Darby and Joan play Oasis

Guy Hodgson in Preston at the World Indoor Bowls Championships
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The Independent Online
The image of gnarled respectability did not survive the opening ceremony. Two elderly ladies who once knew better led the singing of "Simply The Best", bedecked in the uniform of St Trinians. In the audience, stays and surgical stockings were slipping, too. Darby and Joan meeting Tina Turner head on.

There is a breeze of change rippling through bowls, and not just in the juxtaposition of old and new in the senior citizen-dominated crowd. The Churchill Insurance World Indoor Championships have marked the beginning of a new age in the sport.

That was apparent on the rink where Hugh Duff (32) and David Gourlay Jnr (29) hardly fitted the preconception of the average player. You expected to find middle-aged men in cardigans; instead the two contestants in the final of the singles were more likely to draw crowds of girl worshippers than a pension. Youth has grabbed hold of the jack and is unlikely to let go.

Behind the scenes at the Guild Hall, Preston a revolution has also occurred as the participants have wrested control, albeit with the blessing of the two governing bodies. The Professional Bowlers' Association was formed two weeks ago with the mandate for change. A world tour is planned and, inevitably, more television exposure.

To that end yesterday's five-set match fitted the bill. Two photogenic finalists that Wimbledon would die for met head to head with enough undercurrents for a soap opera. The two men had local pride at stake for a start, being born 12 miles apart in Ayrshire, while Gourlay was attempting to become the first non-seed to triumph.

It was Duff, though, who added the spice. A self-confessed bon viveur - "I enjoy socialising and I was easily led" - great things were expected of him when he won this title in 1988 just five years after he took up the game seriously. But he imbibed too deeply from the alternative pleasures that his success brought.

The nadir occurred at last year's Home Internationals at Llanelli when he was dismissed from the Scottish team in disgrace after breaking a curfew to go on a late-night drinking session. Rather than plumb further depths, however, Duff enlisted the aid of a psychologist and won the International Open in September.

A world title would have crowned his rehabilitation but that ambition was probably lost in the third set. Duff, the fifth seed, led 4-0 and 6-2 but with Gourlay rolling bowl after bowl within fractions of the jack the set was lost 7-6. That was the psychological turning point, the younger man winning 2-7, 7-5, 7-6, 3-7 7-1.

"The way I started, Duff said, "I thought 'I'm going to win this easy'. I couldn't have played better. If I'd met anyone but David in that form I'd have won, but the third set was crucial. It gave him confidence."

As for Gourlay, he was almost too breathless to speak. "It's a boyhood dream come true," he said. "I used to watch this event on television and wish I was here."

In the crowd a hundred grand-motherly smiles were beaming, while the BBC punctuated a television interview with the finalists with a track from Oasis. Bowls is changing.