Here is my complete guide to lawn bowls pairs tactics. Pairs is the simplest team format, but the most complex to strategise.
Getting your tactics right in lawn bowls is crucial. Each member of a team must know their role, and how that affects the overall game plan for the team.
This is especially true for pairs, where the roles of each member can be quite blurred. Compared to a format like Fours where each player has just the 2 bowls and where roles rarely blur, Pairs is the most fluid of the team events.
Pairs can be played in either the 4 bowl format (where each player has 4 bowls – totalling 8 for a pair) which is common at club level, or the 3 bowl format (where each player has 3 bowls – totalling 6 for a pair). The 4 bowl format is more common at club level, compared to 3 bowls which you will likely encounter at national and international levels.
I won’t focus on either format for this, as the principles remain the same.
Roles Of A Pairs Team
First, let’s look at the core roles and responsibilities for each player in a Pairs team. As the name “Pairs” indicates, there are 2 members to the team – the lead who will bowl their bowls first, and the skip who will bowl theirs last.
Let’s look at each in a bit more detail.
The lead is responsible for:
- Placing the mat and casting the jack when the team has the jack
- Building the head and setting up the end for the team
- Guiding the skip when he is playing his bowls
- Measuring and agreeing scores alongside the lead from the opposing team
As the lead controls the jack they are in control of where the game is played (i.e. either long or short jacks), so whilst the game plan is set by the skip (more on that later) the lead has to execute the plan.
Whilst in most formats the lead is in direct competition with the other lead, pairs is a bit trickier to gauge “success”.
The first 2 bowls for a lead should always be draw shots to the jack – much like a game of Fours – after that the lead may be required to play positional shots, and possibly more aggressive shots to free the head up for the skip.
The skip is responsible for:
- Setting the game plan
- Requesting jack lengths from the Lead when they control the jack
- Continue building the head and converting shots
- Keeping the scorecard
As in many formats, the skip plays the key role in planning and motivating the team. They are also in control at the “business end” of each end. They must cut down big counts against, turnover marginal counts, and increase counts they are ahead in.
The skip should be equally good at all shots as any could be required at a given time.
As the skip can have up to four bowls (depending on the format) they do have more time to build the head further from the lead before playing any aggressive shots later in the end.
General Principles Of Pairs Tactics
As players in a pairs game have more bowls than any other format in a team event, each player has several opportunities to adjust both line and length throughout an end.
This often leads to tight heads and movement of the jack – as players get closer with each bowl. Therefore good positional play is required for a successful pair. If your lead just draws to the jack, and ignores good positional play, then you may find yourself open to sudden movement of the jack.
As there are only two members in a team there can be greater synchronicity between the players. The game is simplified and a good pair should complement each other well.
Planning a Pairs Game Plan
A game plan for a pairs team can be simplified to:
- Mat positions
- Jack length
- Shot tendencies
Let’s look at those in a bit more detail.
Pairs is one of the few formats where a pair can benefit from a specific mat position.
For example, a pair may decide and practice for a mat much further up the green than is normal. This can have several benefits:
- An “abnormal” mat length can throw your opponents off as their aiming points will be wrong for the new mat length
- Deciding ahead of time gives both players the chance to practice for the new mat length. This can become a “new normal”
- If things don’t go to plan on the day the lead can revert back to a standard mat position and neither player in the pair will feel uncomfortable with the change
This is quite an advanced tactic in pairs, and should only be done if you are comfortable with your individual games. For those not up to the right standard this can cause more problems than it’s worth.
For example if you practice for a higher mat position and your opponents have the jack, then you might not have practiced for a “normal” mat position. This puts you at a disadvantage.
Both players in the pair will have a preferred jack length, whether that be short, ¾ or full length. If you both have the same preference then use that as your “default” length.
This doubles down on your strengths, so you need to make the most of it.
Ideally the pair should have good coverage of all jack lengths, as having a single strength can leave you exposed if you get taken off of it.
As there are only two of you in the team you need to know what shots each of you’re good at, as you will effectively be calling the others shots.
Don’t go asking your lead to fire if they are no good at it. Don’t go delivering a long jack is you know your skip can’t reach on the heavy green.
This is the key to pairs – being in sync with each other and knowing exactly what the other would do with the same view of the head as you do.
Ideally, the thought process should be the same in both players, removing the “they like XY or Z” and simply becoming “we play X shot”
Pairs may be the simplest format to explain, but it’s one of the most complex to play and plan for.
Use the ideas in this guide to help you plan for your next Pairs tournament.