In the previous post I ran over the main points about deciding who rolls the jack, and where it should go. Here are a few extra thoughts on related issues. For example, I said that you might wish to let the opponent go first. Why, you may ask, would you do this? Well, in a really informative book on bowls, Tony Allcock points out that whereas having the jack may be an advantage, having the last bowl of an end is always an advantage. There is a paradox here, of course, because to get the last bowl normally you have to have lost an end! But on that very first end you may decide that you would like to have a chance of watching your opponent’s bowl, to have a better idea of the likely swing or bias; or you may simply fancy your chances with that last bowl; or you may know that to hand over the jack will irritate your opponent! Of course, if you are playing lead you need to check with your skip first.
For a few years about a decade ago the rules allowed players to hand the jack over on any end, and what was found was the best players did it just about every time because they were so confident of being able to do something with the last bowl if they hadn’t already clinched the end. The natural levelling of the game had thus been lost. (Think of football or rugby, where the side that scores a goal or try does not take the ensuing kick-off; the advantage goes back to the side which conceded.) So when you or your side win the end, just be happy with that and get ready to roll the jack at least the minimum length.
Debates about the minimum length don’t often occur, but if the jack is very close to that imaginary 23-metre line the opposition player (or skip in a team) can query it. At this point we use a long tape to establish the distance. Habits differ here, and I think very broadly there may be a north-south split in Britain. That is, in England I have noticed that people like to put the buckle at the end of the tape on the front of the mat and then unroll it until the big round container is close to the jack. However, when I was taught how to measure in Scotland, they were quite adamant that it should be the other way round, and I think the Scottish way is better. Why? Because if you put the end of the tape right in front of the jack and spin the tape out towards the mat, when you get to the mat you have a nice clear line on the tape to match up with the front of the mat; whereas if you arrive at the jack carrying a big, bulky object there is far more chance of disturbing the jack as you try to work out where the various lines are. People get surprisingly dogmatic about all this, but in the absence of any strict law I would always prefer the safer option.
In tactical and practical terms, control of the jack is often forgotten or overlooked. Good players will actually practise with the jack, as it’s very important to be able to vary the length with some confidence, or especially when your skip or playing partner advises or instructs a particular length. I learned to play league bowls with a very demanding skip who would stand at a certain point on the green and put his foot out, wanting the jack just there. If you were a yard or two out you’d would get a withering look, and the only route to redemption was to put a bowl right on the jack. That would cheer him up.
That wasn’t good man-management, however, and didn’t make things enjoyable. I’ve seldom seen anything so rigorous since. But if the skip says “Bring the mat right up” it’s not very handy if you are left gulping that you don’t like doing that, or making your reluctance obvious to the opposition. I’ve even heard some players express irritation at such requests, thus letting the opposition know they don’t like short ends – and guess what the opposition will do at the next opportunity! Sure, we may all prefer a certain length, but most club players are far too content to just play more or less full length all the time. Then one day an opponent decides to take the mat four yards up the green and it feels like foreign territory.
There are various reasons for taking the mat forward, or for playing a very short end. Notably, it is to change the rhythm of an opponent or team when the score is going badly against you. Finally, after several difficult ends, and with the opposing lead playing like a dream on full length, you get the jack. You may not like short ends all that much, but if’s worth trying one just to see the effect: it could be that the opponent likes short ends even less than you do!
Finally, there is a good coaching rule which advises players to watch bowls all the way up the green, until they stop. Even if they are bad ones. Especially if they are bad ones! Well, the same advice applies if you are in charge of the jack. Some players just lob it up the green and turn their back to pick up a bowl or have a word with someone else. It really does help to watch the jack and get a better feel for what’s happening on the green.
All that, and we still haven’t bowled an actual bowl! We still won’t in the next post, but because I’ve referred here to singles games and also teams it may be worth explaining a bit about team positions and roles.