Use of the Mat by Rob Judson



The Scope for Repositioning on the Mat

The laws of the game describe allowable positioning of feet on the mat, and prescribe penalties for infringements. In the stance, a player shall be stationary on the mat, shall have the whole of one foot on the mat, and both heels forward of its rear edge:


One foot shall remain entirely on or over the mat until release of the bowl:


A mat's 60 cm length and 36 cm width limit the scope for varying the stance position:


(Mainly to achieve some uniformity, the illustrations on this page assume that the tactical situation on the left side of the rink makes that the more difficult hand, and that the right side is the preferred hand of play. In practice, of course, the left side of the rink will be preferred just as often as the right.)

Taming a Cross Wind?

The black lines in the next image represent typical bowl pathways in a cross wind. The upper line on the windward side of the rink is the 'wide' hand. The lower (black) line on the leeward side is the 'narrow' hand.


The pale line represents the pathway of a bowl delivered from the downwind side of the mat 'to reduce wind drag, and to enable a better finishing curve'. Such a change in bowl release point changes the direction of travel by appreciably less than 1°. On the other hand, cross winds typically and randomly change speed and direction to a much greater extent:


Whether moving to the downwind side of the mat contributes to delivery outcome is a question of chance. Bowlers would do better to estimate the average wind effect on a bowl while it is in course, and correspondingly adjust aiming line for a delivery from the normal position on the mat.

Adjusting Bowl Run Distance?

Advancing or retreating from the normal stance position to offset bowl delivery run distance is (fortunately) rarely advocated. The 60 cm length of a mat and related footfaulting provisions obviously prevent use of such a technique to offset larger error in run distance. Run distance adjustments, when necessary, are better achieved by 'intuitive feel' for the correction needed.

Adjusting Aiming Line Errors?

Few modern-day writers advocate use of the mat to correct aiming errors. Essentially, some earlier writers suggested that if bowls delivered to the left finish wide of the mark, that the player move to the left of the mat and deliver towards the same aiming point, and if bowls delivered to the right finish wide of the mark, that the player move to the right, using an unchanged aiming point. For bowls that finish narrow, the player should move in the contrary direction.

The following image illustrates how the method might achieve sideways adjustment of bowl finishing position:


However this method has some practical difficulties:

  • The required sideways movement on the mat to achieve a particular adjustment at the head varies (inversely) according to head distance.
  • The freedom of movement to either side of the mat is typically unequal; often with less scope for adjusting narrow deliveries than for adjusting wide deliveries.
  • The method only suits bowlers whose customary aiming point is well short of the half way point. The method provides insufficient adjustment for bowlers whose customary aiming point is adjacent to the 'shoulder', and it is quite useless for bowlers whose customary aiming point is 'jack high':


(The required sideways shift distance at the mat = the required sideways shift distance at the head × d/[d-1] where d is the fraction that the distance to the aiming point is of the total distance. Because d is always less than 1 [100%], the result is always negative, which confirms that the bowler's shift is always opposite to the required shift of bowl finishing position. Factor d equals 1 if the aiming point is jack high, and the expression produces a value of infinity, which confirms the uselessness of the method if the customary aiming point is adjacent to jack high.)

The almost universally-used technique for adjusting delivery line errors by changing aiming angle and delivering from a stance in the customary position on the mat is simpler, more dependable, and suits all circumstances:


Dealing with Possible Blocks on the Preferred Pathway into the Head.

a. Identifying Blocks.

Each short bowl in the approach to the head blocks a pathway about 25 cm wide.


Short bowls might seem menacing, but they are not necessarily blocks:


Bowls in course commonly founder on short bowls. However, the latter are blocks only if they straddle the chosen approach line. Other short bowls may obstruct off-line deliveries but they are not blocking bowls. (Short bowls sometimes induce a team to attack a head with the object of unblocking access to it, but the tactics of attack are a separate subject.)


Therefore, the first step in dealing with short bowls is to identify any that qualify as blocks. From the perspective of the mat, the head in the previous image appears as follows:


Identification of blocks from the mat is difficult. It is always a good idea to study the head at close quarters and, with familiarity with the 'finishing hook' of the bowl, visualize an effective approach line:


Having identified a block, a bowler's next step is to consider options for dealing with it.

b. Dealing with Blocks.

Bowlers should never regard their delivery objective in terms of 'beating the block'. The objective is always that of 'getting shot' or reaching a particular position in the head. Beating a block may be incidental to that task, but safe passage alone does not assure a good tactical outcome for the delivery.

