Soon to be bound for New Zealand South Africa’s Protea lawn bowlers put on a fine showing at the recent annual 47th Warwick Wealth/Bowls South Africa Masters Singles Championships at the iconic Wanderers Club.
The venue – used for a fifth straight year – and its facilities, four-green excellence and an abundance of amenities, proved more than satisfactory for players, efficient officials, spectators and browsers among bright, bustling bowls brands and clothing stalls.
To indicate how popular bowls is again becoming can be measured in spectator numbers– perhaps 600 a day; even more on finals day.
South Africa’s best will play in a Six Nations Test Series at Christchurch, New Zealand, from 6-11 March. The venue is the same to be used for World Bowls later this year.
Dispensation to all entrants to use six players, instead of five, is to allow for redeployment during the event. The six nations competing are New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Scotland and Wales.
Teams are: Women: Tracy-Lee Botha (JBA); Sylvia Burns (WP); Elma Davis (Eden; Susan Nel (Sables); Colleen Piketh (JBA); Anneke Snyman (Boland). Men: Gerry Baker (JBA); Pierre Breitenbach (NW); Jason Evans (JBA); Rudi Jacobs (NW); Thinus Oelofse (Ekhurleni); Nick Rusling (WP). Manager: Jessica Henderson; Coach: Theuns Fraser.
Piketh and Jacobs travel to Warilla BC, NSW, Australia directly from Christchurch to represent South Africa at the World Cup Singles.
Top story at the Masters was the retention of her title by Esmé Haley (Steyn), providing the outstanding Johannesburg-based singles expert a third Masters title (first in 2007) and now only the fifth woman in the event’s history to make it back-to-back victories; others were Thelma Ault (1972-3); Jill Cuff (1977-8); Lorna Trigwell (now Smith, 200-1) and Tracy Lee Botha (2010-11).
She defeated a rather exhausted-looking SA No 1 Colleen Webb Piketh (Johannesburg) 21-8 in a déjà vu scenario of last year’s final – but was full value for her victory. Haley demonstrated amazing control of the bowl throughout her performances – truly a natural, elegant singles maestro. Last year Haley won 21-15.
The men’s final was between SA No1 Gerry Baker, 55 and his heir apparent Pierre Breitenbach, 28.
Baker boasted five gold medals, five silver and a host of bronzes in a double decade of superb singles consistency. Brilliance at international level was ‘lefty’s trademark. He needed victory to break the record he shared with the late great Doug Watson.
His youthful opponent won the Junior Masters in 2009 then made amazing progress, reaching a world’s fourth best Under-25 position, winning umpteen domestic and Africa titles, plus the big prize – a gold medal at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, Scotland.
But Baker, with a preliminary game to go was all but out of contention. Breitenbach, with six victories was assured of his place on shot difference; Baker needed a mathematical miracle – and he got it!
To make the final Baker had to beat teammate and holder Jacobs (Parys BC, NW), again playing well and in contention for medal spot, by at least 20-10, while another in that team, Oelofse (Brakpan Mine, Ekurhuleni), leading through superior shot difference, needing to lose badly.
To everyone’s amazement that all happened.
Baker provided his part of the equation and Oelofse collapsed to a 21-9 defeat at the hands of a serious Protea Morgan Muvhango (Sables) and although all three had five points apiece, Baker’s +20 shots saw him in ahead of Oelofse (bronze) and Jacobs.
Baker began in earnest. Both men preferred longish ends on a 14-seconds green, but Baker clearly enjoyed the early edge, moving 10-3 ahead on the eighth end.
A great front runner, the man from fashionable Johannesburg club Belgravia was surely going to give an opponent from unfashionable Potchefstroom Town in the rural north-west of South Africa a lesson.It did not pan out that way.
From heads nine to 17 Breitenbach took 11 shots to three, including a full house on the 16th when Baker inexplicably sent down three short bowls and failed to save with his last as his opponent, lying three nailed a fourth.
Mysteriously Baker also had not employed his ‘crocodile death roll’ – the mat taken right up to the top mark.
At 14-13 Breitenbach erred, losing the jack and Baker then did pull the mat. He won a shot and the pair peeled at 14-14 on the 17th end.
But Baker’s form was erratic; too many wide and short bowls allowing his opponent to run into an 18-14 lead by the 20th. Baker, as expected, rallied with superb drawing to make it 18-16 and the pair peeled again at 18-18 on the 23rd end with the younger man playing two agonisingly narrow bowls when attempting a trail for three or four shots; Baker survived, just!
On the 24th end Baker eased 19-18 up and with the bank now cheering every shot, drew two great counters to lie game. But with his last bowl on that end, Breitenbach bravely chopped for second shot – it was Baker 20-18 up.
Surely it was over? The 26th end saw Baker lose length and direction with his first three bowls. Breitenbach drew two shots and had a measure for three; Baker muscled his last bowl in for third shot.
With everyone holding their breaths the young pretender, a man with a great future in an already dazzling career, found the big match temperament to clean draw a third shot for game, set and Masters’ gold.
Baker, it could be argued, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, but Breitenbach played some telling blows; not the least his last bowl to secure victory.
At a colourful closing ceremony, Bowls SA president Kallie Haupt thanked Warwick Wealth CEO and chairman Ian Kilbride for making it all possible and promised more of the same at the same venue next year.
The throngs remained to clap and cheer, then the flags came down and suddenly the green was empty – but they will be back.
The Masters had proved another calendar crowd pleaser and a Kremlin-like march-past of an array of significant emerging young talent and Protea power.
Open Men: Pierre Breitenbach 21, Gerry Baker 20
Open Women: Esmé Haley 21, Colleen Piketh 8
Junior Men: Corrie Tagg 21, Wilson Malobolo 19;
Junior Women: Ezile Fourie 21, Shimanda Nepgen 15
Senior Women: Ellie van Coller 21, Arlene Bosse 17
Senior Men: Eddie Fann 21, Willie Kilian 15
Picture of Haley courtesy of Bianca du Plessis