David Rhys Jones
Thursday, January 9, 2014
A record pay-day lies in store for the winner of the Just Retirement World Indoor Bowls singles title at Potters Leisure Resort in Hopton-on-Sea on Sunday, January 26 – the 16th time the sport’s flagship event has been played at the five-star resort.
This year’s champion will pocket the biggest first prize ever offered in Drake’s ancient sport, and will depart from the International Arena £50,000 richer – but tens of thousands of bowls will be hurled in anger down the famous blue portable rink before the cheque is handed over.
Today is United Nations Day at Potters – a venue that has become known as the Wembley or Wimbledon of bowls – with preliminary rounds of the pairs involving players from Australia, Canada, the USA, South Africa, Israel, Hong Kong – and Ireland.
The event starts officially tomorrow, when last year’s singles winner, Stewart Anderson, will launch his bid for the pairs title in tandem with fellow Scot Darren Burnett, and veteran John Price teams up with his Welsh team-mate Jason Greenslade.
Saturday sees the arrival of stars like reigning world pairs champions Paul Foster and Alex Marshall, Commonwealth Games champion Robert Weale, City of Ely aces Nicky Brett and Greg Harlow, and world number three Rob Paxton.
Foster, who won the pairs and mixed pairs last year, but was denied what would have been an unprecedented treble when he lost to Anderson in the singles final, will have been boosted by the news that he had been made an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List.
The now traditional World Bowls Tour Awards evening is scheduled for Saturday, when a glittering ceremony will pay tribute to the great and good in what is becoming known as the ‘Bowls Oscars’.
And there will be plenty of local interest on Sunday, when Norfolk’s own Mervyn King, pictured, who won the world indoor singles title in 2006, teams up in the pairs with Scottish legend David Gourlay, who is busy masterminding Scotland’s challenge at the 2014 Commonwealth Games, but is still a force to be reckoned with on the rink.
King has already won the title three times – once with Tony Allcock, and twice with Aussie Kelvin Kerkow – and the Gallow estate manager should stand a great chance of making it four titles with Gourlay at skip.
Also on show on Sunday will be Suffolk star Mark Royal, who lines up with the 2011 world indoor singles champion Andy Thomson, England’s Fife-born team captain, who still talks with an unmistakable Scottish accent.
Monday will see the start of the singles, with former world champion Greg Harlow facing a challenge from Ireland’s 24-year-old star Gary Kelly, who won a bronze medal at the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi four years ago.
A big crowd is expected on Tuesday, when the 23-year-old Jake Willgress, from the Norfolk club in Norwich, takes on the evergreen Welsh ace John Price.
Willgress was delighted to be given a wildcard invitation to compete for the biggest prize in bowls, and is raring to go.
Next week provides local supporters with another appetising treat, with Mervyn King partnering Norfolk’s Bex Field in the mixed pairs, while Field is hoping to find her form of last year, and retain the World Bowls Tour women’s Matchplay title.
Bowls, of course, is neither a young nor an old man’s game – it is truly a sport for all.
So, while elder statesmen like Thomson and Price quite rightly have their place at the table, it is great to see youngsters like Willgress and Field taking up the challenge.
Dorset’s Rebecca Bilson, who faces Field, and Katherine Rednall, from Ipswich, who meets Cumbria’s Eleanor Gass, in the field for the women’s Matchplay.
BBC TV cameras will again be focusing on the action during the final stages, but most of the games will be streamed, and can be viewed online.
Preliminary rounds (today)
Pairs Group 1: Steve Halmai & Jason Carpenter (Aus) v Kevin Jones & Laura Hudson (Can); Can v Neil Furman & Bill Briault (USA); Aus v USA; USA v Ken Chan & Robin Chok (HK); Can v HK.
Pairs Group 2: Shawn Nell & Anselm McLean (RSA) v Harris Green & Daniel Alonin (Isr); Isr v Stuart Bennett & Mark McPeak (Ire); RSA v Ire.
Singles: Shirley Ko (Can) v Neil Furman (USA); Ko v Ruti Gilor (Isr); Ken Chan (HK) v Steven Allan (WIBC).
Just Retirement WBT World Indoor Championships at Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton-on-Sea (January 10-25)
Singles – first round (seeded positions in brackets): (1) Stewart Anderson (Scotland) v Josh Grant (England); (16) Robert Weale (Wales) v Mike Stepney (Scotland); (9) Greg Harlow (England) v Gary Kelly (Ireland); (8) Darren Burnett (Scotland) v Bart Robertson (New Zealand); (5) Andy Thomson (England) v John Carswell (Scotland); (12) John Price (Wales) v Jake Willgress (England); (13) Jason Greenslade (Wales) v Billy Jackson (England); (4) Rob Paxton (England) v Matt Whyers (England); (3) David Gourlay (Scotland) v Les Gillett (England); (14) Jonathan Ross (Scotland) v play-off winner; (11) Nick Brett (England) v Grant Nichol (Australia); (6) Mervyn King (England) v Shawn Nell (South Africa); (7) Alex Marshall (Scotland) v Julie Forrest (Scotland); (10) Mark Royal (England) v Gary R Smith (England); (15) Simon Skelton (England) v Danny Denison (England); (2) Paul Foster (Scotland) v Daniel Salmon (Wales).
Pairs – quarter-finals: Paul Foster & Alex Marshall (Scotland) v Darren Burnett & Stewart Anderson (Scotland) or Robert Chisholm & Ross Owen (Wales); Rob Paxton & Simon Skelton (England v John Price & Jason Greenslade (Wales) or England qualifiers; Andy Thomson & Mark Royal (England) v Jonathan Ross (Scotland) & Rob Weale (Wales) or overseas qualifiers; David Gourlay (Scotland) & Mervyn King (England) v Greg Harlow & Nick Brett (England) or Andrew Barker & Mike Stepney (Scotland).
Mixed pairs – quarter-finals: Laura Thomas (Wales) & Paul Foster (Scotland) v Bex Field & Mervyn King (England); Victoria Bilson & Rob Paxton (England) v Eleanor Gass (England) & David Gourlay (Scotland); Katherine Rednall & Andy Thomson (England) v Ali Merrien (Guernsey) & Alex Marshall (Scotland); Karen Murphy (Australia) & Darren Burnett (Scotland) v Janice Gower & Greg Harlow (England).
Women’s matchplay singles – quarter-finals: Bex Field (England) v Victoria Bilson (England); Julie Forrest (Scotland) v Janice Gower (England); Katherine Rednall (England) v Eleanor Gass (England); Ali Merrien (Guernsey) v Karen Murphy (Australia).