Bowls, as many coaches rightly stress, is a drawing game. That is, the great majority of winning shots and positions are earned by good, solid, dependable, skilful drawn shots. What’s more, until you can get the steady draw fixed in your mind (and preferably also your arm!) you can’t expect to play the heavier shots well, as they are all really variants of the basic draw. Generally speaking, the more weight you put into a shot the tighter the line that you’ll need – but to calibrate that sort of change you need a mental reference to the baseline of the draw.
It’s a bit of a truism that bowls is a game of line and length. That’s why golfers usually make good bowlers – they are used to reading the line of a putt and judging the correct weight, with the ball travelling along a line that isn’t always the shortest route to the hole. A different kind of bowler (the cricketing type) will also be told to concentrate on getting line and length right. Our own sport of bowls very definitely relies on these two L’s.
It does also involve a third L, however – luck! All sports have some element of luck, whether it’s the bounce of the ball in rugby or the golfer’s errant tee shot which rebounds on to the fairway from a tree. In bowls, as in all true sports, the skill factor far outweighs the luck element, but there are still times when you can benefit or suffer from unlikely events.
The most obvious case is when someone plays a heavy shot which is going well wide of the target until it hits a bowl that is nowhere near the head and is deflected in to get the shot. It happened to me recently, on the second end of a match against really good opponents, and one in which victory would win us the league. We were lying shot with a perfect bowl right behind the jack. The opposing skip had the last bowl of the end, and sent a runner a yard wide – but it wicked off a side bowl, cannoned into the head to remove our shot bowl and ended up sitting there as one of three scoring shots As a footnote, we lost the match by two…
Now, when this happens, there are several ways of dealing with it. The first is to express annoyance, either verbally or with a pronounced shake of the head or rolling of eyes. A second way is to keep quiet or mutter to yourself and carry on thinking about it. Neither of these methods will do you any good. I know this because I spent years wasting my time on them, especially the second.
It’s better by far to accept it (“It’s not how, it’s how many”) and remind yourself of how often you’ve benefited that way yourself. It’s also broadly true that such things even out over time, although you can’t always expect it to average out over a short period like one match.
As I mentioned in the post on etiquette, the thing to avoid at all costs is applauding when a lucky shot comes off, or when an opponent promotes one of your own bowls to be the shot when it didn’t really deserve it.
The other thing to bear in mind, though, is that while a wild “wick” is generally seen as a fluke, earning at most embarrassed laughter, there is scope for deliberate wicks, rubs or edges (depending on your choice of word). Indeed, the better a player you are, the more you will use or expect these deliberate shots – played rather as snooker players will use angles to play an “in-off”.
Sometimes a back-end player will play a bowl that is slightly heavy but which is calculated to shake things up a bit. If the bowls are sitting right, he may miss the ideal target but still get a result with Plan B (if it turns out to be Plan G we can safely say that it was indeed a fluke). But it’s important to learn when shots are genuine attempts to finish “in the area” as opposed to being lucky ricochets.
Indeed, if the bowls are set up in a promising position there’s nothing at all wrong with looking to slide off them, or deliberately give a bowl a glancing touch to finish up where you want. After all, no one criticises footballers for a glancing header, or suggests they should have met it full on. No, this is a part of the game to be developed, and if anyone sounds scornful about such an intended glide, played at just over the drawing weight, all they’re doing is revealing their own lack of knowledge.
This is the sort of shot where your skip might be pointing to a bowl and saying “You can use this bowl”. Even if you don’t get the clever edge, a full-on contact will likely push it forward, so you have every chance of a result.
That sort of full-on contact to push a bowl in is also called promotion. Again, this is a perfectly valid tactic – your skip may well be pointing to two bowls in front of the head and advising you that they are both “yours” (in other words, don’t be afraid of hitting them on the draw). This is something else you can practise, especially as you know that if you can hit your previous bowl you have a very consistent line. But again, do remember that while this sort of shot can earn applause, you need to keep mum if the opponents do it for you by mistake. Losing a match would be one thing; you don’t want to lose friends as well!