I’ve referred at some length to what we might call “etiquette” on the green – generally speaking, the proper ways to behave in relation to opponents. We could develop that a little here, to include a number of other habits you might wish to adopt or avoid. I mention them here not out of pedantry or convention, but because they have some good practical reasons.
The first good practice to pick up is developing a good, repeatable routine when setting up for your delivery. This is just like golf or many other sports where the same basic movement is being used regularly. I’m not talking here about any standard or “perfect” delivery – there are almost as many styles as there are players – but about getting yourself set up the same way each time.
As a minimum, you’ll want to check the bias is on the right side for the intended shot! How long you take before stepping on to the mat, and how long you are on it (within reason) is up to you. Some people like to step in quickly behind their opponent, while others take oodles of time. In fact, and especially in singles, this element of rushing or delaying can be used as a bit of gamesmanship, so never let someone else’s rhythm force you to change your own.
Only yesterday I heard one of our members complaining about another player who waits until the previous bowl has stopped before starting to look for her own bowls on the green behind the mat. I can entirely sympathise with that complaint, I must say, and would recommend that you have bowl ready to hand (if not actually in your hand) so that play is pretty seamless.
Once your own bowl has stopped, as we’ve said before, you have to get out of the way and allow the next player to get on to the mat. But let’s move forward now and look briefly at something that might happen when the bowl reaches the business end. You will know that when a bowl touches the jack in the course of its progress it needs to be chalked. As long as the mark is visible that’s fine – you’ll develop your own habits. Two small points may be helpful here.
The first concerns the timing of the act. The rules have varied over the years, and currently indicate that chalk should be applied before the next bowl is delivered. But when you think about it, the person at the other end may be about to bowl, and may not like the sight of someone moving about to chalk a bowl just as they are setting up. So I reckon the old variation of chalking it before the next bowl has come to rest is preferable, and as long as the two teams immediately agree that a certain bowl is a toucher, and to be chalked, the precise time shouldn’t matter. (Note that the Laws do allow for this delay, while also specifying that if a toucher isn’t chalked or nominated as such before the next bowl comes to rest it ceases to count as a toucher.)
The other small point is something at which I am pretty bad myself, and that is keeping your eye on the bowl that has become a toucher. I find it so natural, if the bowl comes in at speed, to watch what happens to the jack that I fail to see where the toucher has finished, and since any one player’s bowls are identical this can lead to confusion. “It was this one, wasn’t it?” “No, I think it was that one over there.” Anyway, I’m working on ways to overcome this bad habit and would warn you against even letting it start!
When the end has finished there may be a need to measure for shots. It’s good practice to ensure that any bowl or bowls that are removed from the head are placed together, away from any of the bowls still in contention. Female players in particular tend often to use a cloth for this purpose – it’s a matter of taste – and although that actually seems excessive to me I can’t deny that it makes things absolutely clear.
The worst habit you will see here is that of kicking bowls out of the head as a lazy way of conceding shots. Ok, so the player may really fancy his chances as a footballer, but it’s a bit dangerous, as the bowl in question might hit another and start a debate as to what now counts. Merely pushing them out of the way with your hand isn’t a lot better – I’ve literally seen people push a bowl behind them without looking, and without realising that the bowl has gone spinning on to another rink. Since deciding on the shots is so crucial to the result it’s very advisable to take no chances – another reason, I guess, why placing them on a cloth is good practice (even if I still won’t be doing it!)
Another lazy habit you’ll probably see involves a third or skip trailing a cloth or towel over the bowls in the head to indicate to their playing partner the desired route. Again, this risks moving a bowl (in particular, by making it fall on to its side) as the cloth brushes against it. That again could set off an appeal, so don’t copy this trick even if you do see it. It should be perfectly possible to indicate the intended path with gestures and a bit of bending.
On that same topic, it is much clearer for the person bowling if any signs that are made to indicate forehand or backhand are made with the appropriate hand. That is, if you’re looking up the green and you want the bowl to be coming towards you on your left, use your left hand rather than pulling your right arm across your body. This may sound like yet another entry for the department of the bleedin’ obvious, but my only reason for mentioning it is that I’ve often enough seen people do this contortion – and in a high proportion of cases it has totally confused the person with the bowl in her hand. “Oh, I thought you meant the backhand!”…
The question of which way round things should go also applies to the toss and the scoreboards, although in reality I feel it shouldn’t be an issue. These are areas where all sorts of petty “rules” are invented, and where otherwise sane and rational people can get quite dogmatic – but before I risk making it sound a problem area let me illustrate the typical scenarios.
For tossing the coin at the start I’ve never found any problem at all with having someone say “Who’s calling?” and then just doing it. Some clubs seem to think that it’s the leads who should do this, others have a convention that it is the skip, but actually (to coin a phrase) it doesn’t matter a toss. So by all means go along with convention at the club you’re at, but don’t get drawn into any debate about why it should be one person rather than another. Life’s too short.
The other area where people can become quite rigid is that of the scoreboard. Scoreboards will always indicate that the home team is on the left or on top. But for matches within a club, or where neither side is at home, one has to decide who takes the “home” side. There is clearly a convention in the part of the world where I now live that the team winning the toss takes that role, but in Scotland we used to do it differently, putting the side which won the first end on top or to the left. That in its way is logical, but it met with strange looks when I moved to my present club. “When in Rome…”
Whichever way it’s done, people can produce some oddities by being too rigid. For example, I once marked a singles match between two players, one with red bowls and the other with blue. Like most scoreboards the numbers were in red and blue, so I decided it made mistakes less likely both for the marker and the players if the person with red bowls had the red side. You’ve probably already guessed what happened: one player objected, and said that as she scored the first point she had to be on the left, even though this meant the red side indicated the score for “blue”, etc. Crackers!
I shall say more about that role of marker elsewhere. But now, having dealt with these little foibles (and that’s all they are) we could usefully move on from things that are done on the green to those that are said.