Right, let’s start by talking about the start of the match. There is a toss of a coin to determine who rolls the jack and the first bowl, but notice that this simply refers to deciding it. The person who wins the toss can decide to put the other person in to bat, so to speak, by giving the jack away. You can do this only after tossing the coin, and from then on in during the match the person who wins each end has to have first bowl on the next end. The only exception – and it is perfectly logical – is if there is an extra end after a tied match. At this point there is another coin-toss to see who goes first, so once again the rule holds that you can choose to give the jack away immediately after the toss of the coin.
There’s no set rule about who actually calls at the coin-toss. In some places the skips seem to like doing it, in others the leads just get on with it, but as a rule of thumb it’s done by players in matching positions in the team. That’s just a convention.
Anyway, whenever the jack is delivered it has to travel at least 23 metres from the mat. This is the purpose of the two markers on each side of the green, showing the 23-metre measurement in each direction. (These markers will take various forms, depending on the club or green, but they should always be present.) You almost certainly know that a jack cannot be placed nearer than two metres to the ditch: a “full-length” jack is placed on an imaginary “spot” sometimes called the “T” – indoors, of course, you very often have actual spots on the carpet.
The other point about the 23-metre minimum is that the mat can be taken forward, even as far as the marker that is one third of the way up the green. But now, of course, you have much less green to play with, as 23 metres from this advanced position will take you to the “full length” spot, and you have only a gap of two metres between the jack and the ditch. If you overshoot with the jack it goes in the ditch, and if it’s short you haven’t gone 23 metres, and either of these errors (or, indeed, throwing the jack off the rink to one side) means the jack has been improperly delivered, and passes to the opposing player or team. Note that it is just the jack which then goes to the other side. The original player or team (who won the previous end) still has the first bowl. It’s easy to forget this, as the natural rhythm of the game is to pick up a bowl after bowling the jack, so it is something to watch out for.
So what happens if the second attempt at casting the jack is wrong as well? (It happens!) The answer here is not always known by players, but is quite simple. The jack is placed on the “T”, that is, two metres from the ditch,and the mat goes back to the original player, who can then place it wherever (s)he likes – full-length, mid-, or very short. It’s their choice. People sometimes find this puzzling, but the system here is designed to even things out. After all, the second player got the jack because of a mistake. She now makes a mistake, so there has to be some match-up. Otherwise, the second player might fancy a long jack and just hurl the jack into the ditch, safe in the knowledge that it is going to go “on the spot”. The potential penalty for getting it wrong means that the second player here has to concentrate and show some skill to get the desired result.
So now you’ve rolled the jack. When you watch it stop you’ll almost certainly have to ask your skip or (in singles) the marker to centre the jack. There are various ways of doing this. Coaching books will often show someone standing rigid with arm outstretched in a semaphore-like position. I personally see no problem with calling out something like “a foot” (or some metric amount), or “a couple of turns” in addition to some clear arm signal to show which way it is. Just try to avoid tiny little movements with both hands, leaving the person at the other end kneeling down and wondering when on earth these small adjustments are ever going to end!
You may at this point be wondering if I am ever going to end. So yes, I will, but the next post deliberately runs over some of the issues arising from this overview of the rules. These issues were the sorts of thing raised by our new bowlers at our discussion groups, so if you too are new to the game I hope you share their interest.