Month: March 2018

Where did we go wrong?

One of the dangers of a blog like this one is that there is a risk of sounding rather smug and a bit of a know-all when throwing out advice about how to perform under pressure or manage a game.  So, in the interests of fairness and honesty, I propose sharing with you a bad experience from last week.  In the card reproduced below my team is the one on the left.  That’s right, 7-21.

Horror Story

Before that game we were top of the league, but this match was against the team who were in second place.  They had a game in hand, too, so a win for us would have been really useful in stretching our two-point lead.

As you can see, that win was never likely.  So what went wrong, exactly?  Let’s look at the card and dredge up some painful memories.

The first end was not good for us.  The opposition front end rolled four bowls in really close, and it was as well for us that their excellent skip couldn’t find a way to add to the tally.  Of course, I tried to get in, but failed.  This posed a classic dilemma right from the off: the draw was difficult because of a couple of bowls sticking out from the pack, and I seriously thought of having a run at the head, just to disrupt things.  But – rightly or wrongly – over recent years I have tried to stick to the draw on early ends, simply to ensure that I get that drawing weight fixed in my mind, and my arm. Playing heavy early on tends to disrupt your feel for the pace of the green.  However, should I have stuck with this safety-first approach or recognised that serious conditions required serious measures?  I’m not expecting you to come up with the answer, by the way, but just illustrating a typical dilemma for a skip.

Whatever, I guessed wrong, but in truth I wasn’t too worried.  As I joked with our lead as we crossed on the next end, “If you’re going to lose a five, do it on the first end, not the last!”  That is good advice in general, and we did in fact then get a two, the only time we scored more than a single.  I remember once watching a Scotland vs England match in Perth, and seeing the great Alex Marshall bowl two miserably short bowls on the first end of a fours match, to lose a six.  His rink then won the next two ends by three shots each end, so that after three ends they were level.  That example has always stayed with me, and I do think it’s useful to see even the loss of a six as merely two threes – manageable, even if not desirable.

As you can see from the card, the scores then bobbed along quite normally, and after eight ends the deficit was still exactly five. But equally it was starting to look as if we needed shots.  On the ninth end we were doing well until the opposing second put a shot in just to the left of the jack, on the (right-hander’s) backhand side.  I tried (and failed) twice to beat it, but for the final bowl gave in to frustration and played a clever shot up the forehand side, aiming to drift across through a gap and remove the shot bowl.

It almost worked!  Unfortunately, in my anxiety I pushed it too hard, and instead of direct contact my bowl skimmed the jack on the way through, sending the jack in the other direction, where the opponents had three bowls.  So what might have been one shot lost, and 5-11, suddenly became 5-13.  Silly!

Again we got just one shot in reply – you can just see how accurate and testing the opponents were, always ensuring that we were having to work hard even for a single shot.  And of course, when you are that accurate, what happens is that any movement of the jack often produces a few bonus shots.  That is what came about on end 12, where my last bowl needed to have a bit of pace to go around a short bowl, but finished hitting that bowl, which went forward and pushed the jack back to lose us four.

Even on the last end, with the result a foregone conclusion, we were lying four shots after dislodging the jack, but the opposing skip drew the shot with her last bowl to win the end.  It was a convincing and thoroughly deserved win.

Notice that I say “her” last bowl.  In fact, the team comprised three ladies, whereas our team had two men.  I stress this to point out to new bowlers that men and women can have really good games on a pretty equal basis at club level.  Indoors, it seems to me that women can capitalise better on their (general) reliance on the draw shot; errors of playing over-weight are magnified on the indoor carpet, and the best women can make male opponents look lumbering, rather like diminutive wingers in football dumping clumsy defenders on their backsides.

But whatever the general truth of such observations, the point today is that that game was won by greater accuracy throughout the team, together with some poor decision-making on my own part in terms of advice to others and especially what I did myself.  In truth, the result would likely have been the same even without those errors, as we were down on all the ends in question, but the margin, and the deflation of mood, needn’t have been as bad.

Thanks for helping me through what the French call an “auto-critique”.  I hope it’s as helpful to you as it is to myself!




Don’t be Greedy

Hi – it’s been a long time since my last post, but with a new outdoor bowls season looming (whatever the current dismal weather might suggest) it seems a good time to take up the threads again.  Remember, this loose series of comments and observations about bowls is not supposed to be coaching, or detailed instructions about the sport, but simply a few hints about getting the best results – both in terms of personal satisfaction and match scores.

One other reminder: the notes are tilted towards helping new – or newish – bowlers.  However, since this game can, on a bad day, reduce any of us to a frustrated sense of being a beginner, I rather think that any bowler could get some benefit, even if only in having their own ideas and experience confirmed.

So where to start, this year?  Maybe indoors, with a game I watched the other day.  Yet the subject of my advice today would apply to any match, indoors or outside.

I say I watched the game, but actually I came into it on the penultimate end, and in truth that was just as well – the pace of play was so slow that I’d never have managed to watch the whole thing.  This pairs match managed just 11 ends in two hours, whereas at our club the normal duration would be 16 ends, and 15 minimum.  Oh my!  So I suppose one point I might add here is: get on with it!

However, to the main issue.  When I arrived at rinkside, ready to play my own game on this rink, the lead player of Team A was involved in a lengthy and tedious debate, giving his skip all sorts of advice and options for the last bowl of the end.  Team A were leading 7-5 on the board, and holding five shots on this end.  So they had a potential lead of seven with one end to go.

“Come in here!”, the lead finally shouted, with a flourishing gesture.  The skip duly followed the instruction with a fine backhand – the trouble was, it was too fine a backhand, connecting full-on with the jack and trailing it through to an opposition bowl, so that Team B were gifted a shot, which put them at 6-7 on the board.  You’ve probably guessed already what then happened.  Team B won the last end by two shots, and took the match.

As we all know, in any sport, or perhaps in any either-or decision in life, hindsight is always 20/20; it’s easy to criticise when the outcome is known.  But in this case, the issue was simply one of game management.  The match had clearly been very tight (12 shots on the first nine ends). With a lead of seven on offer, there was no point in taking any risk at all.  Even advising the skip to not play the bowl, taking the five shots, would have made perfect sense.  This was a knock-out match, not one where shots difference might count later on, so why be greedy?

Obviously each situation is different.  Had there been no danger whatsoever, maybe with two or three yards of clear green to draw to a cluster of bowls, the call might have been justified.  But the very nature of the agonising and doubt suggested from the start that there were pitfalls waiting.  In that case, and in that situation, it wasn’t worth the risk.  In earlier posts I’ve mentioned the risk-reward calculation that underpins so much of the tactics in bowls. The game is hard enough without scoring any own goals!