5. On Target

Rolling the Jack

In a sport demanding so much concentration and application, it is curious that one of the most obvious fundamentals of bowls is so often overlooked. The simple act of rolling the jack to start a match or an end, seems to be widely regarded as hardly worthy of attention. It is the jack which controls much of the game, yet I suppose that about eighty per cent of bowlers toss it down without thought or care.

Supposing a skipper in a fours match wishes to change the length, and his leader, whose job it is, cannot roll the jack to that length, the whole team’s tactics and play could be disrupted.

By the same token, a singles player who cannot roll the jack with accuracy might have thrown his whole game plan.

Under Australian bowls laws, there are two things to remember about the jack. After being rolled, it must finish at least 20 metres from the mat and it must come to rest inside the boundaries of the rink. If the length is less than 20 metres, then you could be challenged and the jack handed to your opponent. The same happens if it rolls into the ditch or over the boundary line. Either way, you have handed control of the length to your opponent, and that is just carelessness.

Logically, it pays to develop the ability, through practice, to roll the jack with care and accuracy. The starting point for this is the grip.

There are many ways to hold the jack. Here I have illustrated just three of them. Two1A-B are wrong, yet they can be seen being used on greens all over Australia every week. The correct grip1C on the jack is just as important as that on the bowl.

Study the next photograph1D. It shows the correct grip — cupping the jack in your fingers as you would a bowl with the thumb placed not too firmly on the top. The hand and arm must be relaxed.

The delivery is the same as that for your bowl, the only difference being where you place your feet.

Stand square on the left side of the mat2 so that you deliver the jack straight down the centre line. As you stand, fix in your mind’s eye where you mean the jack to finish and remember that being smaller and lighter, it requires far less momentum than a bowl. Follow-through in exactly the same way as you would in delivering a bowl. It can give you a ‘feel’ for the bowl to follow.

The Aiming Point

On the face of it, the hardest part in delivering a bowl with accuracy seems to lie in choosing the arc it must follow to the target. That is understandable, for not only is the bowl elliptical or biassed, it will also be affected in its travel by the weather, the green, or both.

Greens vary from one to another, as do rinks within a green, while one side of a rink can play differently from the other. A bowl may take a wider arc on one hand and a narrow one on the other. In early summer, a green may play quite differently from two months later. As it dries out, or when the atmosphere is overcast and humid, or, as evening falls, the effect grass has on a bowl will alter. A green in Queensland may play faster and wider than one in Victoria at the same time of the year. The point is that whatever the conditions, you must be alert to any change in them.

Clearly, judgment plays a part in choosing the path your bowl must take. Just how much judgment is involved is a moot point, and some bowlers approach the whole business on a ‘suck it and see’ basis. I’m afraid that method is too inexact for me, and it should be for you, too, if you want to be more than just mediocre at the game. By all means, use the trial ends before a match to judge how the green is playing and, if need be, continue to do this during the first few ends of the game.

Once you have an idea of the green conditions and the width of arc your bowl must take on both sides of the rink, you can then use one of two techniques to ensure that each bowl you deliver is accurate. In fact, you may use both because the methods complement each other. The important thing to remember is to take your time and get it right with each and every delivery. Both methods begin before you step onto the mat.
Here are the main points to remember:

  1. Visualise the arc or path you want the bowl to take and fix it in your mind, together with the length of the jack.
  2. Remember the feet placements from the previous chapter? Step onto the mat and place your right foot in line with the path you have visualised. Keep that position in your mind because later, you can adjust your toe to give a wider or narrower line if the pace of the green changes or if the jack is shifted off the centre line during play.
  3. Now choose an imaginary point along the visualised line where the bowl should begin to turn in towards the jack. This is called the ‘shoulder’ of the green and it is your aiming point. This is one method of getting your line. The second is the one which I use and as I have said, is really an extension of the first.
  4. Having picked out the shoulder, continue the imaginary line to the bank of the green. There, choose a suitable visual mark and use this as your aiming point. In this illustration3A the mark has been added for identification, but it could be a peg, a painted mark or even the leg of a seat. Be sure though, that it is not an object someone may move during a game. You will notice that my head is up, indicating that I am sighting on the aiming point, and that my right foot is pointing up the path I intend to bowl.
  5. As you begin the delivery action, your head goes down3B with your body and your eyes come back down that imaginary line to a point on the green about five metres in front of the mat. As in hitting a golf ball, it is important to get your eyes down onto that spot as you deliver. It has the effect of getting your head down. Lift it at the moment of delivery and you will probably dump the bowl and ruin the whole sequence.

The bowl delivered in these photographs, finished about a metre wide of the jack on a green running at twelve-and-a-half seconds. To correct for the next shot, the aiming mark has to come in along the bank towards the jack for a distance of about two-thirds of a metre.

The important thing to remember about this technique of targetting, is that when the mat is shifted, either up or down the green, so too will your aiming point have to alter. For example, as the mat is moved forward, your aiming mark will shift closer to the centre line. Here4A, the mat has been moved 3.5 metres up the green.

I have brought my aiming mark in towards the jack about three-quarters of a metre, which I judge to be about right. Again my head has come down4B, my eyes returning along the imaginary line to a point about five metres in front of the mat as I deliver.

