Love ‘em or hate ‘em we all have to put up with them and generally speaking Victorians should all be experts at handling a heavy surface. Why are they so difficult? We can all “heave” the bowl fast enough to reach the ditch at the other end and practice should make perfect so why do 99% of us detest even the thought of encountering a slow, or worse still, an ultra-slow green.
It’s interesting to watch the English, or more particularly the Scottish bowlers consistently reach the head on greens considerably slower than ours and, to confuse us even more, they do so with a pushing rather than a swinging action and with practically no backswing. They also run off the mat which is frowned upon here in Australia. The secret to their ability to easily reach the head is that they use large, standard weight bowls and in running off the mat, they “drag” their hand over the bowl, thus creating a form of overspin.
Unfortunately greens aren’t just fast, medium, slow or ultra-slow in pace, there are always variations, particularly when wind is a factor. Most of us can get reasonably proficient on slow greens as we are confronted with them on a reasonably regular basis but the big test arrives when we come face to face with a severely rain affected green or a day when the surface is already slow but we have to contend with a strong head wind in one direction.
You could, of course, play at Lakes Entrance where I do. We have only synthetic greens (very good ones) which run at a consistent 15.5 seconds with a 17.5 second draw. Each alternate pennant day however we have to leave those almost ideal conditions and adjust to greens timed at somewhere between 11.5 and 13.5 seconds. What’s the solution then? How do we adjust?
There are a number of ways to counteract the problem but each requires at least a reasonable amount of practice. Before I espouse these theories I must stress that a larger, lighter bowl will cover the distance with less effort than the smaller and heavier bowl, hence my decision to return to a size six standard weight bowl for the slower Victorian surfaces. Whilst I understand there would be very few women who could manage a bowls of such size I do recall that our World Champion of a few years back, Merle Richardson used size six and she was without peer in the eighties.
Implements aside the changes required to more easily and consistently handle holding greens, all have to do with minor changes to one’s delivery, but remember the key to consistency is always going to be rhythm. Elite Victorian women bowlers of my era such as Norma Massey and Marion Stevens both seemed to handle heavy greens whilst maintaining good rhythm but I’m more familiar with men bowlers such as Bob Middleton and Denis Dalton who were experts on slow surfaces and both were able to maintain a smooth fluent delivery no matter how slow the green. Yours truly also managed a silver medal at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games on greens much much slower than anything we will find in Australia.
Listed hereunder is a number of changes you could make. Select the one which most suits your current style and practice it at every possible opportunity until it becomes second nature.
1. Commence your backswing and complete it prior to any other body movement. In doing so, your forward swing and forward step will be in unison. For lady bowlers, particularly those who are not physically strong, this is an excellent method for driving as you can produce pace without effort. With a reasonable amount of practice you will find such a delivery can be executed with great fluency.
2. Focus your eyes close to the mat at point of delivery. This was the most important discovery that I made during practice prior to leaving for the Commonwealth Games. With your head well down you will find it far easier to complete a long, strong follow-through. Some might say it is difficult to keep a good line when looking close to your feet but slow greens are always narrow and maintaining a good line isn’t really a problem.
3. Hold the bowl well back in the palm of your hand giving you greater physical strength to deliver. Touch is not an issue and judgement is the order of the day.
4 After reading suggestion one it may sound strange but if you step early (not a fixed stance), again the forward movement of both your swing and bodyweight will create greater momentum than your normal delivery.
5. Try to quicken the tempo of your delivery. Make all movements faster than normal and you will pick up that extra metre or so whilst retaining rhythm.
I’ve never been in favour of extending your backswing as this can create great problems with timing thus making fluency extremely difficult.
It matters not which of these methods you choose so long as you practice diligently and learn to maintain a good long follow-through and a smooth, rhythmical delivery.
Good bowling and may you find some improvement in your heavy green play prior to our next meeting in a month’s time.