Three years ago, Huntingdon bowler Nicky Brett ruled the roost when he was crowned World Indoor Singles champion for the first time in his career.
A memorable fortnight at Potters, in 2016, saw him beat two former world champions in Greg Harlow and David Gourlay, before seeing off Robert Paxton in a fantastic final that propelled the then-41-year-old to the top of the bowling charts.
Little could Brett foresee, though, of the rocky waters that lay ahead on the World Bowls Tour in the three years since that success, with wins hard to come by and a player once king of the world now struggling to maintain his position in the top-10.
Ahead of this month’s 2019 Just World Indoor Championships, we find Brett down in joint-ninth spot on the provisional rankings list and, remarkably, without a victory over a fellow top-16 player since beating Les Gillett at the 2016 Scottish International Open.
He scrambled past two qualifiers, before succumbing to Stewart Anderson as defending champion on his return to Potters in 2017, before losing in the second round last year when Mark Dawes clinched his first-ever WBT singles title, while he has also suffered early exits in the International and Scottish International Opens.
Such periods of poor form would worry most bowlers, but the philosophical Brett is not one to be fazed by much and this poor run of results certainly has not been keeping him awake at night.
“I’m not concerned about dropping down the rankings, as long as I’m in the top 16 I’m okay with whether it’s one, two or 15,” insisted the now 44-year-old. “Everybody in there is difficult to beat and it’s proved that way the last year or so for me.
“I think if I rank in between six and 12 in the world, that’s probably about right as I think I’ve been number one, but was I the best player in the world? No I wasn’t. For someone of my standard, I’ve done alright. Maybe in the last couple of years I may not have defeated a top-16 ranked player, but they are all pretty good players and I think if you analyse everybody’s stats, a lot of players will have had a bad couple of years, an okay couple of years and a good couple of years. It goes round in cycles.
“I’m not going to worry about ranking points too much, either, when I’m still in front of Alex Marshall. He’s done probably more in the game than any other player who has lived.”
He will not know the name of his first-round opponent until the preliminary rounds have been played, where four overseas players and one UK bowler will fight it out on a round-robin basis to see who gets that coveted spot.
Charlie Herbert (USA), Malcolm Whyte (Canada), Lawrence Hurwitz (Israel) and Jordi Lo (Hong Kong) – along with World Indoor Bowls Council runner-up Andy Squire – will battle it out in the Bowlers Bar and on the International Rink for the right to face Brett.
“I suppose the favourite to win is Andy Squire,” added Brett, who was recalled to the England squad this season after a few years in the wilderness. “He’s a good player, so I suppose I’ve got to gear myself up to play him.”
The draw has not been kind to Brett as he could well face six-time champion Alex Marshall in the second round, while world No.1, and pairs partner, Greg Harlow potentially lies in wait at the quarter-final stage, although last year’s wildcard wonder Wayne Willgress also waits in the wings. And then there’s in-form Gourlay, potentially, in the semis, or 2014 winner Darren Burnett.
“I wouldn’t bother going if I didn’t think I could win it,” Brett added. “I have proved I have the game to win it, but everybody needs a bit of lady luck as well. If its your year, it’s your year. When and if I win another one, it will be pretty nice and taken in the course its due. If I do win another one then I’ll consider it a massive achievement because those boys we play against are world-class players.”
Brett is not in singles action until next Thursday.