17-14 win, while the other had a great night, racking up a 35-5 win, which might have been more but for a strange episode on the fifteenth end where each side thought they had agreed on a different number of shots. Two to us? Three? Without VAR there was no way of proving anything, so we settled for two.
It was pretty inevitable what was going to happen next. Despite this massive win, our other two rinks each lost by fairly large margins, though between them managed to score a vital three shots on the last end. And after the final scores were added it turned out as 72-72, so that the three points for shots had to be split, with the rinks also being split two-each. This result of 3.5-3.5 was the first time this season in the West Tyne, and there was just one such score in the whole of last season, so we really were into a run of rare or unique results!
These two drawn league games were remarkable, but at least in the Top Club competition against New Delaval the rules made clear that there cannot be a draw in any of the disciplines. In this best-of-five set-up it quickly became clear that the fours would struggle, and after levelling to 3-3 after just two ends they found the green as hard to tame as their opponents and fell way behind. Meanwhile Keith (Two) Woods fought really hard against his young opponent and would have beaten an awful lot of people, but still found himself going into the last of the 21 ends level – so it was “best of one end”, and Keith was just pipped to it. We were now two-nil down with the pairs level and the triples behind, having trailed for just about the whole game.
But the fat lady hadn’t even cleared her throat! Craig was keeping quite close, and so were the pairs, while the triples had been 4-11 down but playing ok, as proved by a five that followed. They then slipped a bit, but managed to be two behind with three ends to play, and then just one down with two to play. The penultimate end seemed to be going against us, but the opposition shot bowl was in such a strong position that it limited our options to one perfect strike, rather like those you see on TV when the commentator uses arrows to show what would happen in the best of all worlds. And of course, it duly came off, to give us a three and leave us two ahead. With the opposition now deflated and worried we took over on the last end, with front shots and even a precision blocker, and won in the end by five.
Meanwhile, over on the singles rink both players were giving it everything, not just in their play but in terms of the exuberant shouting (“Clean!”… “Drop!”… “Whiiiiite!”) and after slugging it out with great bowls on both sides Craig came through for a narrow but deserved win, to make it 2-2 overall. At this point Steve and Malcolm were 21-each with two ends to play, then lost a one. On the last end they were lying two before the New Delaval skip reduced to it to one with his very last bowl. So it all came down to the last bowl of the night. Malcolm and Steve talked about it for a long time, Malcolm thought about it for even longer, and the (by now) significant audience all had their own thoughts about what he might do. And finally a backhand rolled up the green to make the plant that Steve had advised, pushing one of our bowls in for a two and a one-shot win on the last end.
It really was a bit of a smash-and-grab win, as just twenty minutes earlier the home team might have been really confident of at least 3-2 and probably better. It was also one of the most exciting finishes we had all been involved in – after about 1250 bowls in the course of the night it all came down to the last one – well, at least it didn’t go to an extra end! It also meant that on three separate nights of the week the overall result in a match went to the very last bowl of the match. It’s also worth recording that the New Delaval lads were very fair and sporting throughout, even with the disappointment at the end, and contributed hugely to a really great night of bowls. We now have a home tie against Morpeth St George’s on 18 June, in what is effectively, and unofficially, the Northumberland final for this competition.
Meanwhile, to return to the ladies, Jean, Susan and Betty had a very good and gutsy win in the County Triples against a strong Morpeth team, and the week was shaping up nicely. So after all that, it was a big anti-climax to have the Challenge Cup postponed on Saturday – the semi-final round was due to be held on our green, but heavy overnight rain, with more forecast, meant there was only a minimal chance of getting through the day. No one in any of the teams involved expressed any disappointment, anyway, and the day is to be re-scheduled for 22 June. If we have any more excitement like this week’s we’ll all be worn out by then…