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Middleton Cup Quarter Final

Oxfordshire failed by the narrowest of margins in their quest to qualify for the finals of the Middleton Cup at Barnwood BC on Saturday. Standing in their way were holders and eleven times winners, Devon. The game had been delayed a week due to Devon and Cornwall’s final group match being put back which meant that ever presents, Barry Lambourne and George Schwab were missing from Oxon’s original line-up. Kevin Alder and nineteen year old Shane Cooper making his debut were the replacements and the team travelled to Gloucester as underdogs but still confident of a good performance whatever.

After a delayed start due to traffic problems the game commenced in glorious weather conditions but Oxford hopes were rapidly dealt a heavy blow as their illustrious opponents opened up with eighteen shots on the first end. The impressive Griff Sanders and Richard Bawden took seven and five from Mark Sykes and Paul Sharman respectively while Oxon captain Alan Prew took a two from Commonwealth games star Sam Tolchard by way of consolation. Sanders followed up with a five on the third end to lead Sykes by ten, the same gap that separated them at the end.

Credit has to be given to the Oxford team though as across the green they dug in and played some great bowls with little result due, in main, to the exceptional play of the Devon back ends. At five ends Oxon were twenty-two shots behind and at ten, a seemingly unassailable thirty-one but they kept believing in themselves and kept playing good bowls. Gradually, slowly, the score began to close and Devon started finding gaps and the wrong side of bowls rather than the perfect play of the first half.

Mark Charlett’s rink featuring the outstanding Gary May found themselves 11-1 down early on but gradually closed the gap and overtook Jamie Chestney with some great team play to end up highest winning rink by twelve. Out on a very tricky rink six Baden Sparkes’ four never gave up and played some impressive shots to take sixteen shots to two in the last eleven ends for Oxon’s second winning rink against Kevin Phillips.

Ian Snowdon led early on and he and his four continued to play well throughout. The results unfortunately didn’t match the play and eventually they lost out by eight to James Webber. At fifteen ends Devon’s overall advantage had dropped to seventeen shots, having been as low as thirteen just before. Momentum was with Oxfordshire then and shots were picked up across the board. The gap narrowed agonisingly slowly to a mere four shots and one big score could well have then made the difference but Devon were too experienced to let that happen and continued to fight all the way.

The game between Prew and Tolchard was the closest throughout with Oxon leading by one only at each of the splits. A two at the edge of the ditch for Oxon on the last end meant a three shot victory for the captain and that the difference on the board was now only one with only the fours of Sykes and Sharman still playing. Sykes and his team had shown amazing fortitude and mental strength to stay in the game with Sanders and yet again the Devon man had made life difficult forcing Sykes to play weight with his last bowl. A narrow miss meant that Sharman needed a three to force extra ends. Behind all the way his Carterton four had been in danger of being eclipsed by Bawden’s rink, which included national triples winner Steve Bonetta, however they stuck to the task in hand and played some magnificent shots to get back within six. Holding one, but with a few close seconds to Devon, Sharman with his last bowl of the game had no choice to but to play a speculative weighted shot to move the jack. Another narrow miss and the chance of glory was gone with the score 120-118.

This was a fantastic game of bowls played in the very best traditions of the sport. Devon were always the favourites but the Oxfordshire players proved that they can compete with the very best and must be justly proud of themselves for this and all performances through the season. After the game Sanders told his Oxon opponents that he could not remember being in a tougher game.

Good luck to Devon in the defence of their title at Worthing and thanks to the Oxfordshire supporters that made the trip.

Full Report: MC QF Report

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