Superstars ready to take centre stage at Potters in search for world indoor glory

Charlie Herbert (USA) takes on Canada's Gary Pickering (red).Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Charlie Herbert (USA) takes on Canada's Gary Pickering (red).Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The star names of Drake's ancient game make their appearance on the portable rink at Potters Resort on Saturday, and, for all the frantic activity of the previous two days as would-be qualifiers have been taking lumps out of each other, this is when the story of the 2018 Just World Indoor Bowls Championships really begins.

Kevin Harrison (green) in action against Joshua Grant at Potters.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Kevin Harrison (green) in action against Joshua Grant at Potters.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The first superstar to step on to the portable rink on Saturday morning will be the man who cheerfully admits he is sport's elder statesman, Andy Thomson, who was born in St Andrew's 62 years ago, but who has been one of the leading figures in English bowls for almost 40 years.

Although he has not lost his Scottish accent, Thomson, who won the world title in 1994 and 1995, and again in 2012, is proud to have been captain of the English indoor bowls team for the past 15 years, and is looking forward to leading the side in the home international series in Paisley in March.

Thomson, who plays for the Cyphers club in Beckenham, has won the pairs title twice, once with Gary Smith in 1993, and once with Ian Bond in 2008, but, for the past few years, he has formed a compatible partnership with Suffolk star Mark Royal, who is a more-than-reliable lead.

What's it like playing alongside Thomson?

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'Well, he's a legend, isn't he?' chuckled Royal.

'It goes without saying he's a great bowler, who can play all the shots, but he's also a superb guy, and is very encouraging on the rink.

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'He's a joy to play with.'

Darren Burnett, a Community Police Officer from Arbroath, and the reigning Commonwealth Games men's singles champion, follows Thomson on to the rink, partnered, as ever, by his fellow Scot Stewart Anderson - a likely-looking duo who won the world title in 2016.

They are expecting a hard game, because, as luck would have it, they have been drawn to play their good friends and rivals Midlothian duo Ronnie Duncan and Colin Walker, who qualified through the Scottish PBA play-offs.

With Alex Marshall – who is universally regarded as the best bowler in the world – and defending champions Les Gillett and Jason Greenslade on duty on Saturday afternoon, it should be a good day in the International Arena at Potters.

Tough at the top

Bowls may be regarded as a low-key sport played at a gentle pace, but the reality is it makes the same demands of its participants as any other sport – as competitors at Potters Resort will confirm.

Consider the case of Salisbury's Tom Warner, who played well on Friday alongside Oxford's Scott Walker, only to lose agonisingly on a tiebreak to Cumbrian duo Kevin Harrison and Stuart Irwin in the semi-finals of the England PBA play-offs, for example.

Shrugging off his disappointment, he jumped into his car and drove back home to Salisbury, and will be up early on Saturday morning to travel to Exeter to join his Wiltshire team-mates for a 10am start against Devon in the quarter-finals of the national inter-county championship.

Success on Friday, and he and Edwards might well have been challenging Mark Royal and Andy Thomson for a place in the quarter-finals of the world indoor pairs championship at Potters, but, instead, he will be 400 miles away.

Norfolk bowlers know all about these things. While the world's best are strutting their stuff at Hopton-on-Sea, 24 of the county's top men will be in St Neots, taking on Northamptonshire in the Liberty Trophy quarter finals, and the county's women will be engaged in a home Atherley Trophy tussle with Suffolk at the County Arts club in Norwich.

After scraping home 7-5, 2-9, 2-1 against Newman and Edwards, Harrison and Irwin were involved in an attritional battle with Nottinghamshire's Josh Grant and Russ Robinson, a mere 16 shots being scored in 14 ends, before the Cumbrians got home, 3-4, 5-4, 2-1.

The new format of three-bowl pairs is proving popular with most competitors, who regard the two-bowl game as extremely demanding. More bowls in the head creates more opportunities when it comes to choosing what shot to play – and having a third bowl certainly takes pressure off the players. To compensate for the increase in bowls, the number of ends per set has been reduced from nine to seven, but, in the case of a tie at two-sets-all, there will still be a three-end tiebreak.

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