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Season’s End

Just as we near the end of the season the sun comes out and players start to complain about feeling uncomfortable in the heat – about as inconsistent and frustrating as the England cricket team.  With just one outstanding league game to come next week in the Collins and Shipley, this is the time to wrap up our summaries with a review of several successful matches in the last couple of weeks.

In the Nines league we played a double-header at Forest Hall, with two games of nine ends each.  These games aren’t entirely satisfactory, but things had reached the point where everyone was glad to have just one evening out instead of two.  For most of the season we have relied on the pairs and triples for points, but on this occasion (or if we maintain the fiction of two matches, these occasions) the formula didn’t work – so much so that the pairs and triples both switched team positions for the second game.

Even these changes didn’t make a lot of difference.  The pairs had won the first game 9-7 thanks to a three on the ninth (last) end; but despite scoring well in the ends that they won in the second game they just managed a 10-10 draw.  The triples meanwhile lost the first session 5-11, even with a four on the last end, but did then improve considerably to win the second half by a relatively resounding 8-7.  This left the fours as the star performers of the night, winning 13-3 and 11-2.  The result of all this in terms of league standings was that we won the first game 6-2 on points, and the second one 7-1.  Considering that the pairs and triples finished 32-35 down on shots for the night, this was a spectacular heist.  It also propelled us into second place in the Nines league – unheard of in recent years – although we shall certainly slip to third when New Delaval finally play the three games they have in hand.  However, third is a nice place to be after a long, hard season.

On Saturday of last week we played the West Tyne Cup Final against Hexham House B at Haltwhistle after the Prudhoe green had turned out to be unplayable earlier in the week.  It was a bright day with a really strong crosswind that made the draw shot rather unpredictable on one side of the rink, but obviously it was the same for both sides, and we went into a big lead on all three rinks, thanks to two of our rinks scoring a six on their seventh ends.  Hexham House came back strongly on Malcolm’s rink, but his team held on for a 16-12 win, while the rinks skipped by Trevor and Philip won by eight and eighteen shots respectively.  Of course, this competition is decided simply on rinks, so the score is recorded as 3-0, but it was a satisfyingly large margin on the day.

It was perhaps as well that the previous night our Nines game with Hexham House had been rained off, as we would also meet them in the West Tyne Gala Day hosted at our club on Sunday.   It was a really successful day, with a lot of close games in the round-robin format, but at the end of the day, in which we somehow escaped a whole heap of heavy showers along the valley, Elvaston emerged on top with four wins out of five.  Genuinely no one had seen this coming, and (if anything) getting a thumping from Haltwhistle in the middle game of the five had led us to think we had no real chance.  Other results went our way, however, and it was great to win a second trophy in two days – actually, the first time we have won the Gala Day since 1998.

A good way to finish the season, then.  The statistics provided by WordPress tell me that this is the one hundredth post since the “Green Green Grass” started growing.  With that century achieved, it’s definitely time to take a breather, before (maybe) taking a fresh guard for next season.  As ever, thanks for reading.

Holding Operation

The season is coming to a close – every year there is the same surprised disappointment – and the last few matches are being played in cup and league competitions.  Last week was good for us, but with various other events going on away from the bowling green there was no real time to give a proper summary.  It’s neatest, then, to wait a couple of days and sum up all recent activity in one final post for the 2019 season.  The usual Saturday deadline (24 August).

“Are we nearly there yet?”

With the end of the season now in sight some of our regular players might be excused a certain weariness, and it was certainly difficult to keep up the momentum of last week, especially after the ladies’ triumph at the Gosforth Centenary event.  That turned out to be the Lord Mayor’s show compared to what happened at Bedlington in the league on Wednesday, as we went down to a 0-12 defeat with nothing to email home about.

On the same evening we took on Haltwhistle in a re-arranged West Tyne match, and things were hardly better.  A very convincing win for Keith Woods’ rink (23-6)  was more than offset by near-identical defeats (8-24 and 7-22) on two other rinks, which left our fourth rink in no position to be aiming for the bonus points.  As it was, Richard, Terry and Mike did very well to come back from 5-10, to not only level but then go into the lead (13-12) with one end to go – at which point the visitors really put the squeeze on and picked up a five to win.

