Alex, master and champion of the world…

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From mocking the game to becoming a world champion: Alex Kley’s record-breaking achievements all started in a Dorset village hall

SMPT World Masters singles champion 2022/23

When I was 13, of my friends insisted on playing what I called his Old Man game,’ says Alex Kley. ‘I couldn’t resist making fun of it, but thank goodness he didn’t pay any attention, and just said, “Don’t mock it til you’ve tried it – come and have a go, it’s harder than you think!” Now here I am, a decade later and I’ve been No.1 in the world, and I’m current World Masters champion!’
Alex, now 23, grew up in Child Okeford, and it was in the Okeford Fitzpaine village hall that he first tried his hand at Short Mat Bowls. It’s a relatively new sport which grew out of the more familiar flat green bowls in the 1990s: played over a much shorter length, the pre-marked mat is six feet wide and between 40 and 45 feet long (meaning it’s easily accommodated in any village, school or leisure centre hall).
‘I was just so lucky,’ says Alex. ‘The county manager at the time, Brian Baker, was a member of the Okeford Fitzpaine Short Mat Bowls Club – and he taught me how to play. But so many of the older locals spent time with me, encouraging me and teaching me to be a better person as well as a better player. I’m so grateful to them all.’
By the time he was 14 Alex had been selected to play in the county team, and by 16 he was playing for England in both the Under 21s squad and the main team. By this time Alex had switched clubs from Okeford to Hazelbury Bryan – a tiny Dorset village which secretly housed a world class Short Mat Bowls Club where a lot of the county and England team players were members.
Last year, at just 22 years old, Alex broke all records, becoming the first person to hold all major singles title in the same season – the English Open singles champion, also the National singles, British Isles singles and the World Singles champion. ‘I won the National Singles in consecutive years, and then I’ve just won the World Masters Singles back-to-back too. That has never been done before.’

Alex playing at the World Championships in Aberdeen 2022/23 season

A tactical game
Short Mat Bowls can be played as a singles game, but also as pairs, triples or fours – each with its own tactics and skill.
‘I was selected for the singles game. It’s what I’m best at, although I do enjoy working in a team too,’ says Alex. ‘It’s a very different way of working, sharing and planning tactics with others.’
Alex’s favourite strategy, to which he credits his record-breaking year, has potentially led to a World Council Bowling Association rule change. At both ends of the mat there is a fender, and one foot in from the fender there is a white line, representing the ditch.
My favourite strategy was to put the jack long, and then my first bowl would sit perfectly in the ditch – basically it’s unbeatable at that point. It’s the most difficult shot in the book, so to me, if you have the skill to do it then it’s fair play – that’s what lead to a lot of my success!
‘But this year there’s been a rule change, preventing that from happening with the first bowl – basically making sure your opponent still has a chance.
‘I enjoy switching tactics though, so that my opponents never know what I’m going to do. The tactics and strategies are just as important as the skill with the bowls. I was also captain of the England team last year – that was a big step up, testing my leadership skills. I enjoyed it.’
A couple of years ago Alex moved clubs again, this time to Carey SMBC near Wimborne. ‘It’s more convenient for work, but also I didn’t want to be quite so committed, and Carey were able to be more flexible about just letting me play when I wanted to. It’s easy to let bowls take over and I do have other things I want to do too! There’s only a couple of months a year when we’re not playing. I’ve qualified for the Short Mat Players Tour World Cup – the top four ranked players over the season from each country are invited to compete – and that’s held in August. But between now and then, I’m taking a rest. I won’t play at all.
‘I’m very lucky to be sponsored by both Wareham Golf Club and Belltops Roofing – without them, I wouldn’t be able to go to these events.’

Alex Kley with all the trophies he won in his record-breaking 2022/23 season (almost – he wasn’t allowed to keep the Masters globe!)

Interestingly, Alex isn’t the youngest person playing on either his county or national team: ‘My little brother plays for Dorset,’ he says. ‘And there are lots of under 25s on the England team. The older local players love it, they’re excited by the prospect of so much growth in the game. Two years ago we won the Inter County Championship – Dorset was the top county in the country.
‘The Dorset team manager is keen on going into schools and getting the kids to have a go – I’ve done a few talks myself, told them my story and encouraged them to have a go while I’ve taught them. Most clubs have an Open Roll Up night, where anyone can go along and give it a try, and experienced players like me will spend an hour teaching the basics. We always need new players’

If you’re interested in giving bowls a try, contact Dorset County Short Mat Bowling Association to find your nearest club dorsetsmba.co.uk

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