Standards hit new heights in mixed pairs matches
- Credit: Nick Butcher
You know when you have a great game of bowls on your hands when the commentators who have the task of adding words to pictures as part of the World Bowls Tour streaming service run out of superlatives and start inventing new ones.
The mixed pairs matches on the portable rink were truly out of this world, with the world's top eight men performing miracles – and the women showing sublime skills at lead. Yes, for some reason, men still occupy the traditional skip's role, dictating tactics, and playing the glamour shots.
However, as befits the 21st Century, the women command the respect of their partners, who consult them regularly about the choice of shot.
In the very first game, we were treated to some unbelievably accurate bowling and witnessed the unscheduled departure of the defending champions Katherine Rednall and Darren Burnett at the hands of Aussie Karen Murphy and Barcelona-based Scot David Gourlay.
Burnett, with fellow Scot Stewart Anderson, also won the Open Pairs last year, but fell at the first hurdle in his defence of that title, It has not been a good campaign for the Community Police Officer from Arbroath, who has suffering from flu-like symptoms.
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'I wish I could blame that for our defeats,' said Burnett. 'I have to say I felt awful, but in both games I managed to play quite well.'
In the new three-bowls-per-player, seven-end-per-set format, shots are hard to score and there was an eleven-ends spell mid-game when only singles were put on the card, the final score being, 6-3, 4-4.
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Next up was a classic encounter between Rebecca Field and Paul Foster, and Ellen Falkner and Rob Paxton, and, again, shots were hard to come by, Field and Foster winning in straight sets, 5-5, 6-3, even though they managed to score on only two ends in the first set.
When Alex Marshall steps on to the portable rink, you expect fireworks - remember his two bowls in the semi finals of the Commonwealth Games pairs, which got him and Foster into the final? Yesterday, Marshall, universally regarded as the best bowler in the world on carpet and on grass, was pitted against the official WBT number one and reigning world champion Nick Brett.
This was when the commentators went into overdrive. Marshall and Brett enhanced their reputations, while 20-year-old Katy Smith, leading for Marshall, and Claire Johnston, with Brett, had a grand tussle. Johnston and Brett won the first set 9-4 before, in a second set that yielded seven singles, Smith and Marshall edged home 4-3. On the tiebreak, Marshall gave us something to remember - the shot of the Championship perhaps - but as he commented wryly: 'It wasn't enough!'
Those who were enthralled by the quarter-finals of the World Mixed Pairs event at Potters yesterday will be queuing up for seats in the International Arena when the same eight women who teamed up with the world's top eight men will be doing battle for the Women's Matchplay title.
Defending champion Ellen Falkner, who kicks things off this morning, has been drawn to play Scotland's Claire Johnston, and is hotly tipped to sail into the semi- finals – though when Johnston partnered Nick Brett to an exciting win over Katy Smith and Alex Marshall yesterday, she did enough to show she could pose a few problems.
Smith, who celebrated her 20th birthday last week, may be the least experienced of the bunch but the Wiltshire youngster is highly competitive, looked very much at home on the portable rink and is in the mood to take on Janice Gower.
Bowls followers will remember that Aussie Karen Murphy won the Matchplay singles in 2012, the same year that she also won the women's world outdoor singles championship.
Since then, she announced her retirement from PBA events, but has changed her mind and it is good to see her back.
One of the greatest woman bowlers of all time, Murphy recently retained her world outdoor title in Christchurch. On the crest of a wave, she is a strong contender for the Matchplay title, but she too has a tough task on her hands when she faces Amy Stanton, a serial title-winner from Welford-on-Avon.
For many, the match of the day will be an appetising East Anglian affair in which two local players – Rebecca Field, from the Norfolk Club in Norwich, and Ipswich ace Katherine Rednall – who are both previous winners of the title come face to face.
Field is 27, while Rednall, who is currently the holder of the British indoor junior and senior singles title, as well the WIBC world title, is 21. Together they represent the changing face of an ancient sport that is often mistakenly regarded as a recreation for old people.