Cunning fox is just too smart

Bowls: This week, John Rednall gives his verdict upon the Suffolk EBA quarter-final clashes, and previews the crucial semi-finals to come.Another hurdle has been negotiated as Suffolk's determined area winners last week clashed in neutral green battle to claim their places in the semi-finals of county championships in singles, pairs, triples and fours.

This week, John Rednall gives his verdict upon the Suffolk EBA quarter-final clashes, and previews the crucial semi-finals to come.

Another hurdle has been negotiated as Suffolk's determined area winners last week clashed in neutral green battle to claim their places in the semi-finals of county championships in singles, pairs, triples and fours. A step nearer to appearances in the Suffolk finals ensuring qualification for the national championships at Worthing, and a stone's throw from the silverware that rewards county winners. In contrast, the disappointment at losing in the last eight is almost as significant as facing defeat in a semi-final.

At Stone Lodge, the venue for this stage of the singles, Glen Fox was a worthy winner as he vanquished Borough of Eye's Mike Salter. It has to be said that much of the Brandon player's consistency was gained by having the right bowls for a particularly tricky end rink. The four ring "pines" that have remained the first choice weapon for Fox over many campaigns were extremely advantageous as they avoided the almost unnatural late swings of Salter's standard henselites. The tighter running model held a modest line at the end of the journey and enabled Fox to play inside a particularly devilish trough on the ditch side of the rink.

It is often said that end rinks tend to have the characteristic that you either find them or you don't, and you either win by a large margin or lose by a multitude. This was certainly the case as Fox trotted into the semi-final.

The linear advantage for the Brandon player meant that Glen could concentrate more of his efforts on bowling perfect strength. And this he did for much of the match, often bowling all four bowls within two feet.

Glen Fox has been a losing quarter-finalist on several occasions but capped a very well deserved victory by probably playing as well on the rink as any visitor could wish.

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Salter, on the other hand will feel disappointed that he found the playing surface so demanding at at such an important stage of county competition. He had reached the last eight with a well deserved shock win over England international and reigning champion Mark Royal, at the Rookery, and carried that inspiration with him. Yet it was not to be on this occasion.

On the next rink, Marlborough's Andrew Friend faced Geoff Ramsbottom, the winner of the Lowestoft area. Friend is a well equipped singles player with good all-round game and sound tactical sense, yet he was unable to match the quality of Ramsbottom's first bowl on most ends. And that first wood is so crucial in singles play. The good length starting bowl time and time again put early pressure on his opponent and made the Marlborough man defend rather than attack in the context of scoring shots.

There were occasions when Friend set up positive heads which just required subtle movement of the jack, yet this shot was so difficult to play. He found himself 20 – 12 down and managed to produce superbly drawn shots to save the match and perhaps send doubts into the mind of Ramsbottom. However, his opponent stayed cool, drew a supreme front toucher with his first bowl on what turned out to be the last end, and saw that bowl stay in place to claim a noteworthy victory.

The Ramsbottom v Fox semi-final looks a closely matched fixture and it would be foolish to make either player favourite for the match. It will simply be a test of which contestant finds the rink and conditions to his liking at Halesworth on the day.

Past winner, Philip Last competed in a very evenly matched duel with Peter Crisp of Cornard, neither player seeming able to impose any significant superiority in the first three quarters of the match. Both bowlers played good length and line and built perhaps the closest heads of the evening's bowls.. Suddenly, however, without a particularly obvious change of length or tactical switch, Philip became the much stronger finisher as he continued to apply pressure and Crisp started to fail to execute the same quality of deliveries as he had managed before. A game that looked like going to the wire was over more quickly than expected.

Last's singles form has been particularly good this season. He is one of the few players to have won the indoor and outdoor county titles and looks in fine fettle to challenge for this year's championship.

If he is to prevail, then Last will have to overcome the stern challenge of an extremely determined Kelvyn Earthroll who looks to be in the same rich vain of single-handed play as he was at this stage last year. Pipped to the post last season by the eventual champion, Kelvyn seems to have the title aspirations within his grasp, doggedly staking his claim for representation at Worthing and the honour of being the county champion. In his quarter-final, Earthroll swept aside the challenge of Framlingham Castle's Charles Clarke who would surely have preferred to play on a faster-running surface. Unfortunately for him, the recent torrents and length of the Stone Lodge green created less than perfect conditions for someone who is a touch player. Earthroll reaches the last four again. Another evenly contested match looks on the cards.

The quarter-final of the pairs event were held at the St Edmundsbury Bowls Club. The quaint club boasts a particularly good texture of well maintained turf and deserves to host prestigious events. However, floods on the Tuesday morning had made certain that the green would not play as fast as it had been and there was a noticeable unevenness of pace on certain lengths and hands. I am certain that some rinks were made more demanding by the weather conditions, and these served to cause one or two shocks.

Philip Last and Peter Peakman of the Marlborough club in Ipswich were to find David Hensby and Colin Gathercole of West Row in particularly useful form. Many of the heads built up evenly but on the night it was Gathercole who perhaps found conversion shots slightly easier, extending a 13 –10 scoreline to 21-10 in the space of just five ends. Hensby was a substitute for Bill Gathercole.

Next door, Clive Webb and yours truly booked our place in the semi-final with a ten shot victory over two of last year's county triples champions, Ivan Turrell and Ken Reynolds of Lowestoft Railway. A strong last third of the match gave us a winning cushion after a struggle. We now look forward to a semi-final against the father and son Lambert pairing from Framlingham.

This pair played well from start to finish to deprive Chris Hunt and Neil Hills of victory. The standard of their bowling on the night ensures that we will have to be at our best to stave off the challenge of a combination that played impressively. In control from the first end to the last, the Lamberts ran out 19-13 winners.

Also leading from start to end were Ian Ward and Mark Royal who managed to survive the challenge of Geoff Rice and Geoff Williams. The going got tougher as the Boxford duo closed the gap from 2-10 down to 10-12 and held shots to equal the scores. However, Royal was able to play a running bowl to stunt the progress and regain match dominance for the county champions of 1999. The final score was a decisive 14-25.

The draw for the semi-final keeps the 1999 and 2000 champions apart.

The triples semi-finals this year will be contested by three trios from the Felixstowe and Suffolk Bowling Club, and one from the Rookery.

Adrian Holden, Clive Webb and yours truly managed to squeeze past Melton's George Ward, Duncan Snape and Brian Andrews in what turned out to be a good quality contest on an excellent green. Our early lead of six shots was pegged back as the scores were levelled at 11-11 after thirteen ends. A stronger finish saw us win the game by just three shots.

Ian Ward, Calvern Kemp and Mark Royal did not have the early stages all their own way and did not take the lead until the twelfth end. Thunder and lightning intervened to spoil the close head-building of the early exchanges and afterwards Royal was able to find more room to draw end-winning bowls to the jack . The final score was 20-10.

Jack Tibbenham's triple were at their best to defeat West Row in the form of David Hensby, Bill and Colin Gathercole, 21-9, while Steve Mayes, Colin Long and John Roper provided double disappointment in one week for Geoff Williams and his partners as the Felixstowe combination romped to a 15-1 lead, and an eventual 21-12 victory.

The semi-finals draw sees the Holden triple take on Mark Royal, while Tibbenham plays Roper. The matches are scheduled for Sunday 21st July at Halesworth.