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Allan Thornhill looks at sets play and re-spots.

A number of questions get raised about the rules and laws relating to sets play and in particular the issue of re-spotting a jack. With the world indoor championships at Potters Resort now a distant memory, it is interesting to discover that the World Bowls Tour events have now become one of the rare occasions where re-spotted jacks can be seen.

When the sets format took over the bowls world some 15 years ago, every governing body jumped on the band wagon and introduced at least one sets play competition to their portfolio. So why has its popularity waned in recent years?

There is no doubt that the sets format allows for more time controlled games which of course suit television schedules well. That is primarily why it was introduced and why it is still used today by the WBT. Traditional scoring systems simply donโ€™t work for TV. Bearing in mind that a four bowl singles match playing to 21 shots could be over and done with in six ends or last to a mammoth 41 ends, you can imagine how hard it would be to plan schedules around that!


So how does the concept of re-spotting a dead jack help with all this? We all marvel at the immense talent shown by the best in the world. Their deadly accurate drive shots can send a jack flying out of the rink every end if they wanted to. The game would take hours if we had to replay each one. So there is definitely a need to control the time aspect of the game by not allowing dead ends.

But this does not sit comfortably with traditionalists who believe that it has ruined the game. โ€œItโ€™s a lottery,โ€ โ€œit takes away the skill,โ€ โ€œit is unfair to the player for playing such an accurate shotโ€ are just some of the comments we hear about re-spotted jacks. But I disagree. Whilst I accept it removes the option for clearing the slate and starting the end again, it actually makes for a more tactical approach to the game. Players now have to think about covering a drive shot or indeed maybe reconsider playing a drive in the first place, resorting to the arguably more skilful draw to get out of trouble.

I fully accept that the drive is a skilful shot but I believe it is used far too frequently in domestic play โ€“ a bit like a panic button. It can then mean that the drawing rhythm is lost. Drawing yourself out of trouble shows true skill and determination in my view.


So it would seem that the traditionalists form the majority voice with national governing bodies and their decision to scrap sets play competitions. Even the world governing bodies are changing their conditions of play. Indeed, for the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, lawn bowls will see a return to the more traditional 21 shot singles and fixed numbers of ends in the team competitions. Instead of restricting the option to kill the ends, a match time limit has been introduced, thus allowing the schedules to be tightly controlled. This has also been seen in the indoor game in England with time limits taking preference over re-spots and sets play. It is interesting to note though, that the extremely popular โ€˜Planet Bowlsโ€™ concept uses a sets format similar to that used by the WBT.

So what are your views? Have the sets formats and re-spots had their day or will they just be reserved for the higher profile indoor TV events run by the World Bowls Tour?

Get in touch with the editor and he will forward your responses to me: patrick.hulbert@keypublishing.com