(i) Method 1. Generally, less than 10% of bowlers have an average error less than 1 metre. Bowlers of such skill would generally be able to get about 50% of deliveries into a circle around their objective with a radius of 1 metre. The red area below represents such a circle. When advancing from the novice ranks to enter open competition or begin representing their clubs in district pennant competition, bowlers typically have an average error of about 1.5 metres. They would generally be able to get at least 50% of deliveries into a circle around their objective with a radius of 1.5 metres. The yellow area added to the red area below represents such a circle. The 25 cm wide strip in which the jack is located, is the area shadowed by a blocking bowl.

In many instances, an effective way of dealing with an isolated block is to ignore its presence. If a bowler in the 'top 10%' group were to ignore the block and aim for the jack, the chances of avoiding trouble and finishing in the red area are typically better than 80%. If other competitors were to adopt the same tactic, their chances of missing the block and finishing in the yellow or red area are nearer 90%.


Therefore ignoring the block could be the 'percentage shot'. One reason that this tactic is not used more often might be the realisation that it rewards inaccuracy (missing the block) and punishes accuracy (hitting the block).

Method (ii). Some sources suggest a method of dealing with blocks that virtually repeats the procedure described above under the heading 'Adjusting Aiming Line Errors'. The nature of such a method is usually: 'Move to the inside of the mat to go around a block. Move to the outside of the mat to go inside a block. Use the normal aiming point and thereby increase or decrease (respectively) the aiming angle.' The prescription usually focuses more on avoiding the block than on getting the shot. It usually fails to mention that such a change in line will vary the side to side finishing position according to end length, distance to the aiming point, and the left or right adjustment distance available on the mat. The following image shows how this method might or might not produce enough change of line to pass the block, let alone finish near enough to the jack.


Method (iii). A simpler and commonly-suggested method of dealing with blocks is of the following nature: 'Move to the outside of the mat to go around a block. Move to the inside of the mat to go inside a block. Move the aiming point outside or inside (respectively) of the normal line and thereby use an unchanged aiming angle.' This method better recognises the need for a delivered bowl to finish as close to the intended position as possible. It is also simpler, in that no further delivery line adjustments are required for different end lengths or aiming point distances of individual bowlers. The following image shows how the method produces change of line for passing the block. If unobstructed, a bowl should finish as close to the jack as a player's accuracy allows.


If they doubt that enough sideways movement is available on the mat, bowlers can augment the clearance past the block by a marginal change of aiming angle. Note the slight divergence of the alternative delivery lines in the following image.


Another technique for increasing clearance around a block on the forehand is that of stepping to the side, rather than forward. So long as one foot remains on or over the mat until release of the bowl, there is no conflict with the laws of the game. This technique is virtually unworkable on the backhand side. The delivery arm would have to cross the body for an awkward delivery between the legs or outside the opposite hip if that were possible without loss of balance:


Occasionally, there are claims that unused grass is available when a bowler delivers inside or outside the normal line; that a bowl runs straighter on 'virgin' grass and consequently the reduced turn helps it to avoid the block by running straighter. There are occasions when this could be so, but it is usually safer to regard the green as having a uniform pace unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.

Method (iv). The description of this method is typically along the following lines: "To bypass a block two feet from the jack, visualize another jack behind the block and draw to it - it is not necessary to be on the jack to get the shot". Sometimes, an alternative position for the vizualized jack opposite the block and two feet short of the jack also receives mention. The following image illustrates the method. Note that there is typically no need for moving from the normal stance position in the centre of the mat. In their usual way, bowlers can concentrate on line and length for achieving the shot and are free of the distraction of studied footwork on the mat:


The following image (an adaptation of the image in Method (i)) is a magnified view of the locations of bowls in the head. Bowls that reach either of the suggested positions would have passed the block with a clearance of about 50 cm. Should it be necessary to reach a position only 30 cm (1 foot) from the jack to obtain the shot, clearance past a similarly-placed block narrows to about 25 cm (10 ins).


c. Summary.

'Using the mat' means taking stance in other than a bowler's usual position on it, but does not include the infringing of footfault rules. It is of doubtful value as a method of adjusting aiming errors or of offsetting crosswind effects. Almost any short bowl has the capacity to be an obstruction, but only those that obstruct accurately directed bowls are blocks. If bowlers aim at a bowl blocking the preferred path, more often than not they will miss it. Using the mat to avoid a block is an option: it is not an inevitable process. Bowlers should never regard 'beating a block' as an objective; it is never more than an incidental process of getting the shot. They should practice techniques they are likely to need so that they can apply them accurately and confidently when that need arises.