One of the things which first persuades new bowlers that “there’s more to this game than I thought” is seeing people deliberately bowl so as to finish away from the jack. Indeed, such bowls can be greeted with enthusiastic applause from team mates. So, depending on how new you are to the sport yourself, could you think of three reasons for not finishing close to the jack?
Here’s a random piece of text just as a filler while you think!
Well, the first might be that the opposition has several back bowls, with the possibility that if the jack is moved back they will suddenly count and leave you several shots down. In this case, your aim would be to cover the back bowls (you’ll hear the expression “mix them up”) and limit any damage if the worst happens.
Sometimes, towards the end of a match, you will see people scattering bowls all over the place. For example, if you are on the last end and the opponents need six to win, there is no point at all going for six shots yourself. If you can get a shot or two yourself that’s great, of course, but even if the opposition get the shot you’d be happy with holding second and third – especially if other bowls were placed so as to cover all eventualities.
A linked reason for avoiding the jack would be if you already have a bowl sitting on it, and touching. If you were to hit that bowl it might well spring the jack out into the open. But I’m not sure that that would really count as keeping away from the jack – it’s simply a case of not disturbing anything – and a better variant here would be the situation where you have a cluster of bowls around the jack and are already several shots ahead in the match. You don’t need the extra shots, as such, but what you do need to do is avoid widening the target for the opposition. So another bowl that finished, say, six inches to the right of the jack would be a bad bowl, however accurate it might appear to a casual observer. As for what you actually do, that will be decided by what the skip tells you. And if you are the skip? Well, that’s what you’re paid for…
Another very obvious way of bowling away from the jack is when you want to bowl a blocker. Again, this might even have occurred in the example given in the previous paragraph. There are two types of blocker. The one that people usually think of is the bowl that finishes rather short of the head, directly on the centre line: this (assuming that the jack is also still on the centre line) should in theory stop the direct hit with a straight firing shot. It’s also often enough to put doubt in the opponent’s mind, standing as just too much of a visual distraction. Having said that, it’s also a surprisingly difficult shot to play, and if doesn’t come off it’s rather a waste, as all you have is a horribly short bowl which may even provide a useful sighting aid. So you need to have a very clear vision of why it is being played, and where it is going to stop.
The second type of blocker is simply a short bowl, finishing on the drawing line precisely so as to spoil an opponent’s normal draw. If it’s played well it can have the effect of making the opponent push a shot wide, or pull it tight, or even change to the less favoured hand. Again, this shot is harder than it might sound, and you have to have good tactical reasons. A variant is when a teammate might ask you to drop a bowl about a metre short, so as to obstruct the opposition’s clear run into the head.
At the opposite extreme, I suppose, is the back bowl, placed just anywhere at the furthest point behind the jack, in case it is shifted with a powerful shot. You may be assuming that the jack might go in the ditch, with the loss of shots, so the covering bowl simply has to go as close to the ditch as is safe and possible. The “back bowl” is very important in bowls, and you’ll often hear skips (or thirds) shouting “It’s ok, we’ve got the best back”.
All these variants and ideas are based on the best guess. The point to remember is that – at any level – the plans don’t always come off. For instance… Last year I was playing the final of a pairs competition, and after ten ends we were three shots down. My partner then got us into a handy position where we were holding two as the skips went to bowl. I added a third shot, and my opposite number played heavy but missed. The same thing happened twice more, so that we were lying five and he had put three bowls in the ditch. After due consideration we decided that the only danger was an opposing bowl out at the back, as the next heavy bowl might just send the jack out there. So I placed my last bowl really nicely near the ditch – and then watched in horror as my opponent changed tack completely and drew his last bowl through an impossible gap to get the shot! That put them four ahead and we never recovered.
After the event you can look at it and say that adding a sixth shot would have been best as he might have fired and missed again. But that’s after the event, and you just have to play what you think is the best shot in the circumstances. However many possible shots you can see, you’re only allowed to play one!