That 6-1 points win for Haltwhistle put them within one good win of clinching the league, which they duly did the next night at Prudhoe. Meanwhile, we were engaged in a “playing for pride” exercise against Hexham House A, and at least it turned out to be the best result of the week.  Mark’s rink were up against a strong HHA side, and found themselves 12-4 ahead before the ultimate score of 15-12 probably made it look closer than it had been all through.  The same could be said of Trevor’s rink, where a dropped five on the last end (when caution could safely be thrown to the wind) led to a 28-15 score.  Steve Bennett’s team were in no mood for festival shots, however, and indeed scored a five themselves on the last to record a 32-7 win.  So at least if we disappointed with an aggregate 51-69 against the champions we could be very satisfied with an aggregate 88-50 against the team likely to finish third.

Tuesday’s Nines game at Benfield was called off late in the afternoon because of a waterlogged green, and the home match this coming week is also off, as Collingwood cannot raise a team and have conceded.  All this is frustrating in a league which has such a helter-skelter of fixtures early in the season – one of those, against Hexham House, will be played this coming Friday, if the rain ever stops.  With a Cup Final against Hexham House B tomorrow (Monday) and games against HHA and HHB at various points in next Sunday’s Gala Day we’ll be seeing plenty of our neighbours this week…

 

 

Long to Rain Over Us

Apologies for the late posting this week – there is a lot going on as we move into June. But we can still review the last week of last month.

May is a famously unpredictable month in terms of weather, and the local conditions played a large part in our games that week. On Sunday, for instance, we set off in the morning for our Top Club match in Whitley Bay in light rain, and the promise of a few more hours as the rain tracked across from the west behind us. In the event, we got there as the sun came out, and had a lovely couple of hours with only the wind as a hindrance – the match report for that game was given last week.

The next day the club held its Queens Cup event in the afternoon, with all manner of outfits to meet the standard of red, white and blue garb. The winners were Susan MacDonald, Mark Terry and Michael Slade, a new member who must now think that winning things is par for the course.

By the time tea had finished the rain had started, which was bad news for the Senior Fours team playing against Rothbury. The bowls were immediately leaving trails of spray, and it was just a question of heaving them up the green more in hope than expectation. (There was general agreement that we didn’t need to chalk any touchers, as the chances of anything going into the ditch, even straight from the hand, were so small.) It was a pretty dismal night, compounded by a bad result – from pretty much level pegging at half way our team collapsed, losing just about every end thereafter, never by a lot but always enough. The Rothbury lads simply adjusted to conditions that much better, especially the way that the green changed pace as it got drier with use, and deserved the win.

The Clegg League game against Centurion Park was also played in light but incessant rain, with players spending as much time drying their woods as bowling them. We had a strong team out, but for reasons that may or may not have been rain-related, we struggled on all rinks. One rink won by three shots, having lost a 9-4 lead to go 10-14 down with five ends to go, before winning all five of those for 17-14. A second rink won 16-14 in a game where neither side led by more than three shots, with that lead of three lasting only for one end. Our third rink lost by five, having been behind basically the whole match, and hardly managing to score more than one shot on any winning end. So with two narrow wins and a slighter wider loss we were all square on shots. With Craig’s rink struggling early on, winning only four of the first 11 ends and trailing 10-11, things were looking as bleak as the weather, but from this point on they lost only one more shot, and 12 shots on the last four ends produced a healthy score of 31-12, with that 19-shot margin of course being the overall difference on shots. The league points tally was therefore 12-2 in our favour, but in truth that scoreline bears no resemblance to what happened on the green., and for a long time it looked as if the points were heading back down the A69. Division 5 was supposed to be an easy entry point for us, but it is proving much more difficult than anticipated.

Earlier in the day the ladies had played at Alnwick in rather better, though still not ideal, weather. The result was another 2-10 defeat, but once again the actual margins on the green were not that great, with the overall shots deficit just nine over the three rinks. As usual, they gave it a really good go, and no doubt will find that the exposure to this higher level improves the standard even if it doesn’t always lift morale at the time!

By Thursday the weather was still pretty miserable, and the West Tyne game against Haltwhistle had to be postponed. By mid-afternoon the green was starting to be a bit spongy, and the forecast was for more rain in the evening. At this point the chances of damage to the green, or injury to players, were growing, and it simply wasn’t worth the risk of wasting everyone’s time to come to a match that might well be called off half-way through.

Conditions remained very mixed into the next week, but we’ll leave that for the next post, hopefully more in line with our regular schedule…

A New Season

Here we go again!  This year we have an extra league to report on, the Clegg league which involves four men’s (two-bowl) triples on Wednesday nights, and as several of the greens involved are totally unknown to us there will be all sorts of new material to report.  However, the Clegg doesn’t start until 8 May so for now we have an update on the usual suspects.

