Mervyn King and Rebecca Field ready to fly the Norfolk flag at 2016 World Indoor Bowls Championships
15:39 06 January 2016
The best bowlers on the planet are descending on Potters again for the World Indoor Bowls Championships and DAVID RHYS-JONES looks at who’s in the frame for honours from the local scene.
This is the month when the world comes to the windswept Norfolk coast, and the best lawn bowlers on the planet slug it out for no fewer than four world titles – and, in particular, dream of becoming the Just Retirement world professional singles champion.
Overseas hopefuls began arriving at the five-star Potters Resort in Hopton-on-Sea last weekend, and have been rolling up on the six-rink green in the Bowlers’ Bar in readiness for tomorrow’s round robin play-offs for places in the big event.
Local hopes rest once again on the capable shoulders of the 2006 world champion Mervyn King, who plays at the Gallow club in Fakenham, and 2013 women’s world champion Bex (Rebecca) Field, from the Norfolk club in Norwich.
King has three chances of striking gold, because he is involved in the singles, the pairs and the mixed pairs events, and there will be an early chance to see him in action when he lines up with the Scottish legend David Gourlay on Friday evening. If King and Gourlay can get past the Scottish PBA qualifiers Ronne Duncan and Colin Walker, from Midlothian, they will face defending champions Simon Skelton and Robert Paxton on Saturday afternoon for a place in the semi finals.
Field has been drawn to play the 2011 champion Alison Merrien, from Guernsey, in the quarter finals of the women’s singles event, and will team up with top Scot Paul Foster against Laura Daniels and Mervyn King in the quarter finals of the mixed pairs.
But this year sees the welcome return of Norfolk-born Jamie Chestney, inset, who used to play for Pentney and Downham Market, but who moved from Little Snoring to Devon three years ago to be near his girlfriend Natalie Melmore, who won the Commonwealth Games women’s singles title in 2010. After she won silver medals in the women’s singles and pairs at the Games in Glasgow in 2014, and he earned a silver medal in the men’s fours, the couple took a year out from bowls to prepare for their wedding in September, 2015, but Mr and Mrs Chestney are now back in action in earnest.
“I hadn’t entered the PBA play-offs for a few years,” Chestney said.
“So I was thrilled to qualify for the Scottish International Open in Perth, and for the world championship at Potters – and it’s a great feeling to be coming ‘back home’ to bid for the world title.
“We came back to Norfolk over Christmas, and hooked up with my family, as well as old friends like Mervyn and Bex, and the Willgress brothers Wayne and Jake,” he added. “It’s good to know that there will be loads of people supporting me at Potters.”
Chestney has been drawn to play Welsh wizard Jason Greenslade, the world number 12, in the first round, which is scheduled for next Tuesday, and, if he wins, could face veteran Anglo Scot Andy Thomson, England’s indoor team captain, for a place in the quarter finals.
“I was really pleased with the way I played in the Scottish Open before Christmas, although I was a bit disappointed to go out in the second round,” said Chestney.
“Jason was in top form in Perth, but I’m confident I can find my touch next week. I certainly hope so.”
In a decision that baffled the sport’s pundits, England’s outdoor selectors seemed to punish him for taking that year off by not only axing him from the Bowls England elite squad, but leaving him out of the 24-man team for the home international series in Wales this summer.
Chestney added: “I can’t say too much about that. I can confirm that I was available, but no-one has talked to me about the decision, so I will just have to try to do my best on the green this year, and play my way back into contention.”
To an outside observer, the decision looks even stranger when the very same Bowls England welcomed Jamie’s new wife back into the women’s international fold with open arms, inviting Natalie to skip a rink for England in the women’s series in Scotland in June.
After briefly coming out of her temporary retirement to win the British Isles women’s outdoor singles title in Royal Leamington Spa in June, she is also a front-runner for a place in England’s team for the world outdoor championships in New Zealand in November.
Questions are being asked as to how on earth the high-flying husband and wife duo have been treated so differently by the Bowls England selectors.