Warwick and Worcester get the job done

Warwick & Worcester have retained the Endsleigh Insurance BCGBA County Championship – the Crossfield cup – with a thirty-five point win over Merseyside.

Thanks to Warwick & Worcester CBA & St Helens’ man with a long lens Danny Eustace for the photos.

Using the fearsome Moor Lane green in Upper Witton in Birmingham the midlanders were too good for the Merseyside men and claimed eight of the games on the way to a forty-five point win. All the Merseyside men could respond with were seven of the games and a ten point win on the Carr Mill green in St Helens.

At Moor Lane the Merseyside men were desperate for a good start. Their travelling first four are arguably one the best in the country. Apart from last year’s Waterloo runner-up Phil Lee, who played Barry Maskell who was standing in for Peter Davenport who was taken ill over the weekend (my best wishes to Pete), it was a tale of comfortable wins for the home men.

Anthony Gartside (with jack) and Adam Patrick

In Ryan Prosser, Gareth Herbert and Ben Harris, and who can forget Greg Smith, the Warwickshire team have some of the most feared young players in the game.

In fact Phil was the only Merseyside success in the first ninety minutes of the game. At Carr Mill Adam Patrick gave further proof that the step up from the junior county set up to the senior level can be done if you put in the hard work and it helps to have the ability he has.

The best winner in the first four was Warwickshire’s Steve Darling, who has recently moved up the ‘batting order’ from a seemingly permanent berth at number twelve. With all respect to Steve I think the gamble to play Terry Glover didn’t come off. Terry had only just returned from what I’m led to believe was an excellent holiday in the U.S.A. so was trying to recalibrate the ‘radar’ for much of the early part of the game.

Even if you are a past Champion of Champions winner, if you are trying to feel your way back into the game then you certainly don’t want to come up against a tough competitor like Steve so soon in your first game back, especially on a green still trying to return to the standard that made it one of the venues used in televised competitions. It is a truly superb venue with a tricky green, good viewing for spectators and excellent facilities in the pub but all greens had a challenging summer last year as we all cooked under the sun.

Carr Mill Hotel in St Helens

The Carr Mill green was the venue of the Greenall County Classic where the crown green world, led by Elton Welsby and Bryan Brett, descended on this green on the East Lancashire Road.

For those wanting to see how the best players of the time played the green I suggest you locate the Andy Cairns YouTube channel. Here you will find a treasure trove of crown green bowls videos lovingly preserved for posterity.

With a Warwickshire clean sweep at Carr Mill and three wins at Moor Lane the holders were already thirty-three points clear and had a firm grip on the trophy.

The Merseyside men were not going to down without putting up a fierce battle. The middle block of games went their way with six wins of eight but they could only reduce the deficit by five points.

A huge roar greeted every point scored by the home men at Carr Mill, especially in the Tex Allen win over Josh Hale, as they claimed all the middle four games. Over at Moor Lane the games were shared with the better wins, such as Rob Carter’s win over Owen Turner, keeping the Merseyside charge at arm’s length; and with two-thirds of the game played the Warwickshire men led by twenty-eight points.

It was only a single figure win by George Curran, the Federation over 55 merit champion that put the Merseyside men on course for a victory in the home leg. Any thoughts of a similar comeback at Moor Lane were snuffed out by wins by Greg Smith and Neil Clarke. When the dust finally settled the Warwick and Worcester men could look to a comfortable margin of thirty-five points.

The retaining of the trophy is another accomplishment for the county that has dominated the competition over the last decade. The success is a result of a sensationally good coaching system at junior level allied with challenging leagues. It’s probably fair to say that without the volunteers who gave their time up to provide the coaching, and the priceless advice given to the juniors as they mature, then the success Warwick and Worcester have had probably wouldn’t have happened.

2019 Warwick and Worcester home team

To almost seamlessly integrate so many into the senior county set up only a few years after they competed at junior level is very impressive. This player development is allied to a very good league system which develops and hones very talented and battle toughened players. It should be the blueprint for other counties to follow. There again nearly all the other counties (Yorkshire’s Mirfield league a glorious exception) lack a league system that is anything like strong enough.

Only with the development of cross-county super leagues have other counties had some sort of success and even then they have lacked the player development achieved by the Warwick and Worcester system.

Merseyside home squad

For Merseyside it will be seen as another successful season. A squad of players, enough to fill a double-decker bus, that have achieved a triumph in the supplementary county championship and then back to back group wins and the first final appearance for over twenty years. They have attempted to provide a different type of atmosphere at games. The pre-game music, spectators with megaphone and what must be said the sometimes regrettable use of fireworks it is definitely more of occasion these days. Echoes of gladiatorial battles in a Coliseum perhaps.

That said when the game starts the lack of sufficient quality leagues is apparent. Merseyside have leagues which used to provide a huge challenge for every bowler but like so many other counties the standards have slipped some way below the leagues of Warwick and Worcester and indeed Yorkshire.

Many counties have got round this by basing their selection around players who are experienced on the competition circuit. Here they have developed the necessary skills to quickly pick up the characteristics of greens and how to compete on greens they are unfamiliar with. However the competition circuit has also seen a decline in events over the past decades.

2019 Endsleigh Insurance County Champions

A double edged sword, of declining league standards and competitions, which has seen the standard of play in bowls drop. I mean no criticism of any players or counties and certainly not of Warwick and Worcester who paddling very successfully against a strengthening tide.

All the counties can put together a high class eight or even twelve players. The supplementary finals day is often an intriguing battle of who can master the surface and you would be brave to pick a winner before the day. However trying to find a consistent and reliable twenty-four players, or squad of a few more, and also find enough greens to use to provide a suitable advantage for home players is difficult.

It is a formula that has escaped nearly all. Whether they are alchemists, theoretical physicists or long bearded men too consumed to go for a trim they cannot seem to find the right formula.

Perhaps after all it is the right people volunteering their time, the right people advising and regular games at a high standard, be them league or competitions, that can provide the development of top players.

This is just in the senior county and there could and probably should be another article of the problems faced at junior level. Here a growing number of counties cannot put together enough players to enter the junior county championship. It is likely that this competition is reviewed again and maybe a competition based on a one-day event with eight-a-side teams from the counties is a way forward.

What is becoming clearer that at all levels and areas of the sport the lack of people volunteering their time is more apparent each year. Without people to do the jobs needed to maintain venues, run leagues or competitions and develop players the future of the sport itself must be called into question. There are jobs that need doing and if there are no volunteers then either you pay someone to do them or abandon the whole thing. That will be the subject of an article you will see in the coming weeks as the season draws to a close.

Steve Davies

Throughout his bowling career Steve has always supported the admin side of the game as well as a keen player of the game. As a club secretary, association secretary, county delegate on the BCGBA (National Governing Body) Management Committee, Media Officer for the BCGBA, Merseyside champion in 2002 and Merseyside County President (2014-15) Steve has always been keen to promote the game especially through the broadcast of the game on TV or Internet. Steve set up the LIVE BOWLS YouTube channel which became the Bowls Observer channel and, through the LDBA, runs national competitions. Seeing an avenue to report on and promote the game Steve set up the Bowls Observer on-line magazine.