Monthly Archives: July 2019

Success All Round

We had good cause for celebration this week. For the ladies, Shelagh and Jean won the County pairs title, while Shelagh got to the final of the 2-wood as defending champion, only to fall at the last hurdle. On the same day Betty, Jean and Susan also played and lost in the final of the triples. Three finals in one weekend was pretty good going for the club! Meanwhile, in the men’s section, three club members were named in the County Middleton Cup squad to play in the semi-final against Kent at Leamington next Saturday as Philip and Craig were joined, not before time, by Steve Bennett.

In view of this excitement it was very impressive to see all three guys turning out against Innisfree in Division 5 game of the Clegg League. Innisfree were our closest rivals, 18 league points behind us before this match, for which we had a really strong team. Indeed, we needed it, as the early ends were much closer than we would have wished or expected.

But as the game went on we drew ahead on all rinks. After struggling to 10-10 our first rink scored a five – always a boost in a game with six shots on offer each end! – and then ran in a succession of scores to make it 26-12 as a final result. Three of our rinks scored 23 shots or more, and with the fourth managing 16 it gave us a huge 91-44 win. The lead at the top of the table is now 32 points, and requires Innisfree to win all three remaining games and for us to win neither of the last two, so it looks hopeful – as long as we don’t start the next game like we started that one!

If the performance on Wednesday evening was a second-half rally, the same had been true for the ladies in the Collins and Shipley in the afternoon. Facing Amble, they looked as if they might be facing defeat at the half-way point, with all three rinks down and a shots tally of 17-27. At this point a pre-arranged cooling-off break was taken, with ice lollies being handed out, and the effect was certainly invigorating for our team, as the scores rapidly changed when the players re-emerged. Shelagh’s rink immediately scored a five, having lost the four ends before the break to be 6-9 down, and then won the last six ends as well to finish 20-10 ahead. Betty’s rink had started a come-back even before half-way, and from 5-10 kept going to reach 10-10 before collecting an Audi (four zeroes) which led to a 12-17 defeat. That still left us five shots ahead overall, and Jean’s rink needed to keep things tight, which they did: level at 4-4, 8-8, 9-9 and 12-12, it was only fitting that they should finish the match on 13-13 for an important point and an even more important win on overall aggregate. Nine league points against one of the better teams in the league was a very good return, and we have now overtaken Alnwick for the moment. That ice-lolly break might become a fixture.

davThe hot weather at the start of the week again saw most of the Nines team in shorts at Throckley, where the hosts apologised for providing the three “least bad” rinks for our match. Here too there was a drawn rink, on a pitted surface which also featured stripy shadows – it was a bit like the effect at St James’ Park on a sunny spring day. As for the bowls, on this rink it really was like skittles, so it was fitting that we rescued a point with the last bowl of the match, straight up the middle to remove a shot bowl and actually finish  only an inch off two shots for the win. No such problems on the other rinks, where the pairs were soon in control, easing off a little towards the end for a 26-11 win; or for the triples, with a lead that got bigger all night to reach 35-6.

By Thursday the unpredictable weather that had seen record temperatures linked to fierce thunderstorms disrupted the West Tyne semi-final against Alston. After about four or five ends the players had to flee the green in a violent downpour, and it at least says something for our green these days that they were soon able to continue whereas the other semi-final at Hexham House was abandoned. Two of our rinks won comfortably enough in a game that was decided on rinks won, not shots, so you could say the third one was a bit of overkill with a win by 48-1 – the sort of result which gives no great pleasure to either side, really. In view of the abandonment at Hexham House we now wait to find out who our opponents will be in the final.

A Mixed Week

digIn a week when we had our new irrigation system installed there was a certain irony in having some of the heaviest rain of the summer. There could hardly have been a bigger contrast between the weather conditions for our various games, but it wasn’t just the weather that was mixed – our results were up and down, with a couple of real downers to match the downpours.

On Tuesday, for the home game against Heaton Victoria in the Nines, the majority of the team were wearing shorts and the sun lingered almost until the final ends. The triples and fours built reasonable leads early on, though if the general wisdom worked whereby a visiting team aims to restrict the home side in the early ends, Heaton Vic should have felt pleased with being only four down on each of these rinks at the half-way point (10-6 and 9-5). However, in the next nine ends both the triples and fours almost precisely doubled their scores to 20-13 and 17-9) and that seemed to reflect the general play.

