National event the pinnacle of bowls

Evening Star bowls columist John Rednall assesses the success of the EBA National Championships.

Evening Star bowls columist John Rednall assesses the success of the EBA National Championships.

IT comes as no surprise that the fortnight-long feast of bowling activity at Worthing continues to be regarded as the epitome of the national sport.

It is the high point of the season from which some bowlers make their gradual ascent to glory, some burst on to the national scene making an instant impact, while others just come and go.

Socially and recreationally, it also provides that great opportunity to make and renew friendships with fellow bowlers and spectators, to be a competitor or a holidaymaker.

Worthing hosts the metaphorical stage on which the performers parade their talent, show their worth and demonstrate their potential among champions and newcomers alike. It is the arena in which dreams are realised or hopes are dashed.

While the matches played are known as the national 'finals', the stark truth is that when you play your opening game in Beach House Park you have merely reached the halfway point in becoming a national champion.

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If you have played six rounds within your county to qualify, you then play another six to get to the all-England final. This surely makes the winning even more satisfying for those who end up on the winners' podium.

So how did the championships compare with those of other years? From a logistical point of view, the fortnight was organised with the precision and attention to detail for which the EBA chief executive George Shaw is known.

The association is indeed fortunate to have the services of such a high-powered, knowledgeable and well-intentioned administrator who knows from experience what needs to be done to make events run without a hitch.

The highly amenable New Zealander was always on hand to answer queries and to promote the sport at club, county, national and international levels.

Neither must bowlers underestimate the fine intentions of some members of the executive who made efforts to mingle among the numerous spectators, breaking down the barriers between office-holders, bowlers and the public, and asking them as consumers what they thought of the event in global terms.

The programme of events was thoughtfully planned to consider the needs and wellbeing of the competitors and maximise the audience's interest and participation.

There were innovations such as displays given by visually-impaired bowlers and those in wheelchairs; opportunities for members of the bowling public to have their delivery actions analysed and videoed by coaches; and there was a wider range of trade stands operating under one large marquee.

In terms of sponsorship, the national finals were generously supported by Yoplait, who freely distributed hundreds – if not thousands – of sample yoghurts to the spectators around the greens and in the stands.

Mitsubishi sponsored the English Bowling Association for the second year, while Lincoln Insurance embarked on an extremely high-profile sponsorship providing financial help to the governing body, kitting out the National Two Fours competitors in coloured shirts, and providing spectators with caps, towels and umbrellas: a marketing venture allegedly to the value of £23,000.

Generally speaking the standard of play seemed as high as in other years although it is somewhat difficult to evaluate performances and compare them when the conditions are ever-changing.

The slower pace of the greens narrowed the drawing line considerably, and fewer competitors were caught out when playing minimum length jack casts.

The medium-paced surface perhaps encouraged a greater number of running bowls as skips were not treated to the vast swinging hands that make any shot drawable.

As usual, the list of competitors was smothered in names of former champions and international stars. Yet there were perhaps more shocks for those tipped for glory as, particularly in the singles, the favourites fell and the outsiders flourished.

The record books had to make amendments as 13-year-old Darren Allsop became the youngest ever national champion.

And for the first time the junior singles competition was contested by junior county champions from all over the country rather than winners of regional play-offs.

In decorative terms each county had its own flag flying at the entrance to Breach House Park which was a splendid sight.

Turning the spotlight onto Suffolk's fortunes, the county association should be proud of three noteworthy achievements.

In chronological order, Peter Peakman, Philip Last, Ashley Sale and Andrew Friend played with aplomb to reach the quarter-final of the fours, after which the Melton triple of Norman Wilcock, Brian Bennett and Ken Diaper surpassed their expectations of paying in a national semi-final, on the show green in front of the stands of appreciative onlookers.

Champions status was awarded to Suffolk as yours truly, Duncan Snape, Mark Royal and Adrian Holden brought the title of National Top Four back to our county.

David Thompson was a supportive reserve while Middleton Cup team manager John Osborne was an emotional Suffolk representative.

On the down side there were early exits for Chris Love, whose father was ill a few days before the first round match (we wish him a speedy recovery) and for Ivan Turrell's Lowestoft Railway triple.

Mark Royal, who played so superbly in the Top Four competition and looked a match for anyone in the singles line-up, lost in the rain in round two, and the well-fancied pairing of Adrian Holden and Andy Meikle struggled to find their best form, losing in the first.

Underachievement is the phrase that best describes the performance of my Felixstowe & Suffolk four, who lost to Berkshire on the first day.

The competitors who represented Suffolk at Worthing were grateful of the support from their friends, families and the county officers present.