6. Towards Mastery

Good bowls is superb to watch and to play.

Finesse and precision are what this sport so amply offers—to both spectator and performer. Finesse is displayed in the art of draw-shot bowling; precision in the use of controlled shots—the yard-on, the running shot and the drive. Yet it must be remembered, the controlled shots are basically variations of the draw. With the draw, you may head towards mastery and the glories to be found in the game of lawn bowls. With controlled shots, you may well garner those glories.

At top level bowls, no man can expect to compete on level terms without the full armoury of shots. Let’s look at them.

The Trail or True Yard-on

This can be one of the most intimidating shots you can play. Your opponents’ expectation that you will trail the jack, can be almost as unnerving as the event itself. Either way, there’s that extra bit of tension added to their game, a tension of which you can take advantage. To take the simplest of situations, your opponents may be holding shot; you have none, but you hold all the back bowls. The situation is ready-made for the jack to be shifted back so that it nestles among your bowls. Done successfully, the trail or yard-on can take you, for example, from one shot down to five up. It calls for finesse and accuracy— a shot to be played with confidence.

When attempting the trail, the idea is to visualise an imaginary jack in the position where you want your bowl to finish1A. On this head, I am a shot down but the situation calls for a trail of the jack back to my three bowls. I can play it either hand, but have chosen the forehand because of a bad whip on the backhand1B. (Always be alert to green conditions and the way in which they can alter during a match.)

To take the guess-work out of this demonstration, I’ve placed a second jack in the position visualised and am drawing to it1C.

The result is clear— I’m four shots up after my last bowl1D.

As I said, such a shot can be demoralising to an opponent, if played with accuracy—particularly early in the game. Think of it—your opposition is mildly comfortable in the belief that the end is his, but nervous in knowing that the situation is set up for your trail. You carry off the threat and suddenly, the opposition’s confidence is shaken. At the same time, yours has been given a boost.

Attacking Bowls

The Running Shot

If you can finesse an opponent into losing confidence with a trail, then how much more devastating the result with a similar shot played with pace.

This is the running shot, one to be played with equal accuracy but with possibly greater, though less predictable results. I’ve seen players with apparently winning hands, lose heart rapidly after one or two successful running shots. When your opponent realises that you are not only willing to have a go at running shots, but are also capable of delivering them with accuracy, any future head in the match is likely to be fraught with danger for him. Ina sense, you will have established superiority.

Sometimes called the reaching shot, it is usually played with enough weight to carry to the ditch. But it doesn’t really matter whether you are a metre or two over-weight. just so long as you hit the target.

Before delivery, select your aiming point on the bank (remember that it will be much narrower than for the draw) and assess the corresponding pace required for the shot.

Visualise as vividly as you can the perfect shot—the more vivid the picture in your mind, the more relaxed and confident you will feel.

On delivery, maintain your balance by trying not to put more effort than is necessary into the action and follow-through with that exaggerated movement of the arm. shoulder and body.

There are times when a running shot should be played and times when it should not. It depends on you and your mental make-up; on what type of player you are. Are you a gambler prepared to stake one shot on the chance of gaining more? Or are you satisfied with what you have?

Here’s an example of what I mean. I am holding shot on this end, but it is early in the match and the situation opens the possibility of putting a dent in my opponent’s confidence with a running shot2A.

There are dangers of course, but in this set-up, my opponent’s front bowls offer protection to my shot bowl2B and the worst result for me would be to go one down —hardly a great loss so early.

As always, I have assessed what I stand to gain or to lose. In fact the result is better than expected2C. The shot has taken the jack through to the ditch and I have gained an additional three shots. It was a calculated risk and one certainly worth taking.

This is a case for a ‘run through’ shot3A. I am possibly four down but if I attempt to draw on the forehand, I could wreck on my own bowls and get nowhere.

The best answer to the problem is a running shot played on the backhand with enough weight to force my way through the opposition wall3B. Some players would try to promote their own bowls but that approach is risky at best.

The weight applied to my shot has run through that wall to reach jack high and take shot3C — a good result and an example of turning the tables when least expected.

There’s a formula for the amount of weight or thrust required for a ‘run through’ shot. Basically, it is seven times the distance you wish to run after contact with the target bowl. In other words, if the opposition bowl is a metre short of the jack, you deliver your bowl to finish seven metres through.

If you merely want to turn the opponent’s bowl out, the formula is three times the distance the bowl is to be moved.

The running shot is not easy to perfect, but even when it has been mastered, it should be used wisely, possibly even sparingly. An easy trap to fall into is over-use of this weapon, which becomes blunted, if your opponent gets too familiar with your pattern of play—and prepares accordingly. It is better that the running shot be used only when it has to be (as in the preceding photographs) and otherwise be reserved for its shock value.

One of the greatest difficulties top bowlers encounter is in playing the running shot on different grass surfaces. It is useful for you to know these differences before you find yourself in the same predicament.

