David Rhys Jones
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Snow, twins, the ShotClock and a new world champion for Norfolk – the World Indoor Bowls championships had something for everyone, including, by general consensus, the best world indoor singles final ever witnessed.
The snow looked pretty, and stopped short of disrupting proceedings at the Potters Leisure Resort in Hopton-on-Sea. In other words, it did not prevent anyone arriving – and was the source of education and amazement to many of the overseas players, who had never seen the white stuff before.
After 15 years in which the Norfolk venue has become a Mecca for players and spectators alike, Potters once again managed to hit new standards of excellence both on and off the now famous blue rink.
Astonishingly, there were two sets of twins competing this year – both from Wales – and, although Steve Rees’ sons Gareth and Gavin were soon on their way back to Swansea, Kerry and Kelly Packwood, from Gwent, turned heads and made waves in the women’s singles and mixed pairs at the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines–sponsored event.
Kelly ousted defending champion Karen Murphy in the women’s singles, while Kerry defeated two-time champion Debbie Stavrou, but hopes of an all-Packwood final were dashed when Ali Merrien, from Guernsey, overwhelmed Kelly, and Norfolk’s Bex Field edged past Kerry.
Bex had a Field Day, and delighted home supporters by beating the experienced and successful Channel Islander, 11-7, 8-10, 2-1, in a fascinating women’s Matchplay final.
As for the StopClock, it’s something, like Marmite, that you either like or loathe, with the World Bowls Tour singing its praises as an innovation that will appeal to TV audiences, and elder statesmen of the sport like Andy Thomson expressing his disapproval big time.
To be honest, it turned out to be something of a damp squib – it was hardly noticed by most players and spectators, and I believe only one bowl was removed from the rink as a result of the klaxon sounding when the 30 seconds were up.
On the whole, players are not fans, and would prefer to be left to their own devices, so that they can concentrate on their game, free from the distraction of a ticking clock.
The world’s top 16, who know the portable rink like the back of their hands, agreed that the surface was different this year – and was less predictable than in previous years.
It was, they said, liable to sudden changes in pace, and the lines to the jack were not so easy to find.
Bowlers, like sportsmen of all kinds, are hard to please, and often blame their tools, especially when they lose – but here we had winners AND losers making the same point, and the seeded players were supported by the qualifiers, who also made the same comments.
Sceptical critics might point to the high quality fare dished up by the finalists in the open singles: Stewart Anderson and Paul Foster certainly made the rink look easy, and, at 10-10, 9-9 with one end left to play, earned a standing ovation BEFORE the decisive end got underway.
“Nothing wrong with that rink,” said one spectator as he left the arena, “That was the best game of bowls I have ever seen.”
It was certainly emotional. Anderson, a 27-year-old Scot who won his first world title, looks as if nothing could alarm or excite him, but Mr Deadpan shed a tear as he dedicated his win to his two-year-old daughter who lives with her mother – Kerry Packwood – in Wales.
Others who impressed over the three weeks were Norfolk’s own Mervyn King, who played brilliantly, and was hotly tipped for the title until he slipped up against Foster in the quarter-finals, and Scottish legend David Gourlay, who lost to Anderson in the semi-finals.
Three cheers for Bex Field, the 23-year-old UEA graduate, who plays for the Norfolk Indoor Bowls Club in Unthank Road, Norwich.
When she won that Matchplay title, she was invited to Carrow Road on Saturday, when she was introduced to the crowd at halftime in Norwich City’s ill-fated FA Cup tie with Luton Town.
But that’s not all; the new world champion has also been invited to compete in the next Tour ranking event, the International Open in Blackpool, which gets underway next Sunday, and ends on Friday of next week, when she will pit her skills against 31 men.
Before he hit the road back to Scotland, Anderson gave bowlers everywhere a reason to be optimistic: “When I took the game up 14 years ago,” he said, “I lost 47-1 in my very first game.”
Thanks, Stewart – there’s hope for us all.