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!

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