FRESH from his success at the World Bowls Championships in Australia, Scotland’s Darren Burnett was looking to reign supreme at the Fred.Olsen Cruise Lines World Indoor Championships on the Norfolk coast.
Arbroath policeman Burnett took home a gold medal from the triples event and a bronze from the men’s fours at last month’s tournament in Adelaide and is now hoping to replicate that success on the famous blue rink at Potters.
He produced his best performance ever in the World Indoor Singles last year in reaching the semi-final, losing to eventual champion Andy Thomson on the final end of a tie-break, and if his progress continues at Potters then he should make the final this time around as he gone a stage further every time for the past four years.
The 36-year-old also got as far as the semi-final in the Scottish International Open in November, so could be forgiven for feeling slightly confident ahead of his first round tie with Irishman Clifford Craig on Tuesday.
“I’m coming down with confidence after reaching the semi-final at Perth, which I haven’t done for a few years,” said Burnett. “That was a bonus for me. And then obviously I did well at the world outdoor championships, coming away with gold and bronze medals.
“I know if I play my best then I definitely have the potential to go on and win it. You’ve got to have your A-game with you as the difference between the players is so fine. If you don’t bring that with you and the other player does then you’re going to lose.
“You always come down with hope, but it is such an open competition to be honest – it’s whoever can string some form together throughout the tournament. You don’t really get a feel for who’s doing well until the quarter-final stage.”
Burnett faces Craig first up, a man he knows well and a player he knows will give him a tough test as he bids to win this crown for the first time.
“Clifford is a strong international player and has been around a long time, he’s won British championships,” said Burnett. “I’ve never played Clifford in singles, but have played him a few times in team events so I have seen him quite a lot. It’s going to be a very tough game and I am looking forward to it.
“I know I am going to have to play well to get through. In many ways, for most players the first game is the toughest. Get through that round and the competition opens up a bit and you start looking ahead from there. I think everyone comes here down with the main objective to get past the first round.”
The bookmakers rank Burnett as one of the favourites for the title, but does that pile more pressure onto the copper’s shoulders?
“I don’t think there’s more pressure on me this time around,” he insisted. “I think there was more pressure on me when I won a couple of events. I was quite lucky in a way as I was outside the top 16 and still able to win the Scottish Masters and then the International Open. I got that monkey off my back, being a player who did well on the tour without winning a title. I managed to do that quite early as well. I just want to come down and play well. If I play well and don’t win, then that’s just life. I’ll be more disappointed if I don’t play well.”
The bobby is just one of eight Scottish representatives in the first round of the singles – five of them in the top 16 – and he thinks this is a terrific advert for the sport north of the border.
“It’s great. We’re really lucky,” he said. “As far as Scotland is concerned, it has always been one of the sports we’ve been really good at. For a small country we do exceptionally well. We have a great abundance of talent in that top 16 and there’s quite a few on the fringes as well. Colin Walker’s back down here as a qualifier and he also qualified last year, Wayne Hogg’s always been knocking about and there’s so much potential. It can only be good for the players in the top 16 because you’ve got them on your doorstep it keeps your level up.”
Burnett thinks one of his fellow countrymen, and four-time winner, Paul Foster will be the man to beat at Potters, adding: “I always maintain that in the last five years, Paul has without doubt been the most consistent and possibly the best player in the world. I always think he is the benchmark.
“He can’t play well all the time, he is going to have an off day now and again, but if you get past Paul then you certainly have got a good chance.”