Bowls: Hall’s the man to put new life into the merits

Mick Hall and Joan Wilkinson at the Woodhouse Moor winter pairs.

Mick Hall and Joan Wilkinson at the Woodhouse Moor winter pairs.

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This summer sees the start of a campaign to return the Leeds & District CGBA to a proud and highly-competitive body, or at least that is the intention of the new Merit Singles organiser.

Mick Hall, a well-respected bowler both on and off the green, has come in alongside Gordon Monk to try to re-ignite the desire for our local bowlers to enter and fight for the right to be crowned a Merit champion of the city.

Hall’s composed manner, one which belies both his stature and desire to win, is the perfect fit when trying to restore some of the pride back to the district; pride that has diminished due in part to the competitive nature of surrounding leagues – and the often-touted condition of our local park greens.

He will be trying to galvanise interest by ensuring that there are no obvious clashes with ABA and Parks events this term. It was felt that a Merit last summer, organised on the same day as a county match, showed the level of expectation within the district.

Defence

In Monk’s defence, with so many events on and the realistic view that Leeds would have a limited number of bowlers genuinely in contention for the county, there was the occasional need to clash an event. Especially given the depth of junior bowling in the district and the impact this may have with junior county and Federation matches.

Hall is confident this will not happen this year. He hopes by planning the calendar accordingly, the district will be able to attract the sort of bowlers who have aspirations of being busy on county days.

Though just as important is the chance to give the lesser bowlers and our region’s juniors the chance to experience an ABA day.

They may never play at that standard, but to witness the best bowlers in the country is something they could, and should be able to take back as they work on their game.

An outsider might question the need for so many Merit competitions in a compact season, with the various league and open events taking up a good number of weekend dates.

Hall is quick to counter that. He said: “It’s about maintaining the heritage of the competitions. We can’t let them just stop.”

It’s not a particularly powerful argument, but the way Hall puts it, it is a very compelling one.

The relaxed style in which Hall points out that the Merits have been in existence since the time of the Second World War, with at least one past its century mark, has you almost wanting to sign up to his cause right now.

And that is what he hopes will happen as he gets to engage with bowlers over the summer.

The number of entries for some of last year’s Merits helped to build a healthy day’s competition – running from 9.30am to the early hours of the evening. Hall doesn’t just want to add to the numbers, but also to the quality.

He’s looking at the likes of Pudsey, Crossgates, Littlemoor and Rothwell bowlers to actively want to put their names into the hat.

That’s why he is taking the Merits on a wider roadshow this summer. Pudsey and Littlemoor both have their own Merit events and if Hall can attract one or two of the bigger names – the calibre who play ABA and who won the Yorkshire Cup last year – then he might convince them to return next year when he rotates the greens, though the district are still conscious of utilising the better of the parks greens as well.

There will also be a Yorkshire Merit qualifier, which has been absent from the calendar for four years. This will take place on Saturday May 28 with the final on the following Bank Holiday Monday, May 30.

But Hall fully understands that for this project to be a success, it is more about quality than quantity.

Encouraging as many casual or part-time bowlers to increase the size of the fields at the Merits is all well and good, but to cast off the often derisory tag that the district has picked up of late, will take the likes of players such as James Wilcox and Nigel Cranston to be the figureheads, to draw in their fellow county standard bowlers.

A competitive field is the key, rather than simply boosting the payday by getting as many bowlers of a similar standard along – though that should not be read as a sign of discouraging anybody.

This is about returning Leeds to past glories and everyone, of any standard, is welcome to join the revolution.

Whether the revolution will happen is as much down to the desire for people to add more dates to their diary as is the convincing manner of Hall.

There is no doubt that he is the right man to encourage those in the game who respect the effort that he is putting in.

Whether he can convince all is a different matter. Dave Smith has tried a similar approach with the Federation side, though you wonder if he is fighting a losing battle simply because of the apathy towards the event, rather than the district itself.

Smith has had some success, though results do not always bear this out. Yet you feel that if Hall can galvanise interest in the Merits, then it could impact on the district’s team events as well.

Monk will continue in his role as organiser of the ladies, pairs and senior events.

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