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The role of the number two in fours

John Rednall analyses the role of the number two player in fours, remembers some of the best he has played with and presents three match scenarios to discuss and use as practice drills:

My late father, Don, used to insist that the number two position in a game of fours was the most crucial and a highly skilled position, requiring the full repertoire of shots. The number two, he said was the linkman who tidied up the work of the lead, or played subtle conversions to destroy the work of theopposing lead.

I have to say that playing second in fours has never really appealed to me as I’m an out and out specialist lead. And of all the positions I have ever played, Number two is the one that I struggle most to concentrate in, but I certainly have valued the talented number two bowlers who I have been privileged to play with for England and within my own county. One of the joys of being a contributor for this magazine is the fact that I can look back on the various international matches, indoor and outdoor over the last four decades and previously as a young player learning the game by watching.

I am a great believer that good leads were born to lead. Similarly, specialist number two bowlers are put on the planet to play in that position and you really cannot imagine them playing in any other position. In Middleton Cup and Liberty Trophy matches, in other words top county level, we see those specialists at work. They probably play in that position for their club and county. However, at international level many of the seconds play at skip for their county and club. This gives their team enormous firepower as the number twos are exponents of every shot in the book, including the all-out firing shot.

I have witnessed on many occasions, the Scottish second players in fours destroying the good work of the opposing lead with their first or second bowl. They are as proficient at driving as they are at drawing. They are confident at playing any shot requested of them and my goodness, they are effective.

At my outdoor debut, in Llanelli, Wales, in 1987, my front end rink mate was Bristol’s Peter McCall, an ex-Bristol City footballer, who was an excellent draw bowler and could tuck in, just behind the jack when needed. A few seasons later, I was joined by the brilliant Ron Gass, a Scotsman from Cumbria, who was an absolute joy to play with – encouraging, motivating, sympathetic when you needed consoling and oh, so consistent. Ron was a quiet machine and a fantastic team man.

In the 1994 Commonwealth Games fours, our number two player was my clubmate Roy Cutts, who the legendary David Bryant CBE once described as one of the best second players in the world, having enjoyed many indoor international campaigns together. Roy was a great all-rounder, immensely talented in every discipline and a number two who skipped most of the time apart from at international series. He had the full repertoire of shots in the locker.

My good friend, Mervyn King was the model of drawing consistency when we combined as a front end to earn a bronze medal in the 2004 World fours, our three and skip being Robert Newman and Andy Thomson MBE, a fantastic three and skip at the top level.

The bond between front end players, lead and two, is essential and I can safely say that the most effective front end combination I ever experienced was leading with Barry Jenkins at number two in the indoor internationals. We were entirely compatible as players and human beings; Barry was the perfect second player, getting me out of trouble on bad ends with pinpoint drawing, placing positional bowls and executing beautiful running bowls when asked to. He could also reinforce good heads that I had set up from lead and we loved the aggressive tactics of mat up the green and drastic changes of length demanded by our hero of a skip, the late David Ward. We were noisy, exuberant, jubilant and we looked forward to every match with a passion. That front end bond comes from believing in the ability and temperament of your playing partners; it’s the compatibility that enables us to collectively cope under pressure and to enjoy every moment when we are playing welland succeeding.

I also really enjoyed my time at lead with my good friend and clubmate, Adrian Holden, playing at two. We knew each other really well and truly believed in each other’s ability, yet the only time Adrian ever played in the number two position was at the internationals; he was a born skip and still is to this day!

Currently, Lee Calver who has just made his England debut exhibits all the characteristics of a top class second player in a four. Lee and I play at the same clubs indoor and outdoor and I have coached him, both at junior sessions and at advanced programmes, witnessing his development and success.

So what are the strengths of the great number two players?

1Drawing to the jack when the lead has failed

2Adding more shots, building on what the lead has contributed

3Tucking bowls in just behind the jack to reinforce the head and anticipate movement of the jack

4Playing subtle trail shots to move the jack ‘round the corner’, making it harder for the opponent

5Opening up the head with heavily weighted shots to destroy the head-building of the opposition

6Bonding with the lead as a front end partnership, motivating, empathising and supporting

7Encouraging the third and skip, calling their bowls on and contributing to shot discussion when needed.

Caption: John talks about playing in the 2004 bronze medal winning World Bowls team with from left: John Bell (manager), John, Mervyn King, Stephen Farish, Andy Thomson and Robert Newman

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