Matt Butler: There's nothing Wimpy about slow-burning indoor bowls

View From The Sofa: World Indoor Bowls,

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The Independent Online

When Britain tries to do American, you end up with Wimpy. Sports that make perfect sense to those on the other side of the pond can jar here worse than Michael Vaughan hosting golf.

So it was when the NBA show rolled into London last week, when the Knicks and the Pistons – two giants of the game but who have not tasted glory for a good while – arrived for a game which meant little to most people here. A bit like if Aston Villa and Newcastle happened to pop over to Philadelphia for a Premier League fixture.

And boy, as far as razzmatazz went, it was laid on thicker than a layer of greasy mayonnaise on a quarter-pounder. There was a courtside announcer with mangled, elongated vowels (Noooo Yoooork Kniiiicks!), a clutch of waning stars that would have brought a "blimey, he's there" from viewers if it were 2007 – yes, you, Mark Ronson – and a pre-match build-up and bling-tastic half-time entertainment segment that took longer than most people's commutes.

Yes, it is the third year the NBA has schlepped over here, so we should be getting used to it. But the transplanted flag-waving and hoopla is still grating. Like someone from Shoreditch calling their flat a "duplex", or David Cameron high-fiving someone.

It is a good job the World Indoor Bowls Championships started this week to provide some British yang to the Yankee ying. Because there is nothing more British than slow-burning sport on TV. Look at how popular snooker is – or Test cricket, for that matter.

The indoor bowls crowd have gone some way to sexing their sport up, with flash uniforms reminiscent of 1990s one-day cricket kits, and 30-second shot clocks – similar to those in basketball – to put added tension on the players. And in the early rounds, you have to sign up to watch online via, giving the tournament that frisson of excitement usually reserved for illegal downloading and porn.

But scratch the surface and it is just how egalitarian sport on TV should be. Low-key, played by people who wouldn't look out of place at a British Legion club or country pub – and mesmerising.

Yesterday's first-round match, between Welshman Robert Weale (left), the 2000 champion, and the portly Australian Ray Pearse (intriguingly nicknamed "Wang wang" according to an old newsletter from his local bowling club), was riveting from the off. Weale raced into an early lead before Pearse came back with some inch-perfect shots to take both sets. And it only took until the second end, 12 minutes into the game, before Weale unleashed the casual viewer's favourite shot: the drive, where the player hurls the bowl seemingly as hard as he can with the aim of smashing the group at the other end to smithereens.

The shot clocks, which are making their World Championship debut, are a winner. Not all the players like them (Robert Maddison, the world bowls chief executive said "a few felt there was a strain added to them"), but you can't help but whisper "come on, come on" under your breath as the player wanders up the rink to check the layout of the bowls while the clock ticks down past 10 seconds.

There is no commentary – although that will surely change today when the BBC begins coverage – but that makes the spectacle even tenser. The only thing that breaks the silence is the referee saying how far the jack is, or whose bowls are closer, in an authoritative tone suited to a missile launch control bunker.

It wasn't cool, but then again it wasn't trying to be. Which means Mark Ronson wouldn't be seen dead watching it. And that can only be a good thing.