History repeats itself for Gourlay and Gillett clash at World Indoor Bowls Championships at Potters in Norfolk

Norfolk's Mervyn King begins his singles campaign against South Africa's Shawn Nell. Picture: Nick B

Norfolk's Mervyn King begins his singles campaign against South Africa's Shawn Nell. Picture: Nick Butcher. - Credit: Nick Butcher

History repeated itself at Potters Resort in Hopton-on-Sea yesterday, when Scottish legend David Gourlay lost to a rejuvenated Les Gillett in the first round of the Just Retirement world indoor singles championship.

Seventeen years have passed since Gillett, then 27, made his mark on an incredulous bowls world by winning the 1997 BUPA International Open, which was the first event to be staged by the newly formed World Bowls Tour.

A humble PBA qualifier, Gillett scorched past four world champions on his way to the title, beating the 1996 world champion Gourlay in the final, and established himself in the sport's elite top 16, where he stayed for 15 years or so.

Now 43, the Leicestershire left-hander has slipped out of the inner circle, but is making a determined effort to get back on the professional circuit.

Yesterday's 8-3, 3-8, 2-1 win over Gourlay, who, at 47, is now Scotland's head coach, will have done his confidence a lot of good, and will have netted some valuable ranking points.

As the scoreline suggests, Gillett had the better of the first set, but Gourlay worked hard at his game, and fully deserved to win the second – so the game went, inevitably it seemed, into tie-break territory.

'I enjoy playing in tie-breaks, and thought I played them pretty well,' said Gourlay. 'I am normally quick to drive at the jack, with the intention of putting it into the ditch, but Les turned the tables, and ditched it on two of the three tie-break ends.'

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On the first, Gillett's 'toucher' was so close to the jack in the ditch that Gourlay declined to play his last bowl, because it was, impossible to draw the shot, but the Scot levelled at 1-1, leaving the fate of the match hanging on a sudden-death third end.

This time, when Gillett ditched the jack with his second bowl, there was plenty of room to draw, but Gourlay was over-weight with his attempt to draw, and lost his bowl in the ditch.

Gillett took advantage by drawing close, before Gourlay delivered what he described as the worst bowl he could have played.

'I was trying to get a good second, so that I could take his shot out for the match with my last bowl,' recalled Gourlay ruefully. 'I put it too close to Les's shot, which made life difficult for me, and my final attempt to hit the target was pretty feeble.'

Gourlay thus became the only seed to fall in the first seven first-round matches, while, in the second round, Gillett will meet Jonathan Ross, who beat Steven Allan, 10-7, 7-9, 2-0, in an intriguing all-Scottish encounter.

Irishman Ross, the number 14 seed, was the favourite but Allan is the World Indoor Bowls Council champion, and came through the preliminary play-offs against an array of talented overseas hopefuls, and put up spirited resistance.

Like the cat-and-mouse Gillett-Gourlay encounter, this one could have gone either way, but a turning point occurred on the first tie-break end, when Allan drew the shot, only to see it fall out away from the jack.

Rob 'Slippers' Paxton, who has recently transferred his allegiance from Devon to Somerset, justified his number three world ranking by dispatching Matt Whyers, a young PBA qualifier from Spalding, 8-6, 12-2.

Whyers learnt to play bowls as a teenager in Boston, along with Norfolk's women's world Matchplay champion Rebecca 'Bex' Field, and is a friend of the Willgress brothers from the Norfolk club in Unthank Road, Norwich.

Like the younger Willgress less than 24 hours previously, Whyers showed he has the talent to do well as this level, but Paxton turned in a totally professional performance.