Before I commence my inaugural ramblings I would like to thank the editorial team of this fine magazine for inviting me to contribute. I first subscribed to Bowls International when I started bowling at the tender age of 14.
A lot of water has past under my bridge since then and back in November I reached another strange milestone in my umpiring career – the introduction of a 30 second Shot Clock to the Scottish Open in November.
It is the hot topic on the World Bowls Tour circuit and as you read this we will be again watching those few seconds pass in the hope that the buzzer doesn’t scare the living daylights out of the players and the spectators during the World Championships.
Having now experienced this contraption at first hand as an official, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on it. I, like many, was very sceptical of its introduction into the game prior to my trip to sunny Perth for the Scottish International last November. It was the first time it had been used in anger in the UK. We had witnessed its coming, and demise, in Australian TV events a few years prior and Tattie Marshall had become a victim then – would lightning strike twice for him in Scotland?
On arrival in Perth, my colleagues Andy Ewens, Sandra McLeish and I took the opportunity to sit down and work through the new rules with WBT CEO Richard Maddison and to finally get our hands on the gizmo. We had already spent a few months reviewing the draft rules but it is not until you put them into practice that you manage to iron out the anomalies. It was clear during our discussions that not only was it going to be impossible for the marker to control this thing on the rink but there were going to be scenarios that would be difficult to manage using the WBT version of the Laws of the Sport. Thankfully, by the end of the week we had managed to get through it unscathed without having to resort to making it up as we went along – only kidding!!.
So what has it done to the game?
Initially it didn’t appear to make the matches shorter than the usual 90 minutes but it was noticeable when on the rink when marking that the game was going quicker. I certainly felt I was flying by the seat of my pants for most of the game. With very little time to think about bowl distances, study the head to give my most accurate opinion of shot or indeed have a drink, I came off mentally drained and somewhat dehydrated. It was also noticeable that we had lost contact with the players. Very few questions were asked about the state of the heads for fear of losing time to deliver the next bowl. Our anticipation of questions and reaction times had to be sharp so as not to eat into the players’ time. Did we achieve this? Unfortunately… not always.
It was clear that the BBC production team liked the concept and the added tension that it seemed to bring to the game. We did have a couple of narrow escapes by one second but then Greg Harlow got caught out and sacrificed a bowl. The sight of our elite athletes’ running back up the rink to the mat must have added to ‘Corky’s’ commentary and I guess it all added to the excitement for the TV audience.
ALL A BIT OF A RUSH
It seemed to make players rush important shots and that was evident when John Price had to get the last bowl of his match away so quickly that he lost the line and the match with it.
FINAL OPINION ON THE ‘SHOT CLOCK’
Well, as I said I was dead against it before I arrived in Perth but having worked with the beast for 31 games, I had kind of warmed to it. As an officiating team we made some adjustments to the way we worked on the rink. In addition, by introducing a third official to solely manage the Shot Clock in each game the marker and umpire were able to manage the game and the surrounding distractions just as we had been used to prior to its introduction. It was noticeable in some of the games during the week that the clock had indeed made a difference to the pace of the matches.
Some players were dead against it, some sat on the fence, some thought it would work with a few tweaks. I also believe it needs more tweaking but I think what is clear is that it is here to stay if we are to attract the TV companies into broadcasting bowls.
It will be interesting to see how it works during the World Championships; so spare a thought for the players who are in training to compete alongside Mo Farah at the 2016 Olympics, for the officials who have gone all wrinkly with dehydration and for the poor Shot Clock operators who have developed thumb muscles the size of which Popeye would be proud – even if it did create repetitive strain injury!