Innovation and adaptability have become the key words for the North Harbour centre’s two 2022 Commonwealth Games aspirants, the Takapuna club’s Selina Goddard and Graham Skellern.
That’s partly because of the disruptions caused by the on-going Covid pandemic but also because if they make the final cut for the New Zealand Games team the conditions they will encounter at Birmingham in England will be vastly different from those in this country.
In Britain the standard length for most greens is 40 metres and bowls run at speeds of 10 to 12 seconds. In New Zealand, though, greens are three or four metres shorter and run up to speeds of 19 seconds.
So to make the adjustment needed for the Games the two Harbour bowlers, like all others in the national squads, have been directed to get as much practice as possible on slower greens.
But the closest to English conditions in New Zealand comes not from bowling greens, but croquet lawns. And that is where Goddard and Skellern have been spending much of their recent time.
Selina has joined the Takapuna croquet club and up until recently has been practising there three or four times a week. “The croquet club deserve a big shout out,’ she says. “They have been awesome, especially the president Rod Templeman.”
Because of border closures Skellern has been restricted to his home base in Mount Maunganui and has practised regularly there not only at the local croquet club but also at a nearby private cricket club where a special rink has been mowed alongside the pitch.
The other handicap to their preparation, particularly for Selina, has been achieving meaningful competitive play because of travel restrictions and Auckland’s long lockdown.
Selina has missed several tournaments and two training camps and especially disappointing for both bowlers was the cancellation of the inter-island fixture which had been scheduled for Dunedin in late November.
“That would have been a great chance to show our wares,” Skellern says. “But the main thing has been putting in the work and that’s what I’ve been doing.” And one benefit of being in the Bay of Plenty’s Level two has been the chance to play some tournaments even if it has been a challenge playing on fast greens.
“I’m more confident on slower greens now,” he says.
The main aim for both now, presuming all travel restrictions will be lifted, will be the national singles and pairs championships in Christchurch on January 2-9. Selina then has her eyes set on being among the 20 players, 10 men and 10 women, in the Transtasman tests on the Gold Coast on March 9-11. These will take place on a specially prepared green simulating English conditions.
The five women players for the Games will be determined after this event. Despite the stiff competition for Black Jack places Selina’s outstanding record at national championships in the past couple of seasons must make her a strong contender. Even though still in her 20s she has won national titles in singles, pairs and fours. She was previously, a Games representative in 2014.
Skellern won his first para title in singles two seasons ago and last season added a pairs title. He has also compiled an impressive record in able bodied bowls and has represented several centres. He is competing for pairs spot at the Games from a trio which also includes Mark Noble and Bruce Wakefield.