Every 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!