In draw shot play, the difference between the bend bowls take on a tift dwarf surface and a green of bent grass is very little.

However, because most tift dwarf greens are faster, a shot played at pace has very little time to bend. In other words, it is a straighter shot on tift dwarf.

Couch greens are entirely different. The finishing curve of the bowl is quite pronounced; the shoulder of the green (where your bowl visibly starts to turn) is further away from the mat than the shoulder of a tift dwarf or bent surface of similar pace. A bowl turns very little on couch until the last two or three metres of running.

So learn about your grasses and the effects they have on a bowl. One result of all this difference in grasses is that bowlers from the southern states tend to play their reaching shots too wide when they encounter the greens of the northern states.

Attacking Bowls

The Drive

I’m often told that the drive is my trademark. Perhaps it is. If so, there are two reasons for it.

First, I have practiced the drive more than most other bowlers and as a result, have become confident in its use. Second, I would not be able to get the results that I do without the basis of a sound, rhythmical draw-shot delivery. And that pleases me, because I know that I must be doing something right.

Show me a bowler with an unhurried, smooth drawing action with good body weight behind the delivery, and I’ll show you someone with the potential to be a good driver. Yet there is one trap for such bowlers, albeit one that is easy to escape; I, myself, have fallen into it. While a lot of bowlers make the mistake of trying to drive too fast, I am usually the opposite and occasionally, I run into trouble by trying to guide the bowl. The results of both errors are immediately apparent.

The secret of the drive is in the action.

Let’s start with the grip.

Basically it is the same grip as the one used in all other deliveries. Mine however, has one peculiarity, worked out and perfected through a great deal of practice and experiment.

Simply, I drive with the bowl tilted against the bias4 which allows me to aim straight at the target. I tilt the bowl about one-quarter of a turn out towards the larger rings. What this does is to negate the bias and give me virtually a straight up-and-down line. Pace of the green and wind conditions govern the degree of tilt, but this is where all that practice, plus experience, teach you to assess just how much.

Next, let’s consider the position of your feet on the mat. For both forehand and backhand, the feet are placed on the left side of the centre line of the mat5. Left-handers stand on the right. Your feet must be pointing directly up the line you intend to drive and about three centimetres apart.

The stance is upright, but the knees relaxed and slightly bent, just as they would be for a draw shot6.

The arm is held slightly out from the body to allow a smooth swing clear of the leg and hip. The bowl is almost at eye-level7 to enable a sighting to be taken over the running surface and onto the target, whether it’s the jack or an opposition bowl.

Your mind is firmly fixed on the target, your grip on the bowl is firm, but relaxed.

Start your action8A-H 9A-F, stepping out long and straight, your arm going back, then forward in a long, fluent motion.

Finish with that deliberate follow-through towards the target. Most of all, keep to the fundamentals of the draw delivery, especially that smooth, rhythmical action.

Follow that drill and you will learn, as I did, that the drive is one of the most satisfying and spectacular shots in the game.

Something like eighty-five per cent of drives that miss, pass down the narrow side of the target. This indicates either a faulty delivery or a bad selection of the aiming point.

The latter is easily corrected.

If your problems stem from the former, I suggest that you try a longer step. It will help negate that tendency to ‘pull’ your hand and arm across your line of delivery.

Always drive as fast as you can, but within your capacity, and finish off with that long and deliberate follow-through. I cannot over-emphasise its importance.

To complete your locker of shots, you must be able to drive, with pace and accuracy. No bowler ever reaches the highest levels of the game without this shot. Those who make it to the top have practised long and hard. With experience, they have learned to choose the moment to drive. That moment is not always readily apparent.

This case10A is typical of a head you will often be confronted with. An initial study indicates a trail shot as a solution, with the only danger being the possibility of pushing one of my opponent’s bowls onto the head.

On this particular day however, a wind is gusting right to left across the green, and a trail may be risky. Up until now I have been driving confidently, so I decide to take out my opponent’s nearest bowl10B.

Three shots to me10C are further proof of the theory that if you are playing a particular shot really well on any day — make the most of it. If it happens to be the drive, use it to its fullest effect.

Bowls is not always curved and straight lines. It pays to know your angles, especially in a teams game with many bowls on the green.

In at least seven out of every ten matches, you’ll strike this problem—the jack in the ditch. Sometimes, as in this case, there will be little hope of drawing the shot, but billiards players will see the solution at a glance.

The drive is the shot to play—straight at the opposition bowl nearest the jack11A. The one on its right, close to the ditch, is a toucher. Those two bowls are keeping me out of a fistful of shots and they have to go.

I play the drive so that it clips the left hand bowl on its right side11B. My bowl then cannons onto the toucher, sending it out of bounds.

Of course, my bowl has gone in at such a pace that it too, runs into the ditch11C– but with the opposition bowls cleared, I’ve gone from two down to five up.

Next: 7. The Anatomy of Singles