Reigning world champion Thomson bids to make history at Potters

The oldest man to win the world indoor bowls title bids to join a select duo of players who have won back-to-back world crowns not once but twice.

Popular Anglo-Scot Andy Thomson, honoured with an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List, will resume his bid to retain the singles title he won last year in the Fred Olsen Cruise Lines championships at Potters Leisure Resort, Hopton on Monday.

Thomson broke a long-standing age record last year, when, in a sport often dominated by young players these days, he became, at 56, the oldest man to win the world title. The captain of England’s indoor bowls team, will attempt to become only the third player -– along with legends David Bryant and Alex Marshall – to win back-to-back titles TWICE, having previously done so at Preston Guild Hall in 1994 and 1995.

With overseas players jostling in a pre-event play-off, the singles does not start properly until Monday, but there will be no lack of action and excitement over this weekend, when the pairs will be played down to the semi finals stage.

Thomson, in fact, will be one of the first to step on to the blue portable rink, when he lines up this evening with a new partner, Mid-Suffolk star Mark Royal, against England’s PBA qualifiers Leigh Prince and Scott Edwards, who hail from Sussex.

It seems strange that Thomson was not seeded into the pairs quarter -finals, but, if he and Royal reach the last eight, they face the daunting task of challenging the defending champions, Paul Foster and Alex Marshall, tomorrow afternoon, for a place in the semi-finals.

Provisional world number one Foster, of course, not only won the last WBT singles event, the Scottish International Open, in Perth, in November, but went on to help Marshall win the world outdoor pairs championship in Adelaide last month.

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Also in action this evening will be Norfolk’s very own high-flying Mervyn King, from Gallow, who has already won the world indoor singles title once, and the pairs three times, but who has often found the level of expectation from the home crowd a bit of a burden.

King, who won the title with Tony Allcock, now CEO of Bowls England, once and Aussie Kelvin Kerkow twice, teams up with Nottingham’s Simon Skelton, and the duo should be experienced enough to deal with 22-year-old Welsh twins Gareth and Gavin Rees, from Swansea.

The twins arrive with a good pedigree, and will be boosted by the knowledge that their dad Steve Rees won the title with Welsh legend John Price in 1999 – and that Gavin is the reigning Welsh outdoor under 25 champion.

In the singles, the first prize has been raised to a record £45,000, which may not be an earth-shattering figure compared with darts and snooker, let alone tennis and golf, but is, by some stretch, the biggest prize ever offered in Drake’s ancient game.

Foster may be the bookies’ favourite to grab the historic cheque on Sunday, 27 January, but Thomson will be determined to retain the title, while Foster’s pal and fellow-Scot Alex Marshall, who has won the title five times, loves it at Potters, where he is always hard to beat.

Among the English hopefuls, Greg Harlow, still officially world number one, is the one to beat, while his City of Ely clubmate Nick Brett is running into form.

King, Royal and Rob Paxton have also shown they can beat the best, while many experts are tipping former Norfolk ace Jamie Chestney to do well.

The 25-year-old Chestney, who won his first national outdoor title when he was only seventeen, picked up a wildcard invitation for this event, and excelled himself last month in Adelaide, where he played brilliantly to bag a bronze medal in the world outdoor pairs championship.

As usual, added spice is provided by the arrival of eight of the world’s top women bowlers – including Norfolk’s outstanding player Bex Field – to contest the women’s singles and to join the world’s top eight men in the mixed pairs.

Karen Murphy, from Australia, will be hoping to retain her title, and her confidence will be high after winning the women’s world outdoor title on home soil last month, but England’s Debbie Stavrou will be keen to repeat her triumphs of 2010 and 2011.

Watch out for some innovations from the World Bowls Tour for this event – it will be the first time a ShotClock has been used to speed up play in the world championships, and players have mixed feelings about it after it was introduced at Perth last November.

When the opponent’s bowl has come to rest, players have only thirty seconds to consider their options before delivering their next bowl – and, if they fail to meet the deadline, a klaxon sounds, and the bowl is declared dead.

The annual World Bowls Tour gala dinner and awards ceremony, where the bowls Oscars are dished out, will be held tomorrow night.