While those two rinks made 37 shots between them the pairs were determined to get some good practice for Top Club games, and racked up 37 points on their own. The game was pretty well over after nine ends (17-2), and one remarkable detail was that, apart from a single on the first end (limited to one shot anyway) there was not another end where Steve and Malcolm scored only one; there were seven threes, which at this level is pretty rare. So that meant another 8-0 win in the league, and we are now third in the table.

The next night was rather different, in that it was a first visit for many of us to the Gosforth Central club. Light rain set in late afternoon, and it was a damp evening on a green that would be heavy at the best of times. We were down on several rinks early on, but it was good to see the new bowlers in the team being able to adjust, and to keep the home team’s scores down to sensible proportions. Thus it was that Steve Bennett’s rink was 1-10 down after seven ends, but back to 10-10 after twelve and although they ultimately lost by four shots it was a great holding operation. Ken’s rink was 3-14 down after nine ends but still managed to come back, winning all the last six ends but finally wishing there had been one more as they lost 16-17.

The rinks skipped by Brian Norman (29-11) and Trevor (25-9) each managed two runs of five consecutive ends, but in a way the most important element of the night was the way that the rinks which lost kept their games so close. After six ends the aggregate shots read 12-21, and the pivot-point came on ends nine (29-32) and ten (35-33), increasing in our favour thereafter to 86-57. So that made for ten points on the night, keeping us well clear at the top. Now there is a big game on Tuesday against Innisfree, in second place, 18 shots behind us with a game in hand – since they won their match on Tuesday with only 80 shots (42-38) in a match of 84 ends, one can only assume that it was abandoned as a result of the rain.

For the rest of the week we might rather have preferred that our competitive matches had fallen prey to the weather. Even on the Wednesday the ladies had lost 0-12 to Ponteland, who clearly had a point (or 12) to prove after their defeat at Elvaston earlier in the season. Just to make things worse, league leaders Burradon lost 0-12 to lowly Chirton, so quite apart from missing a chance to get within a few points of the leaders we can now see the chasing pack in the wing mirrors. A couple more wins should be enough for safety, all the same.

In the West Tyne league we were looking to bounce back from last week’s 1-6 reverse at Prudhoe, but apart from being level on one rink with one end to go we never looked much like getting even that one point against Hexham House B. There was a tale of woe on every rink, and with some justification we could say that any wicks or rubs went the way of the visitors, but even so there was little to be cheerful about, and all four rinks lost by something between three and seven shots. So after last year’s League and Cup double, we are now languishing in fifth place of the seven teams, and that by just half a point!

It was possible to say, or at least think, that some of us had our minds elsewhere, more precisely on the Top Club match at Shap on Friday, where we were to meet Heaton Hall from Manchester, but if that was the case, it just showed that we should have been more focussed on the job in hand, as the outcome in Cumbria wasn’t very good either. The weather over there was dreadful, with buffeting gusts of wind bringing heavy squalls of rain. You can always say that it is the same for both teams, but in fact, apart from the fact that anyone from Lancashire is obviously more used to playing in the wet than we are, it’s also true that the more experienced you are at top levels, the more you will have had to play in difficult conditions.

This all became painfully clear as the night went on, with Heaton Hall boasting six internationals in their team of eleven. In four previous rounds our two singles players had lost just one match, and that on the last end. Here both lost, so we were immediately in a position of needing to win all three of the team disciplines. The pairs held up very well, and were separated by just a couple of shots for most of the game. The triples, with Darren back in action, also stayed very close, but then fell behind 11-15. However, at this point, and with the pairs now 14-12 up, it became obvious that the fours were going down to a heavy defeat. They had started well enough, scoring a four to off-set losing a five, but the turning point came at 7-11, as they were lying four shots – which was when the Heaton Hall skip played his best bowl of the night to draw the shot. From 7-12 we never got another shot and at 7-26 raised the white flag. This meant a 1-4 defeat, but we should never forget that we got to the quarter-final stage for the north of England, and had some great experiences on the way.

