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Nationwide Bowler Magazine
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Royal flush

Left-hander Mark is amongst the big boys now that he is world No.2 and, as he tells Michael McEwan, he’s loving every minute of it

Mark, this time three years ago, you were 15th on the WBT rankings and trying to stay in the top 16. Now, you’re second and, last season, came within a whisker of world No.1 – quite a transformation, wouldn’t you say?

Absolutely, it has been an incredible couple of seasons. I think I made something like 100 or more rankings points the season before last, which helped get me to sixth, and then I improved again this year to get to world No.2 despite the fact that I didn’t do particularly well in any of the four events. I was lucky that I had good first-round draws and so I was able to secure some valuable ranking points and that, coupled with the guys above me not having great years either, really helped me, too. So, on the whole, it’s been a good few seasons.

What do you think was been the turning point or has contributed most to the upturn in your fortunes?
It’s just been a question of confidence really, I think. Reaching my first World Bowls Tour ranking event final at the Scottish International Open in 2007 really gave me a lot of belief in myself and my ability, even though I lost the final. And then to follow that up with my first win just two events later in the Welsh International Open really took the “feel-good factor” to another level, if you like. It’s like they say, confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence, and that’s certainly what I’ve found over the past season or two.

How big a disappointment was it to come within a whisker of world No.1 and just miss out?
It wasn’t that huge a disappointment, to be honest. Put it this way, if you’d told me a couple of years ago that I’d be world No.2, I’d have bitten your hand off. But, in truth, I’d much rather be World Indoor Singles champion than No.1 on the rankings. Don’t get me wrong, it would be a huge honour to be recognised as the best player in the game but it’s not the be all and end all for me. The one major disappointment with not making it to No.1 is that I missed out on a wild-card for the Premier League Bowls event run by Matchroom Sport this year. That was a shame. But you know what? Maybe being world No.2 isn’t that bad a thing. After all, there’s so much pressure that comes with being No.1. People look at the rankings and think ‘right, that’s the guy I’ve got to beat’ or ‘the No.1 is playing the No.7 so the No.1 should win that match’ when it’s far from that straightforward. Anyone can beat anyone in this game, as Darren Burnett and Robert Chisholm proved with their triumphs in the season just ended.

Robert, of course, succeeded you as the Welsh International Open champion, which was your first win on the WBT. How significant a victory was that for you?
Oh, it was huge. Absolutely  massive. You know, it’s so hard to win any event on the World Bowls Tour because the standard is so high. In fact, you just need to have a look through the top 16 of the rankings for proof of that. You’ve got really good players like Jonathan Ross, who has been around for a long time now, but has yet to win an event. That shows just how tough it is. So, winning in Wales gave me a major confidence boost and instilled within me the belief to go on and win again. You also need a bit of luck, and I believe I had that when I won.

So, having got to world No.2, what are your targets for next season? Have you set any goals yet?
Not as such. I’d be glad just to win another event to tell the truth. As far as things stand with the rankings at the moment, I think I am the provisional world No.1 for the season after next, based on my performances in the past couple of years, so consolidating that would be great, too. But perhaps more than anything, I just want to keep on enjoying my bowls.

Would you be in favour of an expanded WBT circuit, with more events and bigger prize-money?
I think most of us would be, probably. The more events the better. However, the way the world is at the moment, and given the current economic climate, it’s hard to see it happening in the immediate future. It’s so tough to get sponsors, who we absolutely rely on, and I feel as though next season could be a real tough one.

Long term, though, where would you like to see the WBT ?
I think hosting events outside of the UK would be a positive step. I’d be particularly keen to see a tournament in somewhere like Australia or New Zealand. It would be good for the game if we could get some more of the southern hemisphere’s top players competing regularly on the WBT. At the moment, though, all our events are in the UK. It would be good if we could get a scenario like there is in snooker where there are events played in places like China and so on.

It must be quite galling to see events like snooker, darts and pool – which, like bowls, are developmental sports, if you like – faring so well in terms of corporate backing and TV coverage?
Yeah, the one that really sticks in the throat is poker. It seems that every channel you turn on these days, there’s some poker tournament taking place and they’re playing for huge amounts of money. It’s terribly frustrating but, if you look at the way things were just a few years ago, bowls and darts were in the same boat. Now, darts is doing ever so well whilst not much has changed for bowls. The difference is probably that darts is almost made for TV. The atmosphere and the culture there is all about making noise, having a few drinks and all that. With bowls, it’s a completely different atmosphere.

One thing that might help the game is if more young players continue to break through.
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, as things stand, I’m the youngest player on the World Bowls Tour rankings – and I’m 34! But, you know what, Robert Chisholm could have a big future and then there are other players, like young Sam Tolchard, who have done fantastically well in the outdoor game over the past couple of years. If we can attract them to play in the indoor events, and if they can make the breakthrough, there’s no reason why younger players in their 20s can’t go on to play a bigger part in the game going forward.

Speaking of younger players, I understand you run a successful event for junior bowlers at your home club?
That’s right. I run a competition every year for junior bowlers in Suffolk, and it’s been quite successful so far. In fact, a couple of the kids who have played have gone on to play at county level, which is extremely gratifying. It’s just my way of giving something back to a

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