David Rhys Jones
Friday, January 25, 2013
Norfolk’s Rebecca Field became the youngest-ever winner of the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines World Women’s Matchplay Singles title, when she beat Guernsey’s evergreen Alison Merrien 11-7 8-10 2-1 in a nail-biting, high-quality final at Potters Leisure Resort yesterday.
“It’s like being in a dream, and I can’t believe I’ve done it,” said the new champion. “I knew I had the game, but it’s all a matter of producing it at the right time, and nobody can guarantee that.”
She added: “It’s also exciting to have been invited, as a wildcard, to compete in next month’s World Bowls Tour Co-operative Funeralcare International Open in Blackpool. That was a bonus!”
Although she learnt her bowls in Lincolnshire, the 23-year-old Field, who graduated in modern languages from the UEA, loves living in Norwich and plays at the Norfolk club in Unthank Road – and there was no doubt that she was carrying local hopes in yesterday’s final.
The 1,000-strong crowd may have had a natural leaning towards Field, but, to be fair, they gave both players a standing ovation after a display of power bowls that the sport’s elder statesman Andy Thomson insisted was as good as anything the men of the World Bowls Tour could offer.
Field opened magnificently, scoring the first eight shots in only four ends, but the 36-year-old Channel Islander used her vast experience to claw herself back into the set – and almost won it on the 11th end, with the score 8-7 in favour of Field.
Facing what was essentially a set lie, Field drove accurately to turn a losing position into three shots, and drew first blood, taking the first set. Advantage Norfolk.
Merrien, who had weathered the storm bravely, then seemed to take control in the second set, charging into a 9-3 lead after eight ends, and was able survive dropping a full house of four shots on the ninth end, before taking the set, and taking Field into a tie-break.
Things looked good for Merrien, who was showing her skill at the drive as well as the draw, when she won the first tie-break end, and held a match-winning lie on the second end, but Field drew the shot with her last bowl, setting Merrien a knotty problem.
Should she draw or drive? Having been so accurate with her earlier firing shots, she went for the big gun, and tried to cut Field’s shot out of the head. On target, she also removed her own nearest, so Field took the shot, and levelled the scores yet again.
The fate of the world title hung tantalisingly in the balance, with everything depending on one end of bowls, and, with only one bowl to come from Merrien on a nervy, sudden death last end, Field managed to get a bowl within a foot of the jack.
Such a straightforward task is normally daily bread to a bowler of Merrien’s calibre, but the Channel Islander did not put enough ‘oomph’ behind it, and Field’s arms went up in triumph when it was clear it was not going to reach.
The applause was deafening – it was such a popular win, and it was clear to see how much it meant to Field – and how much the defeat hurt Merrien, who has won three world titles outdoors, as well as this title indoors two years ago.
“I can’t believe it,” said Field. “Ali is such a gritty player, and so experienced,” while Merrien said: “I’m not disappointed at losing, but because I know I could have played better.”
Perhaps she was referring to that last bowl, which was so out of character, but most observers – including Andy Thomson – would insist that she had made a major contribution to what was a pulsating game of bowls.