There were yet other games to go at advanced stages of County competitions. Jean and Shelagh won the final of the ladies’ pairs, and will be at Leamington at the same time as Northumberland’s Middleton Cup team – some vocal support from the men, no doubt! However, in the men’s semi-finals we had trouble with the number 14. First, Steve Bennett (singles) got marooned after leading Alan Stewart 14-11. On the next end he was lying two very close shots, so Alan burnt the end; then, two ends later at 14-13, Steve was again lying shot with a bowl just inches from the jack when Alan managed a trail for four shots – all of which led to a 14-21 result.  Then Keith, Matthew and Philip had a really close and exciting match against a Gosforth trio led by Peter Duffy, and after finishing level on 14-all went to an extra end, where they were holding two before a riotous wick meant they lost by one shot, 14-15.  Hard luck, lads, but these runs in the county championships have been a fabulous effort and have really put the club back on the map. Well done, all.


Mixed Fortunes

After a jam-packed report last week there is much less than usual to report this time, as we played only two league games instead of the usual four. The ladies had a bye week in the Collins and Shipley, while our opponents in the Clegg called off and conceded the points on the morning of the match. It’s fair to say that with our fortnightly trip into Newcastle (and beyond) in each of three leagues we tend to forget that for some opponents a trip to Hexham appears to be quite an event, with various logistical issues.

The Nines match was at Cramlington, with most of those playing still on a high after the Top Club game at Whitehaven on Sunday, and Steve Bennett definitely on a high after winning his County quarter-final match at Gosforth on the Monday night. He and Malcolm certainly dominated their pairs game here, although after nine ends the lead was just 8-4, with only one end scoring more than a single. At that point they really took off, and it was soon 18-4, with a final score of 23-6 being a true reflection of the game. The triples were also in full control, though here too the half-way score of 6-6 was immediately boosted by a four and a couple of threes, so that even a brief final rally by the home side left it at 19-12 in our favour.

With the game and the bonus points sewn up, it was down to the fours to go for maximum points, but here the close first half (6-7 after nine) was mirrored in the second, as the Cramlington skip time and again frustrated hopes by disrupting a dominant position. The most notable example was on the last end but one, where we were lying five, only to have a wick go against us for one shot and a scoreline of 11-12. So it was that we required a fine bowl skip’s bowl from Craig to level the scores with the last bowl of the match, and earn a 7-1 win in league points.

On Thursday the West Tyne match at Prudhoe was a great chance to stay in contention near the top of the table, as Prudhoe had lost most of their matches. However, a couple of players were away in County competitions or for family reasons, so it was always going to be a good examination. In the event, whether it was the physics involved in bowls running over an unfamiliar surface, or the chemistry between our own players, the maths at the end confirmed a fail – just one point out of the six. Even this one was a struggle, as our one winning rink went from 13-6 to 13-15 in the space of three late ends, before restoring order with a four and a run of singles for a 20-15 win.

The second rink not only wobbled but totally collapsed: leading 8-6 after nine ends, we lost the next five by every number from one to five, and a score of 8-21 with four ends to go was an impossible task – six more shots in our favour made it respectable, but nowhere near a win. The adjacent rink were actually closer (12-16), but were never ahead or even level; here the issue seemed to be losing the first five ends – although each was a single, that margin was crucial because despite winning nine of the remaining ends we could never make inroads into the home lead. Meanwhile, away on the far side of the green, our final rink managed to hold the opposition to low scores for the most part, but managed only five ends themselves on the way to a 10-18 loss.

On the same night Steve and Malcolm’s run in the County pairs came to an end against top-class opponents (the holders, playing on their own green), so there was no disgrace there. It wasn’t a great night for results, though! Next week will see us back to a full league programme, not to mention a trip to Shap on Friday for a Top Club match against Heaton Hall from Manchester. Let’s just make sure that Thursday was a minor blip.

Going Strong

maga hat_editedBy this point in recent seasons our competitive games have been limited to league games and sporadic progress in one or two cups. This year has been different. Quite apart from an extra league, and the interest of being top of that division, we are still in the Top Club competition, with a game in Whitehaven on 7 July – a date which sadly clashed with the Final of the Jubilee Cup, where we had to scratch.

