You might think Championship Sunday is just a few days away but I have news for you: It already happened. And you missed it. After being cancelled in 2020 and again in 2021 due to COVID, the World Indoor Bowls tournament Championship finally took place and concluded last Sunday when some bloke from England beat some other bloke from Scotland. The once every four year event was pushed back to six years, but was every bit worth the wait (I'm assuming).
As Americans we tend to get tied up in the few sports that we know and love, but sometimes you need to diversify your palettes and appreciate the greatness yet to be tasted. So long as it's on YouTube for later while we're watching football. Lucky for you, I'm here to be your Bowls sommelier. My knowledge of the game is easily in the upper quartile of the upper quartile of all Americans demonstrated by the fact that I've been following the sport since Monday around 4pm when I saw something about it online. That's when I dove in and did my homework.
Here's what I understand about this game. You start at one end of the green (which is blue) and one player throws a small yellow ball (jack) and then both players switch off throwing four "bowls" (cheese wheel shaped ceramic looking things probably first found in someone's grandmother's attic before figuring out how to make a game out of them) trying to get as close to the jack as possible. Whoever gets the most bowls closest to the jack gets a point for each bowl that is closer to it than any opponent's bowls. This entire process of each player throwing all four of their bowls is called an "end" and much like bags/cornhole you then walk to the other side and do it again.
Film review time. Let's look at some "all-8" (bowls) as an example.
Just look at the face of the eventual champion Jamie Walker before shooting this beaut. Dude is in the zone. You'll notice as his red bowl makes it's way down his opponent has two green bowls closest to the small yellow jack. But Walker plays for keeps and knocks both the green bowls away leaving all four of his red bowls closer to the jack than any green bowl. What was two points for his opponent turned it into four points for himself. Savage.
Judging by the final matchup it appears they play 11 ends per set and whoever has the most points at that point wins the set. There's no set tie-breaker, so a tied set is possible and the winner of the match is whoever won the most of two sets. If it's tied 1-1 then they go the distance and play a grueling final third set at a pleasant comfortable room temperature.
That's basically the gist. But there's some advanced shenanigans I still need to learn as I look to cover this amazing sport in the future. For instance, if your bowl touches the jack the ref will spray paint on two sides of your bowl and deem that bowl a "toucher". I think that's a good thing which makes this literally the only context being called a "toucher" is positive. There's also a "ditch" at the end of the lane and players often attempt to hit the jack into it when they are losing in order to - technically speaking - "fuck some shit up". Once the jack goes into the ditch both players walk down and look upon the bowls with their hands on their hips and mutter softly amongst themselves. Sometimes the player who "fucked the shit up" gets points and sometimes the other player does. After looking over the 64-page rules PDF, I still have zero clue why. But here's some other key terms any novice needs to have memorized:
"Displaced Bowl" (rule section C.4): This sounds painful. You never want to displace your bowl. This means that you had a bowl movement in such a way that "is not approved by the laws of the Sport of Bowls".
"Disturbing the head" (literally the very next rule C.5): Straight from the rule book - "altering the position of the jack or a bowl in the head". That clears things up, thanks rule book!
"A toucher in the ditch": If you ever see this stay far away and immediately call the police.
"Rebounding Jack": When a toucher touches the jack in the ditch and brings him back into play. Again - call the police.
"Marking a toucher": I think this was what Chris Hansen did so the cops could take the pervert to jail.
That's pretty much all I know about the rules at this point. Long story short - this game is the love child of curling, bags, bocci ball, and pool after hitting it off with each other at the bar on dollar beer night. You can say some touchers found the ditch that night.
OK, Let's talk rivalries. I'm happy to report the game of Bowls brought out the most ferocious die hard fans to attend this year's England/Scotland final. The prospect of a full-scale hullabaloo was palpable.
But the best part of this game is that it seems to pretty much come down to pure luck at the end of an …well… an end. In his postgame interview (yes, I watched it) champion Jamie Walker admitted it all came down to luck and he's absolutely right. If you're losing an end, you just do what any pool player does after a shitty break leaves a glob of balls congregated together. You say "fuck it" and hit em as hard as you can and see what happens. Sometimes the bounces break your way. Sometimes your bowls empty in a ditch.
If Bowls International is going to catch on in the states they're going to need find an American sponsor that exudes the required physicality, endurance, and blue/yellow color scheme while even sharing the same word in their names. I'm of course talking about the International House of Pancakes. They can even cater to players during matches for extra exposure (although at the player's risk of an illegal bowl displacement).
There are three major things I still need to figure out as I look to cover this sport in the future. Who is the GOAT? What are the analytics? And most of all - who got caught doping such that necessitated an entire anti-doping section of the official sport's website?
That's a white whale goal right there. I'll touch whatever jack I need to interview that guy.