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Straight running bowls have been around for decades and the debate as to if they provide an advantage to the bowlers using them still rages on to this day (writes David Corkill). While there is also considerable support for the argument that any narrow bias bowl takes away the skill of judging the arc of a bowl, it could be argued they have their own challenges

I am raising this discussion not to be in any way critical of manufactures, but to shed some light unto the process that led us to a situation in the UK where you have bowls that even in indoor rinks can be delivered down a rink three feet less than a standard bias bowl.

Does this in effect bring a massive advantage to anyone using them or is it just another way to maximize the chances of a player winning? Either way, it is viewed by many to be a reduction in the skill needed to play our sport.

I will make it clear now that I am referring to the UK in this article. The demands of Australia and New Zealand can be very different to us in the northern hemisphere.

I have played matches on greens reaching 21 seconds – that is extremely fast, in fact too fast for consistent play. In most cases, reducing the sport to a draw drive situation. Anything over 17 seconds makes a very good case for special models of bowls just to make the game reasonably viable.

I appreciate many greens that do not run at this speed in the southern hemisphere, but the rationale is sensible to have straighter bias bowls available for those that do.

Many believe that the Master Bowl that all manufactures must adhere to as the minimum requirement for production, which is the domain of World Bowls, was produced to enhance sales for the bowls producers. I don’t think this is the case. Yes, the Master Bowl, which has been around as an entity for decades, was remade and updated over two decades ago. This was done by Taylor Bowls and then passed to the other two manufactures, Drakes Pride and Henselite respectively. It was then approved by World Bowls Ltd, as it was then, to be the new standard for the minimum bias of a bowl.

Please bear in mind this was primarily focused on the requirements of parts of the southern hemisphere where it was very much needed but it didn’t go any further as to meeting the conditions of the northern hemisphere.

I am informed this was raised as a potential issue and the technical details highlighted at the time, but I understand that there was to be only one Master Bowl and not two for this at the time. I have to admit this didn’t appear to be a good move in particular as the surfaces being discussed varied so much. The way bowls react in a controlled environment, as in on a test table, can be very different to outdoor greens and indoor rinks.

Hence, we come to the problem. There was back then, and some may still say there is a case for two Master Bowls. Each with a minimum bias to meet the variable needs of both regions.

That won’t of course change the possibility of bowls from either hemisphere being used in competition but in reality, using an Australian designed bowl for the next World Outdoor Championship on the Gold Coast really should be common sense. Using the same model here in the UK where greens can be eight-14 seconds would generally be seen as ill-advised at best. Some indoor carpets can be very quick, a good example of that is Stanley IBC and the old Swansea rink which was known to reach 17-18 seconds. It was a challenge, but we still played International Series on it without minimum bias bowls.

There have been occasions when bowls have been challenged and one of the most well-known was when Scotland international Margaret Lethem had her bowls challenged as being illegal after winning an important singles match in a major event. The bowls passed the test and the result stood, but to be honest with the bias of the Master Bowl being what it was at the time there was never going to be any other outcome but the general conscientious was that Margaret’s bowls were just a normal bias anyway.

There have been instances where narrow running bowls have been viewed as ‘a bit on the edge of legality’. I remember correctly ABT 2000 model of bowl was used at Preston in the World Indoor Championships many years ago by an Australian player They were unusually narrow of bias but once again when tested conformed to the required specification.

Bowls as a sport is culmination of two elements of skill. The ability to deliver a bowl to a desired width on the green and with the necessary weight to achieve the required result. If either of these skills is diluted to a point in the case of narrow running bowls requiring almost no width from the centre line, then many will believe that the skill of ‘greening’ a bowl has been virtually dismissed as an equal skill of getting the weight correct. I can’t disagree with that. I have always played with a wide bias bowl but there is a counter argument that the narrow running bowl has its challenges as well.

I can see that could be put forward as something for further discussion. When playing lead when I was very young, I was told play the shortest way to the jack. In other words, get onto a tight hand.

In today’s world that also appears to mean to some bowlers play with the narrowest bias bowls you can and if they are legal then there will no issue. Does it give an unfair advantage? Is it contrary to the spirit of the sport?

It is an on-going argument that will continue within the sport. In the meantime, I try to remember the old adage. When playing against narrow running bowls, play short ends because anything 12-18 inches short of the jack there is no chance of your opponent drawing past to the centre of the rink.

Horses for courses I suppose but medium to strong bias bowls in the UK will always be the favourite of most bowlers and manufactures still produce many of those models because that is where the real demand is. If anyone believes the production of narrow bias bowls is a sales ploy by manufactures to increase sales, I believe that is an incorrect assumption.

But there is a market for them however low in the UK that may be and manufactures have a right to meet that demand.

FOOTNOTE: Many thanks to Grant Heron, of Taylor Bowls, for the manufactures information regarding the Master Bowl. Grant discussed other aspects of the subject but I just didn’t have the space to reproduce here. That may form the basis for a more in-depth article in the future with other manufactures views as well.