World Indoor Championships: Whole new bowls game

Ceriann Davies aims to beat the men at their own game today by defeating the best player on the planet at the World Championships in Norfolk, writes Mike Rowbottom
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The Independent Online

As a winner of four world indoor bowls titles – one more than even Richard Corsie, Tony Allcock or David Bryant could manage – Alex Marshall has pretty much seen it all as a competitor. But as he steps on to the garish blue carpet of the rink at Potters Leisure Centre today seeking a place in the quarter-finals of the World Indoor Championships, the 40-year-old Scotsman will have something new with which to contend. A woman. And a highly determined and capable woman at that.

At the age of 29, Ceriann Davies – once of Port Talbot in Wales, but an Aussie for the last four years – has created bowls history in the championships taking place at their annual venue in the Norfolk coastal village of Hopton-on-Sea. Last Saturday she became the first woman to win a match at an event that has been almost solely male territory since its inception 29 years ago, beating England's Glenn Skipp 6-5, 7-7. And on Monday it was a case of Carry On, Ceriann as she reached the last 16 with a 4-10, 11-1, 2-0 win over New Zealand's world No 17 Jamie Hill.

More than enough with which to be satisfied, you might have thought. But Davies – who left a post lecturing in psychology at Swansea University at three days' notice after meeting the Australian bowls player who is now her fiancé, Mark Casey – has got her head around even greater glory.

"People may laugh, but to be honest with you, I don't think anyone should turn up to an event like this unless they think they can win it," she says. "I think anybody else might be taking it round by round, but that's not the way I am approaching it. When I get out there, my attitude is that I've already won, and my opponent has got to try to take that away."

That task now falls to the world champion himself, although it may have been made a smidge easier thanks to a spot of advice from his opponent following a conversation in the players' bar before the tournament got under way.

"I was on my own, nursing a lemonade and feeling a little sorry for myself when Alex noticed me," Davies recalls. "He put down his beer and came over and he couldn't have been kinder, or more encouraging. We talked for about two hours. He is my hero – he is such a great player, and yet he is so humble about what he has achieved. I couldn't believe he had taken out the time simply to come and speak to me.

"He said he hoped I'd go well in the championships as it would be great for the women's game, but he said the only problem was he would probably not be very keen on playing me himself as he had never played against a woman before. We had a bit of a giggle about it, and I said, 'I don't think you need to worry too much about that, but if it happens, just get your head down and play your normal game'. "

Marshall would do well to heed her words, as Davies – who earns her living as a bowls development officer in Coomera, Queensland – is an expert in body language.

Davies' exploits this week have put her in company with a very small group of women who have managed to force their way into top-class male tournaments.

Carol Ashton was the first to register her presence as she qualified for the International Event at Sheffield, one of the main World Bowls Tour events, in 2003. She did the same thing in 2006, winning her first-round match and then challenging BBC TV Breakfast sports presenter Chris Hollins, who had referred to her progress with a touch of levity, to wear a dress in the studio if she got any further. Happily for Hollins, she did not.

The World Indoor Championships, meanwhile, had seen their first woman competitor in 2005. But Ruthy Gilor, only named as a late replacement for Israel, was well beaten in her opening match.

A year later Amy Monkhouse, a PE teacher from Grimsby, became the first woman to qualify for the event after defeating five male opponents, and lost 2-1 in her first-round match against Robert Newman.

Davies, who won a Commonwealth silver medal for Australia in 2006, played what she describes as "probably the worst bowls of my life" in her first set against Hill. Seeing a group of spectators who appeared to be going for a comfort break between sets, she exclaimed: "Don't leave me! I'm not that bad."

Davies then proved as good as her word to earn the highest-profile appearance yet attained by a women player. "I suppose it is one for the girls," she reflects. "But I'd rather be talked about for the quality of the bowls."

It was that same quality which earned her a trip to Hopton-on-Sea, as she negotiated the challenges of five men and one woman in qualifying matches Down Under. "The qualifiers are open to every man, woman and beast to play," she says, adding with a laugh: "I'm the beast."

Mr Marshall – you have been warned...