Meanwhile in County competitions, Steve Bennett is in the quarter finals of the singles and (with Malcolm Cooper) the pairs; in the triples, Keith,Matthew and Philip had a great win at St George’s on Friday to reach the semi-finals.  On the women’s side Shelagh is a finalist in the 2-wood singles, and (with Jean) in the semi-finals of the pairs after beating Burradon, while Jean, Betty and Susan are finalists in the triples. As a little bonus, both the Bell Cup and Challenge Cup first round days were washed out in early June, so we still have a chance there when they are finally played. The summer still has plenty of interest.

Pride of place in league reports this week has to go to the ladies. Away to Chirton, they were stretched to the limit in getting a team together, but thanks to a lot of goodwill and logistical work we put out a full team of 12 – ironically, the home team managed only eleven. Shelagh’s rink went well ahead early on to reach 14-4 at half-way, and maintained that advantage to win 24-10. Betty’s rink took longer to get going, just one shot ahead at the half-way mark and then, one end later, one shot down at 6-7 (though Chirton were going to lose a quarter of their score). This indignity clearly sparked a revival and they then won six ends on the trot to establish a 17-7 lead, and even though Chirton won the last two ends it would never be enough to come back. On a low-scoring third rink Jean supervised a closer affair altogether, 8-8 after 12 ends and still close with the score on 12-10 with one end to go before a single made sure of the points.

There is one more little statistic to record, thanks to Match Secretary Susan MacDonald. The Collins and Shipley team have now taken 54 points of the 108 available so far this season, thus obviously conceding 54 as well. That, as Susan points out, must be the perfect definition of a mid-table team. But given the doubts that were prevalent before the season started, and some suggestions that we might not be ready or fit for Division 1, this comfortable position is really very impressive.

There is of course only one division in the Nines, where we hosted Ponteland hoping to improve on our 7-1 win against them at the start of the season – a win which gave us so much confidence in the early weeks. Unlike that night in May when darkness seemed to be falling almost from the start, this was a nice sunny evening even if the top layers were on quite early. The fours got off to a perfect start, with Terry Boon playing an outstanding game, and after 11 ends were 15-2 ahead. At this point there was a slight lull as an element of cautious consolidation crept in, but had it not been for a three dropped on the last end the final score (17-11) would have looked a lot better. However, once again it is a mark of improvement that we can now feel disappointed with a six-shot win over such opponents.

The triples and pairs each had a difficult patch, at different times in the game. The pairs were 5-6 at half-way (nine ends), at which point a four and a two gave them a cushion which allowed them to sit very comfortably ten ahead going into the last end. Like the fours they then took their eye off the bowl to lose a four, but this was another six-shot win (18-12). The triples also had to work really hard in the first half to lead 8-6, before a couple of good ends gave them a healthy 16-7 lead with five ends to go. At this point Ponteland came back into the game strongly, with seven shots in the next three to make it 16-14, and were then lying three on the penultimate end before Phil bowled a perfect runner to edge off the shot bowl and slice the jack away for two shots. That put paid to the resistance, and if wasn’t literally a match-winner for the whole fixture it did confirm the full eight points – another excellent result.

Having half a dozen people away on the Gosforth Bowlers’ tour had not harmed our Nines team too much, as our pairs and triples were basically unaffected by the loss. But needing twelve players for the Clegg league the next night was altogether more problematic, and we should be very grateful to all those who put aside domestic duties or simple relaxation to turn out for the game at Throckley. The team turned up to find the Throckley green marooned in the middle of a building site, and two hours later the match result was to show that our own efforts to develop a wide playing base are still a work in progress. The heavy and rather unpredictable nature of the green gave the home team quite an advantage, but despite this we competed well, with several of those new to the sport once again getting involved.

Craig’s rink was the stand-out success, romping into a 16-4 lead at about the halfway point, and then easing off only slightly for a 23-14 win. Malcolm’s rink was almost the reverse image, being 6-16 at that mid-point and eventually coming back to 16-21 thanks to a three on each of the last two ends. Until that late spurt the problem had been in the range of scores, with only one end scoring more than a single on our part and the majority of ends for Throckley being multiples.

