I was once struck by reading about an England cricketer (Andrew Strauss, I think, but it’s not vital) who was so intent on improving his game that he would write a diary about each innings and note things he could do, or should have done, better. I realise that not everyone is that interested in improvement, but it remains true, in my view, that every single game of bowls will provide some kind of lesson for future situations. It so happens that a couple of recent matches have provided some good examples, and this post sets out to show what we can learn. As you will see, the common factor is the scoring of six shots, but beyond that there isn’t much of a pattern so we might as well look at these items in chronological order.
The first occurred in the final of a pairs competition between Christmas and New Year. My position in the final, it should be said, was largely down to my partner Clive, though in fairness I had a good enough day. We came through a tough qualifying group, conceding only seven shots in three games of eight ends, and then won the semi-final very easily. After winning the first two ends of the final to go 3-0 ahead all looked to be plain sailing, until the opponents played a really good end to which we had no answer: being four down was not a cause for alarm until it became five and then, after the last bowl of the end, six. 3-6: uh oh!
It was at that point that the opposing lead sent the jack out at the side of the rink, turned to me and said “I do that a lot”. Having just lost a heap of shots on a full length I decided to move the mat up several yards, and felt relieved as he sent the first couple of bowls sailing past the jack. For once I was able to put mine in the area (to tell the truth I’m not that happy on short ends indoors) and we won not only that end but all the others – naturally, all with the mat several yards up the green.
So the point which comes out of this to reinforce something I wrote in a previous post is the importance of being able to handle the jack – putting it pretty well where you or your skip want it to be, and certainly not handing it over to the opposition. If my opponent last week had put up a testing jack and then put a bowl close it would have kept the pressure on – as it was, that six was the only score they got, and we won 17-6. It was a costly mistake in more than sense, as the prize for the winners was £50 each!
Actually, in the semi-final there was another interesting six. We were 4-0 ahead after three ends, and lying one shot. I saw that the opposition bowl in second position was in fact the only one of theirs that was close, and advised Clive to come in a fraction over drawing weight with the possibility of turning that bowl out. I told him it was worth five, but he did it so perfectly that his own bowl fell in for six. That made it 10-0 after four ends of the eight, and basically that was that. It’s always important to be on the lookout for such situations, but of course it needs an expert touch to be able to deliver it without going wild and maybe spoiling things.
This week league matches started, and in one of these our triples team started really well on the first end, four up as I went to bowl (as skip this time). I put two more in, but then, as there were no practice ends, decided that it might be better to try the other hand, just to see how it was running. I bowled long and failed to add to the six – and that almost came back to haunt me, as the opposing team played really, really well all afternoon, and came back so that with two ends remaining we were tied on 11-11, then we needed a measure on the last to ensure that we had won 13-11 instead of it being a 12-12 draw.
If you think I sounded a bit pleased with myself in the account of the pairs tournament the moral here is clearly a story told against myself, as I had been too complacent on the first end, giving up the chance of a pretty regulation shot for seven in favour of a rather indulgent loose shot. I’ve already made my New Year resolution that I’ll never again reduce my chances of adding another shot when it’s there for the taking.
The sixes seem to be coming like maximums in a T20 cricket match – I have to stress that these are exceptional scores, and that our indoor club has very competitive and often low-scoring matches. But by coincidence, the day after the above incident we started another triples match and lost a six on the first end. The end was disrupted by the late arrival of one of the opposing team, but let’s not make excuses – the point is, we lost a six.
At this point, there were two model examples. The first was the previous day’s experience of a comeback. The second was the memory of an international match I once saw between Scotland and England, where the great Alex Marshall went to the mat as skip with his rink four down on the first end, and then bowled two short bowls to give England a six. His body language was impenetrable, his reaction inscrutable – but his rink won the next two ends by three on each, so that after three ends it was all square with another 18 ends to go. As people often say, if you are going to lose a count, do it early, and certainly on the first end rather than the last!
Yesterday was a case in point, as we clambered back, going from 2-8 to 14-8 in the space of five ends, and even though we then lost four singles it was enough to get the win. Again, my point in mentioning this is just to show that there’s no need to panic or get downhearted because of a bad start. I always find it helpful to think in terms of the run-rate in cricket, working out a lead or deficit in relation to the number of ends left. Dropping an early six isn’t too much of a problem with 14 ends to go – and if you pretend that it was two threes instead of a six it sounds even less daunting.
Beyond the figure six these examples don’t have a lot in common. One of them more or less clinched a win; another could have caused an upset but was spoiled by poor use of the jack; in other games one count of six on the first end did enough damage to spoil a team’s chance of a win, while another was overhauled by steady play throughout. But putting them all together has hopefully provided some hints and practical examples of different aspects of the game, as mentioned in general terms elsewhere in the blog.