Delight for Norfolk hope Wayne Willgress as he pulls off a Great Escape to beat Greg Harlow
- Credit: Nick Butcher
Just when you thought there could be no more twists and turns to this year's Just World Indoor Championships at Potters, wildcard Wayne Willgress, from the Norfolk Bowls Club in Norwich, pulled off a sensational – if unlikely – victory over the WBT world number one Greg Harlow.
After his heroics of Thursday night, when he bundled 2013 champion Stewart Anderson out of the event, Willgress took to the portable rink in the International Arena with a spring in his step, but, by his own admission, was the subject of a comprehensive battering.
'I'm lost for words,' he said, after returning a 'ridiculous' 2-11, 10-9, 2-0 scorecard. 'I don't know how I won that game – I was totally mullered!'
Neutral observers, who were hoping for a good, competitive match, had to agree. It was one-way-traffic. Even the partisan Willgress Supporters Club, who had created such a fantastic atmosphere on Thursday evening, were quiet, because their hero gave them little to shout about.
'I just could find my touch,' Willgress admitted after making his Great Escape. 'It just goes to show that, in the sets game, you can be outplayed, and still win.'
Harlow, who is Potters' Bowls Ambassador and a hardened professional bowler, was the complete master in the first set, allowing Willgress only one scoring end.
'I hung in there in the second set,' said Willgress. 'I thought I was still in with a chance at 5-5 with three ends still to play, but when Greg scored a full house on the seventh end, I really gave up hope.'
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Scoring a single on the eighth end, Willgress needed to score four shots on the last to force a tie-break – a big ask against anyone, but surely an impossible task against someone of Harlow's calibre.
For some reason, Harlow fired with his second bowl and lost it in the ditch, and, as Willgress got close enough to count with his last two bowls, Harlow himself was unaccountably a metre short with his third bowl, and even shorter with his final delivery.
Tie-breaks are always a bit of a lottery, and Willgress took full advantage, taking the shot on the first end, and, with his last bowl on the second end, dispossessing Harlow of the shot that would have taken the tie-break into sudden death territory.
The crowd went wild – there was a sense of disbelief among the conquering hero's supporters, and the scenes of celebration in the auditorium were a sight to behold.
After Willgress notched up his shock win, local supporters were hoping that Gallow star Mervyn King would get the better of Rob Paxton to set up an all-Norfolk semi-final, which would certainly guarantee a big crowd on Saturday afternoon.
The clash turned out to be a cagey affair, which was full of good bowls, but was unfortunately punctuated by stoppages while ailing spectators received medical attention. King and Paxton coped well with the situation, but it just wasn't King's night.
Paxton's 5-5, 6-4 victory disappointed Norfolk bowlers, but it is believed to have created a record as a low-scoring contest, with only 20 shots scored over 18 ends.
As soon as the first set was tied, it was clear that everything depended on the outcome of the second set.
Trailing 3-4 after four ends, and holding one shot, King attempted to trail the jack for what would have been a match-changing count of four shots – but he was desperately unlucky to dislodge his own shot bowl, and give the shot away.
In a game in which shots were so hard to win, that made a difference, and, in a final flourish, it was Paxton, the runner-up in 2016, who earned a place in today's semi-final with an accurate drive on the last end, when King was holding two shots that would have seen him through.
In the morning, two English bowlers, Lancastrian Mark Dawes and Suffolk's Mark Royal, who are both noted for their drawing ability, put on an exhibition of good bowls, with Dawes coming out on top in straight sets, 8-7, 9-3.
With a place in the final at stake, Dawes will play the Commonwealth Games champion Darren Burnett, a Community Police Officer from Arbroath, who was thoroughly tested by Welsh wizard Jason Greenslade in a roller-coaster of a quarter-final.
With both players making mistakes and shipping shots, Burnett lost an 8-0 lead, and found himself 8-10 adrift before winning the first set, 11-10.
The Scot led 5-1 in the second set, but Greenslade overhauled him to win the set, 7-6, and Burnett drew the winner with the last bowl of the third end of the tie-break.