The other two rinks were closer – neither side on either rink scored on more than two consecutive ends. Indeed, on Trevor’s rink neither side scored more than a two at any point, and neither was ever in the lead for more than two ends; the lead changed hands eight times. Unfortunately this was not a game of 18 ends (12-11 to us) but 21, and when the music stopped we were the ones holding a 13-14 scorecard. In another close game Steve Benson’s rink got to 4-3 after seven ends, but once they fell behind they stayed behind except for one end level at 9-9. The final result here was 13-17, so it was an unlucky 13 on two rinks.

Overall, then, we had been 31-34 down after 11 ends; 56-55 ahead after 18 ends; but then 65-66 down after the full 21. As ever, the fact that we had shaded the number of ends won was irrelevant, and only a minor comfort – the basic point was that we didn’t score well enough on the ends we won, as it was so often just a single, isolated shot. At least we had gone into the game some 20 points clear at the top of the division, so a rather sad 2-12 defeat in terms of league points won’t have changed the position even though it has dented our averages.

Speaking of averages, we can surely learn something from the relative success rates of the teams this week. (It’s often easier to learn from defeats than from victories.) Leaving aside the issue of who exactly was playing, and the quality of the respective opponents, there is a nice stat that stands out. If we discount the first two ends, which are limited to one shot anyway, we can usefully look at the ends from the third end onwards for each rink to see how many winning ends were earned by a single shot. Ready?

Against Ponteland, where all three rinks won, we scored a single on 14 out of 29 ends, in other words, a smidgeon under 50%; the one winning rink against Throckley similarly scored singles on five out of ten, bang on 50%. So, since we were pleased with that clear win, and delighted with the result in the Nines, it suggests that that ratio is a good one. This is actually confirmed by the ladies’ excellent win, which showed an almost identical pattern, with 14 out of 30, or 47%.  So that is all remarkably consistent. But if we now look at the three losing rinks at Throckley the number of ends won by a single shot rises to 19 out of 26, or 73%. Obviously the precise percentage isn’t crucial, and there can be no exact figure to aim for, but what the calculation makes really clear is the importance of getting more than one bowl in the head, both when building a score and to prevent the opposition from dislodging a single, vulnerable bowl.

Here endeth the lesson…

Well, it would have done, but on Sunday another big game came up – the Top Club match at Whitehaven which we referred to in the first paragraph.  Twitter users will need no telling about the result, but no account of the game could fit into 280 characters, so here’s a summary.

On a cloudless afternoon we went on to the green to a huge cheer, which unfortunately was from the neighbouring Rugby League ground, where Whitehaven were at home in a top-of-the-table clash: we had to make do with half a dozen local members or family supporters, boosted by reserve and ace photographer David Robertson.  The green was not quite as fast as it looked, but giving good results except that (for both sides) there was an area a few yards from the ditch where the bowls would run on, whatever speed they were doing.  At least the frustration was shared.

As usual, the singles used the same rink, and in the opening two-wood Keith showed his usual accuracy in holding off a late challenge from the home player – they went into the penultimate end at 12-12, at which point a two put him well in control and he wrapped it up on the final end to give us the first point.

At about this point the other three rinks were also doing nicely – around the half-way stage both the triples and fours reached 10-6, with the pairs on 10-8.  But strangely, it was the home team which had started slowly and then seemed to adjust to the green.  The pairs lost a three and a four to go from 12-8 to 12-15, soon becoming 14-18, while the fours also lost the early momentum which had seen them win seven ends in succession to go from 1-6 to 12-6.  In fact, they then lost seven on the bounce, to be 12-17 down as the home side found their preferred length.   Things were not looking good.

They were looking even worse in the singles, where Craig was 4-11 down early on, with the same margin held through to 11-18. Maybe not our day after all…  While all this was going on the triples also saw their lead disappear, but did really well to never let the home team get ahead despite being level at 13-13 and then, with one end to go, 14-14.  So it was a last-end shoot-out, and although each side held the shot in the course of the end Phil didn’t even have to bowl the last wood as we had scored a two to make it two wins.

The fours and the pairs were still behind by a few shots each, but, out of the blue, over on the far rink, Craig rallied from his position of 11-18 to score a four and then, next end, another four, to suddenly be in front, and in no time at all he had finished off the game and seal the overall win.  The cheer from the rest of the team might not have matched the rugby, but it was the biggest we’d heard on the green for quite a while!