A farewell to the 2011 season

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We are now into September, the evenings are too short for proper matches and there are few important competitions left so this week’s column will be the last for the season. Throughout the last few months these columns have been put together by Mike Franklin and Trevor Field, sometimes working together and sometimes separately. This week it is a solo effort by Mike and consists of some thoughts on ‘optical illusions’ in bowls and a few closing remarks.

One problem to be faced when playing bowls is that different standpoints seem to tell different stories. This can be the case in judging which of two bowls is actually nearer to the jack when one bowl looks closest if they are compared from one angle but the other looks closest if they are compared from another angle. The difficulties arise because we are looking at an angle – not from directly above as is the case of bowls when shown on TV. In such cases the decision as to which bowl is nearer is made by use of a measure.

Problems also arise because the view of a crowded head as seen by someone about to bowl is very different from the view as seen by some standing at the head. We must have all experienced the situation where the choice of what shot to play seems obvious only for our partner standing by the head then to ask for a totally different shot. One reason why these differences of opinion rise is the effect of ‘foreshortening’ in which distances along the rink appear shorter than similar distances across the rink. So, viewed from the other end of the rink, a bowl lying three feet to the left of the jack may seem a bad bowl while one the same distance in front of the jack may appear to be almost touching it. Similarly, one bowl might appear to lie directly behind another but in practice they might be up to two feet apart.

The picture shows a fairly typical head from a game of singles where each player has four bowls. Seven bowls have been played and the eighth is heading towards the jack with the red dots indicating its path. The left picture is the scene as viewed by someone standing at the head and the right picture is the same scene as viewed by the bowler, so that the bowl marked A is the same bowl in both pictures. Given the degree of bias on these bowls it would be clear to someone standing at the head that the incoming bowl should come through the gap it does. However, the right hand picture indicates the bowler could be forgiven for attempting to aim more directly at the jack passing between bowls marked C and D. If the player had bowls with less bias that might be the best choice. Note that a bowl passing between C and D could get a deflection (wick) off bowls B or C and end up by the jack. But then again, it could pass harmlessly through the gap between Band C although to the bowler the two bowls look to be touching.

A couple of other points worth noting. Firstly, the bowl marked A is actually third nearest to the jack even though it appears a poor shot from the other end of the rink. Secondly, because of the foreshortening the route the bowl takes to the jack looks slightly different from the two ends. To the person at the head the bowl appears to follow a gentle arc, whereas to the bowler it appears to run fairly straight at first before curving ever more sharply as it slows down. (No wonder we don’t always get it right!)

Because things can look so different from opposite ends of the rink it is important for team-mates to help one another by making clear where bowls are in relation to the jack. In singles matches there is no team-mate standing at the head so players must be prepared to ask questions of the ‘marker’. Rule 55 of the laws indicates that one duty of the marker is to ‘answer any specific question about the state of the head which is asked by the player in possession of the rink’. Many a match has been lost because a player has not wanted to trouble the marker or inspect the head at close quarters.

As I’ve indicated before, this season has been the first in which I’ve played a lot of bowls both within the club and in the club teams. I have come to recognise that as club membership drops so pressure builds on the remaining members. They need to support club competitions because if too few take part then the competitions become meaningless. So a chance to take part in an open competition run by another club creates a difficult choice if it clashes with a closed event run by your own club. There are no easy answers and maybe we’ll return to this topic next year.

My thanks go to Trevor Field for providing lots of information about the key competitions – especially those at the county level and the Dee-Don league. That this has been done over and above his fine efforts as league secretary is even more praiseworthy.

And soon thoughts turn to carpet bowls, cold village halls and the perennial question as to what is the best way to carry out the weekly chore of taking out and putting away the carpets…

Congratulations to all who did well in 2011 and commiserations to those who didn’t.