In the previous post I illustrated some of the things that bowlers do although they really shouldn’t, and offered some advice on good practice. Today we can switch attention to what is said in the context of a team game, remembering that the instructions or advice are passing between two people who are at least 25 metres apart.
It’s much easier, I think, to pick up the skill of actually bowling a wood than it is to be confident in passing on instructions. At least, it is early on. But when you start playing the game seriously, then sooner rather than later you’ll be in a position where some advice is sought or needed, and it’s as well to have some idea of what’s required. So here are some very general tips, which I hope don’t show too much of my own preferences or character.
The first thing, I’d suggest, is that you shouldn’t give too much information. There is a principle involved in marking singles games where the marker is supposed to respond factually to any questions asked – no embroidery or extension, just “Yes”, “No”, “Two shots”, “Eighteen inches”, or whatever the answer is. And in a sense that principle should guide any descriptions you give to your playing partner as she stands on the mat trying to work out which bowl is which. You’ll see some players walking in front of the jack, pointing hurriedly to all the bowls and shouting “ours” or “against” for each one. That isn’t what the person bowling needs to know. What’s needed is a clear idea of the best route, and which bowls are which (if the colours don’t make that obvious already). And if the question is: “Whose is that front bowl on the right?” then try to limit your answer to what is needed, unless there is some glaring issue.
In the same way, it’s best not to go in for offering too many options – and in this context two is often too many! Certainly you may hear a skip invite team mates to play “Either hand”; but that just means that they are free to choose their preferred side, and it’s also true that earlier in the end there is more likelihood that both sides will be valid choices. When you yourself are advising on what shot to play, try to avoid getting too complicated in the alternatives. Even a simple “Either do this… or that” is liable to leave the person who is bowling vaguely unsure, and if three possibilities are offered the chances are that he will play some kind of mixture of all three, with dreadful results.
In an earlier post I said how important it was in your own bowling to have a clear visual image of what you want to achieve, and the path of the bowl. When giving advice on shots you simply need to remember how important and helpful that is. Merely waving an arm down the forehand or backhand side can be fine when someone is bowling very well and needs no particular advice; but if something specific is needed, either because you can see some feature or danger, or because you have been particularly asked for advice, try to indicate the end result, and ideally the speed of bowl required.
I’ve already mentioned that there is no need to obsess about opposition bowls, or to go round indicating all those for and against. Another point to remember is that there is no harm in losing one shot if it would be too risky to try to win the end. The way I see it, the chances of a whitewash (with the opposition failing to score in the match) are somewhere between slim and zero; it follows that they are bound to be scoring on a few ends at least; and as long as the situation isn’t desperate, don’t regard the loss of one shot as any great defeat. It happens.
One final point about advice given. Players may ask you how far short or through (ie, past the jack) their previous bowl was. Distances here are normally expressed in terms of length past or short of the jack, not actual distance. For example, anyone can see that a bowl is a yard wide, but it may only be a couple of inches short of the jack, and that’s what they want to know, so as to adjust the weight next time – the line on that next bowl will, of course, be perfect!
By the same token, if a bowl comes in hard and would be have gone two metres through had it not stopped on another bowl, the player needs to know that it was two yards heavy rather more than knowing it is now level with the jack.
That position of being level with the jack is known as being “jack high” despite the attempts by lawmakers to call it jack level. This is one of those peculiar results of international meetings which I mentioned elsewhere, and I just hope that old traditions remain on this one. This topic of what to say and how to say it leads neatly on to the whole notion of common expressions used by bowlers in particular places, and perhaps it would be good to take a break from our imagined matches to consider some of the phrases you are likely to hear on the green. The polite ones, anyway…