Friday, January 11, 2013
Defending world indoor bowls champion Andy Thomson has hit out at the sport’s new ‘Shot Clock’, which will be in action at the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines World Championships for the first time at Potters Leisure Resort next week.
One major change which Hopton will instantly notice are large digital clocks placed at each end of the famous blue rink.
They will come into use for the world singles, which Thomson won for the third time last year, when it gets under way on Monday, clicking down from 30 seconds as soon as a wood comes to rest. If the next wood is not bowled when the 30 seconds is up, a loud horn will sound and that delivery will be deemed to be dead.
World Bowls Tour chief Richard Maddieson insists the idea was a success when pioneered at the Scottish Open in November, the added tension making the game more exciting for spectators and – more importantly – TV audiences. But Thomson, who was made an MBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to sport, believes it is a bad move – and has data to back up his case.
“I don’t like it at all,” he said. “I personally don’t think it’s a good innovation to the sport.
“I feel I’m speeding my game up and I’m not by any means a slow player. I’ve had a look at my tapes from last year and it was taking me on average 26 seconds to go down to the other end, quickly look at the head and get on to the mat and play my bowl. So that gives me a four second gap.
“Basically now, when my opponent’s bowl comes to rest, I can only quickly look at it. Normally we are giving ourselves a quick check of the angles we need to play etc, but we just don’t have time to do that now. I just feel it’s rushing the game a little bit.”
Thomson feels the game clock becomes a particular issue for the decisive final bowls of each end – and also when the tournament gets towards its climax with the pressures of a world title and potential £45,000 winner’s cheque at stake.
“I had a look at the tape of last year’s final against Jason Greenslade and for that the majority of last bowls were way beyond 30 seconds,” said the man who bridged a 17-year gap to claim his third title at the age of 56.
“When it’s a big shot, in a final with a lot on the line, you want a chance to think things through and compose yourself – and unfortunately you won’t have that.
“As a professional sportsman you’ve got to be able to adapt to any conditions and I will. But I don’t like it.”
Maddieson, however, says the feedback from fans has been almost wholly positive.
“A lot of people thought I brought it in to speed the game up,” he said. “Not so. I brought it in because we thought there needed to be a bit more excitement for the audience and TV viewers. It gives the players an extra dimension to have to think about but it also gives the audience something to focus on when deliveries are being made. It adds a measure of excitement to the match as well.
“Some players like it, some players don’t. But most acknowledge that it’s something the sport needs to make it more visually exciting and thrilling, which we hope will give us more TV in the future and add to spectators but also add to the number of people coming in an joining local bowls clubs.
“One thing we noticed in Scotland was that at the start of the week on BBC Scotland the viewing figures were where they normally were. Towards the end of the week our viewing figures had gone up 25pc. We did a poll of the audience daily and out of the whole week we only received one negative comment. We noticed that the audience paid a lot more attention during the match when the shot clock was ticking down. So we think on the whole the idea is working.”
Maddieson points out that players do have four time outs in each set of 60 seconds, which can be used at any time and that they are now free to visit the head at any stage rather than have to ask the umpire for permission.
Thomson is not against innovation, being a firm supporter of the tie break system, which was itself controversial when first introduced. He recalls going close to a first round exit in one last year but says: “You’ve got to have them, like penalty shoot-outs in football. When I first won the title it was best of five sets and no tie breaks so games could be going on for three or four hours, which was way too long. I think the format we have now is quite good.”
The Anglo-Scot is also a huge fan of the Norfolk venue, saying: “Potters is now established as the Crucible or Wembley of our sport. All bowlers want to sample the special atmosphere that Potters brings to the event.
“If I’m honest my form has been only average since I won the title. But I’ve been practising quite hard and I’m hoping that special atmosphere will bring the best out of me.
“The first time I won the title I managed to do it again the following year – so hopefully history can repeat itself.”
Thomson, fittingly, is first on the blue rink this year with new partner Mark Royal in the men’s pairs.
He partners Ellen Falkener in the mixed pairs but has to wait until January 21 to start his defence of the singles crown against qualifier Phil Bennett.