AS A POLICEMAN, Darren Burnett’s beat includes Oor Wullie’s Dundee but – how can I say this without being unkind? – his build suggests he would struggle to catch the comic-strip scamp to administer a ticking off. Maybe even Fat Boab would evade his clutches but the Burnett physique seems ideal for lawn bowls and today he’ll be hoping to rest a gold medal on it.
Yesterday the polisman beat the Sherriff to reach the final of the men’s singles – Aron Sherriff of Australia. The pair contested a thrilling semi with the Scot eventually prevailing 21-15. And last night in another Scotland-Aussie duel, Alex “Tattie” Marshall, Paul Foster, David Peacock and Neil Spiers won through to the final of the men’s fours.
In four-seasons-in-one-day conditions – thunderstorms, bright sunshine, blustery winds and a flurry of wasps – Burnett and the quartet were twice on the greens in fairly quick succession. Bowls might seem quite leisurely but not at this level, as both of the singles contender’s games demonstrated.
“That’s me played five games in 30 hours,” said Burnett, as he scoffed a cereal bar with his proud wife Linsey and daughters Isla and Evie by his side. “That might not seem like much but it is. These games are so draining mentally – really tough. So tonight I’ll be making sure I get loads of rest.”
After his quarter-final Burnett – who overcame Northern Ireland’s Martin McHugh 21-20 from a precarious position – had warned that he likes to put the crowd through the wringer.
“One good bowl from Martin and I would have been beat,” said the Arbroath man. Next up was Sherriff, a brawny Aussie. Yes, even their bowlers are hunks. Sherriff had good support but Burnett had more. And, with the Scots four sharing the same green, the home crowd munching cheese and onion crisps in their plastic macs didn’t know where to look. But, as the quartet started to pull away from South Africa, they could concentrate on the singles match. Just as well – this one needed it.
“That was a great game,” said Burnett. “Aron is one of the best players in the world and I knew it would be tough. So I was quite glad he’d had a long quarter-final earlier, just like myself.”
Sherriff took an early lead but Burnett managed to draw level then eke out an advantage of his own. During the sunny spells he’d stand by the wall dividing the greens while his opponent was playing and it was like he was in his back garden, lord of the barbecue. But Burnett couldn’t relax. Not with Sherriff confounding him with corkers on the final throw of an end.
“Aye, he got me with a few last balls. One was an absolute stunner when I was lying four. I was 8-5 up at the time and that could have been 12-5. It was just a fantastic bowl. I was glad he drew it absolutely stone cold. There’s nothing worse than one of these coming off an edge. He drew the perfect shot, which was a scunner, but I just had to keep going.”
It was an engrossing battle played in a great spirit, with each man quick to applaud the other as the corkers kept coming. “I’ve known Aron for a long time,” said Burnett. “He’s a fantastic bloke and a fantastic bowler and I’m sure his time will come.” Our man had to keep believing, even as Sherriff continued to pull rabbits out of his bowling bag, and, eventually, Burnett started pulling more.
“In that end I knew I had been playing good bowls and I just had to keep telling myself that. There was nothing between us but, thankfully, I managed to find an extra gear. I’m absolutely delighted.” Burnett lost in the quarters of the men’s triples and the tension he talks about bubbled to the surface a few times yesterday. “I’ve committed a lot of time to these Games and made a fair old sacrifice. I was almost wondering if it had all been worthwhile. But coming through two hard matches sends me into the final with a wee bitty confidence. I’m absolutely delighted I’ll be getting a medal and I want it to be gold.”
In the fours, Scotland beat Australia 15-10 and will play England in the final. The last three ends were played in teeming rain with Tattie not sure whether to use his cloth to dry his bowls or wipe the drips off his baldy head. “That was sensational,” said Foster. “The four of us were brilliant from the word go.”
Foster and Marshall will go for double gold after their triumph in the pairs but don’t forget the other two guys. This has been a great team effort. “We’ve gelled right from the start and that’s the best we’ve played,” reckoned Speirs.
The crowd loved the camaraderie of the quartet, the handshakes after every shot and the shouts of “Hurry! Hurry!” to urge on what proved to be killer bowls. And the four loved the crowd right back. “The support has been unbelievable,” added Speirs. “Every time you’re going to play, they’re cheering. It really makes you want to play well.”
In yesterday’s other match of Scottish interest, Kevin Wallace, Billy Allan and Michael Simpson lost to England in the bronze medal match of the para open triples, despite a plucky performance which went down to a winner-takes-all last shot.