Totally unbiased about bowling return

Dunedin writer and broadcaster Jim Sullivan marks the opening of the summer bowls season.

''Can you play for us on Saturday?''

It was Roger, boss of the A team, ''Skip'' they call him. Some boyhood nickname, I suppose.

I was speechless. I hadn't been asked to play for well over a year, but it doesn't pay to seem too eager. I paused.

''Well, I'm supposed to be writing something for the paper. Are you short of players?''

''No, no. Nothing like that. But Bob's got that funeral in Timaru.''

''There's always Merv?''

''Oh, didn't you hear. He passed away in June. Died in his sleep. Listening to an Elton John record.''

''Oh, dear. I never knew that. How sad.''

''Yes, it pretty well counts him out.''

''What about Trev?''

''He's still got his leg, y'know?''

''Of course, I'd forgotten. What about that cribbie bloke?''

''He's painting the house. Big job.''

''Right. And he'll make a production of it. So I'm pretty much first choice?''

''Indeed you are. I'll pick you up at half past one. We're playing Waipiata at Waipiata.''

Waipiata! Probably the best team around. This was serious.

The green is just down the road, so there was no excuse for not having a ''roll up'' as we experienced bowlers call it. Almost two years on the sideline can make a man pretty rusty.

A golf ball for the kitty and a floppy hat just for appearances and I was on the green in 10 minutes. A tube of ''Grippo'' at the ready. My non-bowling friends, a pretty crude crowd, seem to see something funny in the name of that essential aid to good bowling. But then, non-bowlers are a pretty primitive breed.

Relief. The old skills hadn't left me, though the bowls seemed heavier than last time. The roll up was the sport at its very best. Those Waipiata characters were in for a shock. Only a couple of bowls curved away in the wrong direction. Hardly any ended up in the ditch. Most of them came within coo-ee of the kitty. One came within a whisker of nuzzling up to it.

I even had a piece of chalk ready to mark the bowl and was very tempted to, given that I was unobserved. But all this superb play was wasted on the hot Central Otago air. The only audience was a couple of magpies sitting on the fence. Their knowledge of bowls would be pretty basic, but any magpie with a betting spirit would have been off to the bookie and put his tail feathers on my team and been rich for life, given the odds being offered once the word got around that I was making a comeback.

I'd be playing number two, which some say is the place to hide the no-hopers. But that's nonsense. It's a team game and each man has his role to play. Well, that's what Roger said, anyway.

I dug around in the wardrobe and found the old cricket jersey. The white trousers I picked up at the op-shop were actually being worn by the scarecrow in the vege garden but they scrubbed up well. The old cricket club blazer was always in the wardrobe for just such an emergency and the green and pink stripes always make an impression. I couldn't find the bowls club badge I'd bought in the first flush of enthusiasm a couple of seasons ago but I've got one of those cheap silver fern badges like the one John Key wears, so that will have to do. The setting at Waipiata is serene and scenic and it was a good day for bowls. Warm and sunny, just one hailstorm which soon passed over.

One or two of the opposition recalled my earlier seasons on the green.

''Here's Lazarus!'' they bellowed with guffaws. It seems the story of my comeback had gone on ahead. I felt a bit like Stephen Donald being called up during the Rugby World Cup final when every other first-five had fallen by the wayside. In the event, I didn't win the match for our side, but at least my jersey fitted.

I'm proud to report that one of my bowls ended up very near the kitty and players from other games came over to have a look. Even Roger called out, ''Good bowl!'' or it might have been, ''Good Lord!'' I'm a trifle hard of hearing.

You'll have seen the results in the paper so there's no need to go on about it. Roger thanked me for turning up. He muttered something about not liking to default. Admired my guts, he said.

I've had no more bowls since then, but I see the cribbie bloke's had a game although his house is still only half-painted.

Maybe my great comeback is still to come.

But the day wasn't wasted. I won the meat raffle.


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