This method of aiming is more precise than merely guessing the arc of the bowl or, in bowls terms, the amount of grass it will take. The advantage is that you will always have your original mark from which to make adjustments. This is most helpful when playing on fast greens where, at times, your mark on the bank could be 8 or 10 metres along from the centre of your rink.

By the way, don’t fall for the trap of sighting on a moveable object. One bowler I know made the mistake of using as his aiming point a bowls bag sitting on the bank. He only realised when the game was over that somebody had moved it! That last bowl in the photographs, incidentally, finished where it was intended — right on the jack.

Jack Shifted – New Aiming Points

This is where we become technical — how to cope with a jack which has been shifted by a bowl in play from the centre line to the boundary line of the rink.

The subject is worthy of some study as the situation is a common one in bowls. If you can rise to the situation, say in competition, then you have added another weapon to your armoury.

In finding the new, correct arc or path for your bowl5, you do not judge the distance between the number (A) and the aiming point (B), then extend that out the same distance towards (C).

The correct method is to imagine a line at 90 degrees to your original aiming point, drawn from the number (A), crossing the original aiming line (E) and extending out by the same distance between (A) and (E). This will give you the correct line (D) which, extended to the bank, gives you the new aiming point (C).

Simple? Well perhaps it doesn’t seem that way, but you will find that experience will teach you to calculate the new line in a matter of seconds.

In the example it is assumed that the green is perfect, and the surface is completely level. Unfortunately greens seldom are that way, and usually are slower out near the boundary line because the grass hasn’t been used so much. The aiming point for a shot like this will therefore, be slightly more narrow than point (D).

Avoiding Trouble

One of the biggest problems some bowlers have is in avoiding a bowl in their draw. In other words, a previously delivered bowl (usually an opponent’s) which has come to a stop short of the jack and directly in the arc or path leading to it.

The danger as they see it, is in knocking up or promoting the opponent’s bowl closer to the jack and perhaps making it shot. The problem is mostly in their own minds and one of two things happen. Either they change to the other hand, say from forehand to backhand, and probably deliver a wasted bowl that finishes nowhere useful, or because they see the bowl to be bigger than it really is, their own is drawn to it like a magnet and it is knocked in for shot.

Here’s how to get around the problem.

You can choose to go either inside or outside the bowl in the draw, which, in this illustration is on the forehand. Always use the mat to give you a slightly different arc to clear the bowl. Here6, the new position for the feet is on the outside of the mat.

The green is slow, the grass not having been cut for forty-eight hours. The opposition bowl, (indicated by the white broken line7) has stopped in the forehand draw. The yellow broken line shows the new line and aiming point from the right hand side of the mat. Add to the shift in feet placement an increased pace to the bowl of about two-thirds of a metre, and the shot should not only clear the opponent’s bowl, but also draw in for shot a few centimetres behind the jack.

For a similar problem on the backhand, the same points apply, except that the feet are moved to the extreme left of the mat8.

This new position for the feet provides the most advantageous arc or angle for the bowl to clear the opponent’s shot lying directly in the path to the jack.

Again the white broken line9 shows the path of the opposition bowl, and the yellow one illustrates the angle needed to clear it and draw the shot.

Don’t be frightened by the bowl in the draw, especially if you are a leader in a team. As a leader or even in singles, there will usually be plenty of room to draw the shot even if it is not right on the jack10A. Occasionally a bowl or bowls in your draw will force you to change your hand, but before you do, always try to get in a good second shot10B-C.

Fast Greens

There has never been a true champion who is not adaptable. In reaching that goal of playing winning bowls, you will face all types of greens. You must conquer them all.

The best way in which to learn adaptability to any surface is in competition with a pennant side or in tournaments. At least half of your pennant matches will be away from home at clubs with all types of greens. The faster you learn to adapt your style and delivery on those greens, the faster you will reach your goals.

Fast greens allow the true artist to show his wares and touch. Such greens come in the warmer summer months when the surface is dry and hard and the grass is well cut. As I’ve mentioned before, these surfaces create little friction on a bowl’s running surface, so that less propulsion is needed in delivery. On the mat, the bowl should be held well below waist level, thus reducing the amount of effort to be put into the delivery.

On fast greens, always attempt to draw slightly short and wide of the jack11 because a minor loss of concentration will usually result in a long bowl. Going short and wide will compensate. At the same time, a slight imperfection in delivery will almost certainly end in a bowl that is narrow and swinging across the head.

You need to be at your most alert and at your highest level of concentration on these surfaces. They are the most unforgiving of all greens.

Slow Greens

Spring and early summer are the times when greens can be at their slowest, especially in Australia’s southern states. You can however, strike them at other times through the grass not being cut short, or damp through overwatering, rain or even a heavy dew.

In essence, a bowl must be delivered on a slow or heavy green 12 with greater momentum as it is inclined to sink lower in the grass.

On these types of greens, always go for the jack. Better still, attempt to trail it. On a 12 second green, I suggest a trail of about 30 centimetres (12 inches) and a further 30 centimetres for every half-second the pace of the green decreases.

If you miss the jack, then at least your bowls will finish behind the head where they certainly will be more useful.

Short bowls on these greens are little more than nuisances, and any lack of concentration will usually see yours becoming just that.

Next: 6. Towards Mastery