Bowls Tactics

You do not develop good technique in a vacuum or in front of a mirror. You do so by bowling, whether on the practice green or under match conditions. Fundamental to playing any shot, is an adequate command of line and length. Nothing else so rewards accuracy or punishes inaccuracy. On the basis of good line and length all bowls shots within the game come within reach.

Finding line

There is an old saying in bowling circles. “The game comes down to the three L words “Line, Length and Luck”. There is nothing to be said about the last of these. Except to wish you have it. The other two provide the key to successful bowling. It is no exaggeration to say that any bowler with unvarying mastery of line and length would be unbeatable. Persistently wayward line and length makes victory impossible. In reality the two are conjoined in a single event the shot. But it is necessary to view them in isolation for instructional purposes. 

The line is the path the bowl takes from the point at which it leaves the hand till it reaches its destination somewhere up the green. The correct line, is the path the bowl must take to arrive at the destination you have chosen for it. That destination might be another bowl (either your own or your opponents), a displaced jack or a position on the green selected for tactical considerations. Most of the time it will be the jack in its original position, centred at a particular length. In discussing the theory of line, it is assumed that the last mentioned is the case. The line is the path to the jack.

  Clearly the bowl cannot arrive at the jack by correct line alone but only by the marriage of correct line and correct length. When delivered, the bowl describes an arc, and the arc is determined by the sideways pull of the bowl resulting from the bias acting upon its forward momentum. In the early stages of its journey, the bowls momentum is at its greatest and the influence of the bias is at its weakest and the arc is comparatively tight. As the bowl looses speed in the later stages the influence of the bias increases and the arc becomes more noticeable. In the end the bowl slows down and homes in (you hope) on its target.

  Imagine three bowls delivered in such a way that they come to rest in different positions along the centre line of the green. One on the jack, one short and one beyond. In all three cases they got there because the line selected, was the line, and the only line that correctly anticipated the effect of the bias on the running bowl. As the bias is a constant factor, it follows that the line for each bowl was exactly the same line. It was only the weight of the shot that took the bowls to different positions along the centre line. The line did not change, assuming of course, that the green is perfectly flat along its entire running surface, but this can never be the case. Therefore the line to the jack is more accurately described as the line to the centre of the rink played with ‘jack weight’.

On a fast green the arc is wide, sometimes so wide as to take the bowl into the adjacent rink. The shoulder is far down the line.

On a heavy green the arc is relatively narrow and the shoulder relatively close to the mat. The primacy of line ‘finding that line’ for your bowls, on the rink on which you are playing, up and down the green forehand and backhand. It must be your no1 priority when you first step onto the mat. During the trial ends you will be trying to get a feel for length as well. If you take a bit of time to find the length, it is less serious than being slow to pick out the line.

   Bowlers vary in their approach to finding the line, but in one respect there is unanimity. In order to have a point of aim, you have to visualise the bowls journey, and in particular when it begins to curve towards the jack. The point at which it does this. The widest point in the arc of the bowl is called the shoulder of the arc. It  is generally between two thirds and three fifths of the way down the green. If you correctly gauge the shoulder of the arc and get your bowl to it, then you are by definition, on line.

The commonest way of going about this is to extend the imaginary line from the shoulder of the arc to a static feature on the far bank. A chair or any object which you can see at the end of the imaginary line. That becomes your target. When aiming for the shoulder of the arc. One must bear in mind that bias comes into play the second the bowl leaves your hand. If you were to aim for the ‘true shoulder’. You would miss it and be on a line inside it. Therefore you must determine the point in a straight line ahead of you that will have the effect of getting the bowl to the ‘true shoulder’ of the arc.

The imaginary shoulder’ is always outside the ‘true shoulder’ not far outside on a slow green which minimises bias, but several feet outside it on a fast green which exaggerates bias.

Bowling to length

Bowling to a desired length is by general consent the most difficult area of the game. Line, once you have found it. Unless you are on a really dreadful green. Remains pretty constant through out a match. There will be occasions when you want to deliver a positional bowl off the centre line, and for those shots you will have to determine a new line, either inside or outside the line to the jack.

The technical demands required to achieve this, are nothing like as great as those concerning length. Quite apart from the playing conditions of the green. Which obviously determine the weight of the shot required to achieve the objective. The length of the shot is constantly changing. The length of the jack varies from end to end. One shot you want to the jack, the next you may wish to play beyond the jack.  A third to come to get alongside an opposition bowl. The last with controlled weight to rearrange the head in your favour. Each of those shots imposes particular conditions on your basic ‘grooved’ delivery.

In bowling parlance propulsion is known simply as ‘weight of shot’. The factors you need to understand to control weight of shot come right back to stance and delivery. Finally the grip has a role to play in controlling weight. If you use a ‘claw’ grip you will clasp the bowl firmly as you deliver it with pace. But for ‘touch’ shots you will ease off on the grip, caressing the bowl as you ground it. To a lesser extent this is true for the cradle grip. Although the ‘cradle’ is a more relaxed method of holding the bowl in the first place.

Length is determined by two factors. Working in opposition to the propulsion. You impart to the bowl when you deliver it and the resistance it encounters from the surface over which it is rolling. Because the resistance varies so widely from surface to surface, so to must the propulsion. In order to reach the same length on varied surfaces.

Regardless of the weight of the shot attempted. Never curtail the follow-through. This is an essential part of even the most delicate of shots. Follow-through does not impart weight. It is the final stage in your commitment to follow line’.

David Bryant view of delivery

(Three times world singles champion of outdoors and indoors bowls)

“In discussing any aspect of delivery. I always come back to the importance of achieving a smooth, rhythmic action. Too often I have seen players try to control length by concentrating over much on one aspect. Say the step forward, and that can lead to a jerky delivery. There is a natural relationship between the back swing and the forward step. As there is when you walk, fast or slow. If the height of your stance and the length of your back swing is suited to the pace of the green. Then the step forward and follow-through should come automatically.

Viewed in terms of length my own delivery is of the athletic variety. Because I rise from the crouch (where I sight a line) prior to the delivery of the bowl. The difference between mine and the conventional delivery from the athletic stance is that I rise to it. The more weight I require, the higher I rise. When I want to drive hard I abandon the crouch altogether. Bowling tips from David Bryant.

Practice that grooved swing until it becomes second nature. Bowling to a fixed jack will hone both line and length. If you can get four bowls close, consistently, then there is nothing wrong with your swing. Move the jack and do it again. String out four jacks along differing lengths, from short to full, and deliver a bowl to each. The skills involved here form the basis of your game and you cannot spend too much time over them.”

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