The Nines programme started with a game at Hexham House, and we had every reason to feel confident with the return of several younger bowlers who had left us for various reasons years ago.  The pairs certainly blew the opposition away, winning 28-5 after taking a 15-0 lead.  Unfortunately the fours went down by an almost identical score (29-5), winning only three ends although they should have called a halt after four ends, while leading 4-2!  This meant that the match result hinged on the triples, who were 9-6 up at the half-way point but then fell slightly behind over the closing stages and eventually lost 15-17.  The scoring system for the Nines meant a 6-2 points win for Hexham House, but it had clearly been a very balanced match overall.

Ponteland was the next away game, on Tuesday of this week.   The pairs and triples remained the same, with a couple of adjustments in the fours.  The triples were once again close for most of the match, but thanks to a seven on the ninth end moved ahead into a position where they could control things; seven shots on the last two ends, including a final flourish of five, made for a comfortable scoreline (25-17), though the ends were shared equally in an otherwise tight game.

The fours also had a very close encounter, edging ahead at the half-way mark before losing several ends to go 7-10 down.  At this point they too scored a seven, and however close the match was after that they were able to hold on to the lead in the gathering gloom.  The last end, indeed, was largely guesswork in the dark, so it was as well we were leading. In all, we won only eight ends, with Ponteland winning nine and one no-shot, but three trails of the jack picked up a four, a seven and a two, so Ponteland might have felt a little hard done by when we won 18-14.

The pairs were up against an excellent pairing and after edging a lead through most of the first half saw the lead disappear with a strong run of seven shots in three ends.  But from 7-12 down after 13 ends we came back to lead 13-12 after 16.  Ponteland then scored a single and the last end, played with the score at 13-13, finished with a no-shot as Craig’s final wood finished agonisingly short of being shot; with each side winning nine ends it absolutely could not have been closer.  Whether it was a point gained (from 7-12) or a point dropped (from 13-12) was a moot point – it was a cracking game all the same, and of course the overall score was 7-1 in our favour.   This was a great result away against a strong team.  In recent seasons we have been on the wrong end of those scores despite often playing well, so it was satisfying to see the cookie crumbling our way this time.

Things didn’t get any easier by the Friday night, as we were again playing away, this time to an even stronger side in the shape of New Delaval.  The weather in Blyth was quite bright, with thankfully light winds, but most of us were still wrapped in three or four layers – unlike a couple of the local lads, who obviously relished the balmy single-digit temperatures in short sleeves.

The fours started with a couple of good ends, notably scoring a four on the third end with a nice take-out; sadly, the New Delaval skip did the same thing on the next end to score a five, and that pattern became even more pronounced as the night wore on.  It was one of those games where the result becomes obvious soon after half-way, and no matter what our four did the opposition did it better.  It was just a steady compilation of ones and twos, to give a result of 10-23.

Both the triples and pairs were in with a shout until the very end. The triples match had a very even start, with each side having their first three scoring ends as 1,2 and 3, in that order.  From 6-6 we fell behind to 7-14, then in three ends levelled at 14-all after 15 ends.  But by tight margins New Delaval squeezed us out on each of the last three ends, so that we lost 14-17.  The pairs had a similar story, recovering from 1-9 to reach 9-9 after 12 ends and actually go into the lead 10-9. But at that point a dropped four gave the home team some breathing space and they held on to that three-shot advantage to the end: Darren was left with a death or glory shot with his final bowl, and it finished as death (13-16).

Overall we could comfort ourselves with the thought that this was a very strong team playing on a green that they all knew very well. We certainly weren’t disgraced.  Neither were the ladies, who travelled to Burradon in the Collins and Shipley league, and despite fearsome opposition ended up losing two rinks by six shots each and the third by 11.  Considering the serial success of Burradon over the years this was not a bad effort at all, and it was a pleasure to play on such a lovely green.

The final match to report in a busy week was the West Tyne match against Allen Valley.  We may joke about the cold weather in Blyth, but Tynedale was no place for the faint-hearted on Thursday night, and those rinks that got a move on almost certainly had one eye on the cup of tea afterwards.  Brian Elstob’s rink had a big win which almost sealed the bonus points on its own; Steve Bennett’s left it late before nosing in front while Trevor’s rink was coasting before being ambushed and had to rely on a good final end to stay in front; Mark’s rink had to contend with Penny and Sam Little, and although they played well it was generally agreed that the Allen Valley team played even better, to win by several shots.  Overall, then, we won three rinks, and (with a 69-47 shots margin) by 6-1 on league points.

