String quartet covers and polite applause aren’t the usual soundtrack to England versus Australia.
We’re used to seeing bitter battles play out in hostile environments like the Homebush or the Gabba, where no Pom is welcome.
The quaint surrounds of Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, the spiritual home of lawn bowls, was the setting for the latest iteration of the rivalry as England’s Nick Brett, Louis Ridout, and Jamie Chestney claimed gold in the men’s triples at the Commonwealth Games.
You would be hard pressed to find three more regular guys than these three.
The comparison to their Aussie counterparts was stark – bleach blonde hair all, a tradition for reigning Commonwealth champions – that wouldn’t look out of place on Bondi.
There is nothing normal about Brett’s ability to set up opportunities to score and bend the bias to his will.
He was the last man to send the sport viral, with his ‘Wonderbowl’ that was watched by millions within hours in 2019.
The 48-year-old civil servant pulled out shots in Leamington Spa that far surpassed that bowl that saw him dubbed the ‘Brad Pitt of Bowls’, and now Brett is hoping he’ll be better known as a Commonwealth gold medallist.
“[It feels] absolutely outstanding,” beamed Brett. “One of the best feelings I’ve ever had in the game.
“We’ve all got a bucket list; gold medal in a home Commonwealth Games is on the list.
“Playing with these two, who have played fantastically, is there too – they have been outstanding.”
The English trio delivered a masterclass in triples play to leap into 12-1 lead after nine ends, but England against Australia is rarely that easy, and the Aussies came roaring back to 12-12 with two ends to play.
But as the momentum seemed to be all with the Australian trio of Barry Lester, Carl Healey, and Ben Twist, Chestney held his nerve to produce two fantastic draws to win the final two ends by one shot each and clinch the gold medal 14-12 in the most dramatic of circumstances.
“I’m absolutely over the moon, I don’t think it’s really sunk in yet,” said Chestney.
“It was emotional, up, and down, to get over the line – there’s no feeling like it, it’s the best moment of my career.
“I just saw my daughter Eliza as well which brought a tear to my eye. To have their support, it’s fantastic.”
All eyes were on Chestney in the 17th end as he had the final bowl that had to land to stop Australia edging ahead, but the Devonian refused to feel the pressure.
(2022 Getty Images)
“I stayed positive,” added Chestney. “I just didn’t feel like we’d dropped off that much.
“Australia started playing a lot better second half, but we didn’t lose our heads and hoped a chance would come, luckily it did on the 17th end.”
The victory, and the drama of those final two ends, is a result that could catapult the usually demure sport of bowls into mainstream public consciousness.
Throughout the contest, the trio were willed on by at times raucous support from the crowds. Those watching on burst into cheers at the final end, as Chestney embraced a leaping Brett in mid-air.
And while the atmosphere perhaps did not rival that of what Millwall fan Ridout is used to at The Den, he hailed the importance of home support.
“Bowls is not usually the sport with the biggest or loudest cheers, the atmosphere was brilliant, and it definitely gave us that extra boost,” added Ridout.
“The crowd has been fantastic; the atmosphere has been brilliant. Hopefully, that showed bowls in a good image and pushed the sport forward.”
There has never been a better time to discover bowls, truly a sport for everybody. It is all to play for – discover more at www.bowlsengland.com