Norfolk title hopes dashed as surprises continue at Potters
- Credit: Archant
Three Welshmen will appear in the final of the Just World Indoor Pairs championship next Monday, when young Cardiff duo Dan Salmon and Damian Doubler will meet Sully's Jason Greenslade and his English lead Les Gillett in what should be a lively encounter.
It would probably be fair to say that the final line-up is a bit of a surprise – though, considering the way the favourites have fallen by the wayside in this event, and borrowing a phrase from another sport, it could also be described as par for the course.
Local supporters were hoping for a double Norfolk success story yesterday, with Mervyn King and David Gourlay hotly tipped to beat Gillett and Greenslade, and Lancastrian Mark Dawes and former Norfolk star Jamie Chestney favourites to get the better of Salmon and Doubler.
As it turned out, both semi-finals went all the way to the wire, and were decided on a sudden death third end of a tiebreak, Gillett and Greenslade beating King and Gourlay, 4-8, 7-3, 2-1 and Salmon and Doubler accounting for Dawes and Chestney 9-6, 1-9, 2-1.
Hunstanton estate manager King had been outstanding in the early rounds, while Gourlay has been showing the sort of form that earned him the world indoor singles title in 1996 – in spite of the fact that he now lives permanently in Spain, and has virtually given up playing bowls.
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However, the remarkable 50-year-old Scot is blessed with such prodigious natural talent that he is able to fly to the UK for the World Bowls Tour's ranking events, practise diligently for a few days on the portable rink, then take on - and beat - the best bowlers in the world.
When they opened up a 6-0 lead after only two ends, and went on to take the first set, pundits were pencilling in the names of King and Gourlay as certain finalists.
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But, in the second set, Gillett upped his game, and, as he admitted afterwards, controlled tactics and the pace of the game. Someone said he was 'skipping' the pair from the lead position and Greenslade amusingly compared their relationship as 'father-and-son'. Gourlay had a couple of unfortunate rubs of the green go against him, and, before they knew it, King and Gourlay had lost the second set, and the game was into tiebreak territory.
In the second semi-final, Dawes and Chestney, who have only recently secured placed in the rarefied atmosphere of the WBT's top 16, and were expected to deal with the challenge posed by Welsh qualifiers Salmon and Doubler.
But their young opponents, who are 22 and 27 respectively, are building a reputation in an beyond Wales, and were always in control in the first set. Dawes and Chestney hit back to lead, 8-0, in the second set, but the Welsh duo were not going to be denied, and played the tiebreaks very well.
While the pairs semi finals took centre-stage at Potters yesterday afternoon, the singles got underway in dramatic style in the morning session, when the suave number eight seed Andy Thomson was beaten in straight sets by Irish qualifier Graham McKee.
Veteran Anglo-Scot Thomson, who has won the singles title three times, occupies the role of the sport's elder statesman these days, but is still one of the most complete players around, but he was outplayed, 9-4, 11-3, by McKee, a 30-year-old window cleaner, from Ballywalter, near Belfast.
A shell-shocked Thomson, 61, said: 'I don't think I did a lot wrong – Graham was absolutely brilliant. I dug deep in the second set, and thought I played well, but he didn't let me get away with a thing.
'Every time I built up a good position, he drew his way out of trouble.'
McKee, on his first visit to Potters, admitted he was nervous to begin with, and Thomson opened up a 3-0 lead after two ends, but the Irish ace benefited from the rub of the green to get the shot on the third end, and never looked back.
'I was confident, because I've been practising really well,' McKee said.
'But, after my nervy start, I don't think I've ever played better than I did today, and I just hope I can keep it up in the next round, which isn't until Wednesday of next week.'
Yesterday, he was on his way back to Northern Ireland, where he will get in three days work this week, before playing in the Irish finals at the weekend.
'Then it's back to Potters, where I will be up against one of two Scots, Stewart Anderson and Julie Forrest,' he added.
Thomson, who was born in St Andrew's, is not only England's indoor team captain, but is enjoying his new role as manager of the English men's under 25 side.
'It's still painful to lose, but I find defeat easier to take these days - especially if I feel I have played well,' he said.
'There comes a time when you have to be honest, and offer congratulations if your opponent plays out of his skin - and Graham was awesome today!'