Cautious optimism seems to be the watchword at this very early point in the season.  We’re not going to win every game, by any means, but with the enthusiasm of our new or returning players our team spirit is second to none.  It’s going to be an enjoyable summer.

 

We (don’t quite) have lift-off!

In the week that Nasa launched a space probe that for the first time would touch the Sun we failed to achieve much of a lift-off in the Nines fixture with Hexham House. And you wouldn’t have known there was such a thing as the sun either.

The fours did give us an initial boost, especially in the very early stages when they went to 8-1 after five ends. They were then more than matched by the home team, so that after the next five ends the scores were dead level at 10-10. Things got very tight after that, with an unusual run of five singles, so that after 15 ends we were 12-13 down. But to the great credit of the group a strong finish meant that we won the game 17-13. That meant three consecutive wins for Ken as skip of the fours.

The triples might have been confident of doing well, and managed to reach a lead of 9-7 before a couple of dropped threes made it more of a struggle. There were still six ends left, but sadly we had the unique experience of two consecutive no-shot ends – no amount of space-probing could separate the bowls – and that made the “run rate” much more challenging. Those close ends did show that we competed hard, but the outcome was decided on the penultimate end and a three on the last was no real consolation: we lost 12-19.

For the pairs it really was a question of “Houston, we have a problem!” as the pattern of the first five ends (1-6) was exactly matched by the second lot to reach 2-12. Parity on the next five did make it 5-15 but that was really as good as it got, with a 6-19 score to finish. For at least the third time this season Geoff Lamb was the architect of a defeat, and at this rate will have us all nervously scanning the team sheets in future fixtures.

After losing to Hexham House, whose season in the Nines competition has not been brilliant, we were apprehensive about the visit of New Delaval for a rearranged fixture on Thursday. New kids on the block last year, they have done very well this season, sitting in third position before their game with us and definitely still in with a chance of winning the league – quite some achievement.

The match started a little late as they had been held up in traffic, though judging by appearances it was hard to imagine that they had enough players old enough to drive. Even with a father-and-son combination their fours team were on aggregate about two hundred years younger than ours, and overall it was certainly the youngest team we have ever played. Perhaps that was why they were also startlingly noisy, talking among themselves during play and carrying on conversations between rinks that weren’t even adjacent.

In fairness, they could also play extremely well, as shown by the fours side, who hit the ground running and had our own rink 1-14 behind after just six ends. This had the makings of a cricket score, but gradually we came back into it, stemming the haemorrhage to make it 4-16 after ten ends, and then sharing shots again over the next five to reach 7-19. As darkness descended the last three ends were even more profitable for us, and eight more shots meant a final score of 15-19, with the guys ruing the tentative start.

The pairs were even more of a “nearly” team. They started well enough but then dropped some shots so that after ten ends it was just 7-8 in favour of the visitors. Some high scores for both teams in the next phase meant the deficit grew to 12-17 with three ends to play, but another late surge saw our pair come up to 17-18 by the end – that one-shot defeat meaning we had lost the fixture but in view of the quality of the opposition it was a really good performance on the night.

The triples seemed to be heading for a tanking, 1-8 down after five ends and struggling to catch the pace of the green. However, largely due to some excellent bowls from skip Steve Bennett we clawed our way back, much to the frustration of New Delaval, so that after ten ends it was 7-8. They then scored three but we immediately countered with a  good six to go ahead – at which point the momentum shifted entirely. Steve’s fine form continued, and we went into the last end five ahead, eventually winning 19-17.

Once again we had lost 2-6 on points – a remarkably consistent trend this year. But just as in the opening match of the season at New Delaval, where a 2-6 defeat was only 42-45 on shots, so this one was just 51-54 on shots. Three shots in both games against a team that – even after we pinched two points last night – are still in with a theoretical chance of winning the league! Despite our poor league run the results have not generally been hammerings, but very often narrow shots defeats. Apart from the obvious suspects in Gosforth and Backworth, only Ponteland have beaten us 8-0 – so we really have to try to ensure we get something next Tuesday from our last league game of the season, against Ponteland at home.

By which time Nasa’s Parker probe will be rather nearer the Sun, eventually travelling at about 430,000 mph. That would be London to Newcastle in just over two seconds – or, if you struggle with that comparison, about the same speed as one of Darren’s piledrivers!

Non-stop Bowls

Image result for treadmillEvery 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!