In the previous posts I concentrated on the start of the game.  I don’t want this blog to be a kind of coaching manual (I’m not qualified), and neither is it a full run-down of the Laws of the game (there are other obvious sources for that information).  As noted at the outset I’m really writing for new or newish bowlers who join a club and suddenly realise there is more to the game than they had imagined.  I guess I’m offering a float in case you find yourself too near the deep end.

New bowlers may take a while to play actual singles matches, but it’s quite likely that they will play lead in a team.  Apart from some special situations, you can take it that in a team of four each player has two bowls, in triples each player has three bowls, and in pairs (as well as singles) each player has four.    I’m going to look at the nature of the team based on a team of four – the other formats are just variations on this.

Until recently, one of the nice things about bowls was the neatness of the system whereby everyone in the team had something to do.   The lead looked after setting the mat and casting the jack; the second kept the scorecard; the third was responsible for measuring when there was any doubt about how many bowls counted for the score; and the skip floated about taking the credit when the others did all the hard work.  No, that last bit’s a joke. The skip has to be able to see how the end is progressing, and advise the others as to what shots to play, or where to place the jack,as well as being able to play any type of shot as necessary.  In other words, there was a good division of labour.

Then, a few years ago, the rule-makers decided to upset this neatness. It’s almost as if the members of an international committee had to be seen to be doing something to justify the expense of travelling around the world to meet and deliberate.  Anyway, for whatever reason, it was decided that it should now be the skip, and not the second player, who looks after the scorecard and scoreboard.  (I know that in another, later twist it is said that the skips can delegate the job, but since they have to agree on this it creates yet another complication.)

The result of this particular rule change, of course, was to take away any special duty from the second.  So if you’re a new player and you end up playing second you probably won’t have to worry about the card, or anything else except for kicking the bowls back after each end.   Perhaps that’s quite enough for you!  The important thing to notice, though, is that the team roles are very important.  For example, any measuring is done by the thirds.  That’s it.  The worst thing is when several people all start crowding round to have a look, and to express an opinion.  Measuring is not an excuse for a committee meeting: when bowls are being measured there are just two people to be involved, the two who are playing third, and everyone else should keep away.  Similarly, when one of your players is about to bowl, there is only one person to offer advice – the skip, or (when the skip is bowling), the third.  In a good team of people working together there may well be quick private discussions about the best option to take, but you can’t have more than one person shouting advice – the whole thing would become a shouting match as opposed to a bowls match.

Club teams at Cup match
Two teams of four – all happy in our roles. Even though we lost!

It might be good to concentrate on each position in the team in separate posts.  But for now, and as an overview, let’s summarise it like this.

The lead’s role is to set up a good basic position for the team.  Nothing fancy – the lead is very rarely required to play any heavy shots. Even if the lead bowls two (or more) super bowls it may well be that they won’t be near the jack at the end of the end, but that’s just part of the game – if you’ve set things up in the first place you’ve done your job.

The role of the second is very important even though it is sometimes seen as a nothingy sort of position (even more so now that the scorecard has been taken away!).  In fact, it’s crucial – either you  are building on the success of the lead and consolidating a position, or else you are rescuing and firming up something which looked a bit loose. Once the first two (often called the “front end”) have played, you want to have at least a couple of bowls in position near the jack so that the “back end” can use them.

The third should now be in a position to play shots, either by accurate drawing or by playing heavier bowls based on how the earlier ones are placed.  And the skip does the same thing with knobs on.   But if the front end has missed everything it’s amazing how quickly a sense of panic can spread through the team.

So you can see already that – as in other sports, or in business, or in government – it’s really important for everyone to work together, knowing what their role is.  As in football or rugby, you can sometimes see a team of goodish players beating a group of star individuals who don’t work together; and the sense of camaraderie and satisfaction that comes from a good combined effort is one of the joys of the game.     In the next posts I’ll look at the things you might want to think about in each position, and the easy mistakes to avoid.


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