BOWLS: Spalding pair make history at the national championships

Spalding's national champions Martin Spencer and Annie Dunham.
Spalding's national champions Martin Spencer and Annie Dunham.
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Two Spalding bowlers made history at the national indoor bowls championships in Melton Mowbray yesyterday (April 17).

For the first time since the women’s event was introduced in 1973, both national indoor singles titles - men’s and women’s - were won by players from the same club.

Spalding’s Martin Spencer, who is 27, played superbly to defeat the favourite Sam Tolchard, 21-10, in the men’s final, and his clubmate Annie Dunham (nee Bellamy), aged 28, fought back bravely to turn an 11-7 deficit after 19 ends into a 21-19 victory after 25 over Amy Stanton.

When Tolchard, from Torquay United, led 4-2 there was nothing to suggest that the men’s final would turn out to be a runaway affair, but Spencer strung together a devastating 2-3-1-1-1-3-3 sequence, punctuated only by a Tolchard single, to lead 16-5 after 12 ends.

Spencer’s accurate drawing to the jack was the major factor, but it has to be said that Tolchard often came close, but never got the breaks. On one end, for example, he struck accurately, only to see the jack rebound up the green, giving Spencer three shots.

When Tolchard scored doubles on the 13th and 14th ends, many in the spectators’ gallery anticipated a comeback from the talented Devonian - but Spencer was ruthless, and allowed the 26-year-old Tolchard, who won the pairs with Louis Ridout last Sunday, only one more single as he sealed victory, 21-10.

“I have always watched people winning this title, and wondered if I might do so one day,” said Spencer.

“But I really didn’t think it would happen, and I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet!”

Has he played ever better this? “I don’t know about that,” he replied. “But I was certainly glad to be able to bring my ‘A’ game to the semi-finals (when he beat defending champion Greg Harlow, 21-10) and final - and it’s fantastic for the club that Annie won the women’s title.”

Two years ago, he should have been in the Spalding trio that won the national triples title, but , after helping Matt Whyers and Graham Smith to qualify, it was discovered that he had a tumour on his spine and had to undergo an emergency operation.

Ashley Caress took his place in the nationals, and Spalding powered to an impressive victory - so it was a special moment for Spencer when he was presented with the men’s singles trophy by EIBA President Jenny McConnell.

Before the women’s final began, Dunham’s husband Scott Dunham, a fine bowler in his own right, told her to pretend she was a red bus - a concept that perhaps needs some explaining.

“In a recent Test Match against Scotland, the commentator, referring to my red bowls, suggested that I was playing so well I was as unstoppable as a red English bus - and we rather liked the description,” explained Dunham.

“Scott’s always very good at helping me prepare for a big game, and I went out there with that phrase running through my mind. Although I was behind for most of the final, I was determined not to give up - and I kept on revving myself up, and believing I clould do it.”

Her final opponent Stanton started brilliantly, carding a full house of four shots on the very first end, and was 12-7 ahead by the 12th end.

Seemingly always in control, the 26-year-old Stanton, from Welford-on-Avon, looked the likely winner when she led, 17-11, after 19 ends.

But Dunham, who scored a treble on the 2oth and a double on the 22nd, struck a telling blow when she picked up a full house of four shots on the 24th end to take the lead for the very first time, and, on a nail-biting 25th end, she trailed the jack gently to a place that Stanton just could not reach.

“It’s really special to have won both titles for Spalding,” Dunham said. “It’s such a close-knit and friendly club, with a lively junior section that Martin, who is three months younger than me, and I came through the juniors at the same time.”

On Saturday, Stanton, who was born in Somerset but now lives in Worcestershire, and works for Bowls England, had recovered from a 19-5 deficit to beat Ellen Falkner, from the City of Ely, 21-20 , and the manner of her defeat in the final gives her some idea how Falkner must have felt.