As dark clouds drifted over the Skegness bowling greens on Friday (August 22), the mood in the Northants Federation camp at the English finals was getting gloomier as the county lost five successive semi-finals then the men's four-bowl singles final.
But suddenly the county's women's triples finalists in the two and three-bowl disciplines injected double rays of sunshine by claiming two national titles within the space of 30 minutes to send the Northants contingent into raptures.
After Northants match secretary Graham Agger – hero of the previous night when he came back from 2-16 down against Derbyshire's Tony Barke to win 21-17 – lost his final against Norfolk's Wayne Burrage by an identical margin, it needed the county's women to turn a black Friday into a sparkling orange sunset – reflecting the county's distinctive colours.
And they did it in style – showing tremendous fighting spirit to hold off first Northumberland in the two-bowl rinks final, before overhauling the scarlet-jacketed Cleveland in the three-bowl rinks.
City of Peterborough trio Norma Squires, Fiona Richardson and Linda Darani played three dramatic matches on the way to the final of the two-bowl event, edging out Durham 20-15, dispatching local rivals Hunts 19-18 on an extra end after claiming five shots to tie on the 21st, then nailing Suffolk 18-16 in a tense semi-final.
Against Northumberland, they maintained a slender lead throughout until on the 20th end, leading 18-16, they snatched a vital five shots screaming with delight and dancing on the green with their supporters, who included a thrilled Malcolm Squires, husband of lead Norma and who completes his two-year stint as county President in October.
But their celebrations had to be curtailed as their three-bowl colleagues, Helen Crow, Sarah Newson and Pat Reynolds from the Parkway club in Peterborough, playing on the next rink, were reaching a crucial stage in their final.
Against Cleveland, Northants were always on the backfoot until Reynolds – who won this title five years ago – showed her vast experience by converting a three-count on the 16th end and clinched it with five more on the 17th, eventually winning 23-17.
Commented Darani: "These titles today are so special. I have won here before but to win it with the girls is marvellous."
Earlier Northants bowlers had started the day with no hint of the successes to come as one after another, they could not quite reach the levels of performance they had shown in previous rounds as the challenges got stiffer.
Darani, indeed, had lost her two bowl singles semi-final against her Derbyshire opponent 21-15 after Mike Ramsden (Empingham) had gone down 21-9 in the Secretaries singles (earlier he had beaten Lincs' Richard White). Andy Grief and Peter Holmes (Crowland) had also lost 21-12 against the eventual winners from Nottingham in the Senior pairs.
Despite a couple of excellent performances to reach the semi-finals of the mixed pairs with defeats of Notts (25-16) and North Cambs (20-19) the Blackstones duo of Rita Downes and Jonathan Earl found Steve Botten and Margaret Thompson (N. Essex) too tough a combination, losing 11-21. And when the Notts skip switched to lead in the Senior Mixed pairs, the hopes of Liz Barr and Mick Duell (West Ward) were shattered with an 18-14 defeat despite earlier wins over Suffolk (16-15) and Durham (23-13).
However, that was before girl-power took over!
The Northants bowlers can be rightly proud of their efforts in emulating last year's winning national double (in the men's two-bowl triples and mixed triples) and punching well above their weight of membership numbers in the Suncastle Greens gladiatorial arena.
Other results (Northants names first):
Men's: Two-bowl singles: A Thurston lost to A Folker (Norfolk) 18-21. Under 25 singles: S Harris lost to L Stevens (Suffolk) 21-11. Senior singles: M Duell bt C Waling (N.Cambs) 21-18; lost to M Grimwood (N. Essex) 17-22. Champion of champions S Roden bt M Hubbard (Northumberland) 21-14; lost to J Summons (Suffolk) 13-21. Pairs: H Shipp/N Wright lost to D Colley/P Dayus (Notts) 10-22. Under 25 Open pairs: T Fielding/J Hall bt Durham 16-15; lost to to Lincs 10-23. Two-bowl rinks:N Wright, T Scarr/S Law lost to Lincs 7-28. Three-bowl rinks: S Roden, R Stephens, P Brown lost 14-19 to N Essex. Mixed rinks: K Martin/B Martin/J Hurford bt Notts 18-15; lost to Hunts 12-21.
Women's: Two-bowl singles: L Darani bt M Thompson (N.Essex) 21-11; lost to J Tyers (Derbyshire) 15-21; 4-bowl singles: L Darani lost to A Lennie (Northumberland) 6-21; Under 25 singes: K Bailey lost R Moorbey (Hunts) 6-21; Senior singles: H Crow lost to M Dennis (Humberside) 16-21. Secretaries singles: V Hatch lost to J Croxall (Notts) 13-21. Champion of champions: P O'Brien lost to D Freeman (N. Essex) 19-21; Pairs: L Hext/S Craig bt P Dickinson/ J Robson (Northumberland)20-15; lost to T Philpott/ S Wade (Lincs) 16-17. Seniors pairs: A White, A Cullingworth lost to D Grasy/ A Lennie (Northumberland 14-17.
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In the pre-tournament Reg Jackson Triples event, Richard Montgomery, Doris Flowers and Graham Agger from Northants won the last of their four 12-end matches 25-0 – just enough to put them in third place with 148 points – one behind eventual joint winners from Suffolk and Derbyshire.