L ike Alex he is a long-established internationalist, like Alex he ensured the full focus of attention was on him as his opening match at the Bowls Scotland National Championships was last to finish in his round, like Alex he made life very difficult for himself and like Alex he went on to win.

That apart, no-one could be less like Alex Marshall on a bowling green than his older brother, Robert, who is pursuing personal success in the men's singles at Northfield this week. Only two players have ever worked their way through the byzantine process of getting to the Nationals more often than Marshall, who is making his eighth appearance in this event. He has not yet won the title.

As democratic as it may be, the process of getting through is the equivalent of asking Tiger Woods to negotiate 10 single rounds of matchplay golf in order to qualify for major championships, knowing every time that one bad day will rule him out.

In terms of consistency, then, this 48-year-old clearly has extraordinary talent more than worthy of his better-known younger sibling. Although he has yet to win this event, he has countless successes to his name – dating back to being a British Isles champion in 1987 – while he has been a Scotland regular since the mid-90s and has won medals at a number of World Championships.

Yet where Alex, or "Tattie" as he is known in the sport, is an imposing – almost intimidating – and instantly recognisable figure on the green, even when misfiring as he did a couple of times at key moments in his opening tie in the men's pairs on Wednesday evening, the rangier Robert's body language is very different.

Given their shared upbringing, a study of the two would either be a sports psychologist's dream or nightmare, depending on their perspective, and even to the untrained eye the elder Marshall would appear to give his opponents much more of a helping hand.

As yesterday's first round meeting with Stranraer's Alex Higgins moved to the crucial stages it looked as if the man who shares his name with snooker's late, great "Hurricane" was going to breeze through, such was the pressure Marshall seemed to be applying to himself. Not that it had started that way. "I was playing all right at the start and was 9-6 up, but then I just lost it," he said afterwards.

In more ways than one, it seemed. If he was not hanging his head it was being thrown backwards in despair, his hands either cradling it, thumping it or being rammed deep in pockets as he loped listlessly up and down the green.

He looked utterly distraught when, 11-10 down but two shots up with only his own final bowl to be delivered, he sent it up too strong and gave the shot away. A few ends later it looked all over as the deficit widened to 17-10. And yet he was still able to recover.

Stopping the rot with a single, Marshall then claimed a 4 at the next end to get right back into the game, but with Higgins also showing resolve by claiming a 2 at the next end, he had to battle to the finish before running out a 21-19 winner.

So, for all that so many have decided that Andy Murray's body language is the biggest hurdle he must overcome if he is to win a grand slam event, the experience of watching the Marshall brothers on consecutive days offers a reminder that there is no one way of being successful in sport or any other walk of life. Indeed, could it be that it is just as intimidating to be up against someone who looks so downhearted when he is playing well enough to still be contending with you?

That is for the shrinks to decide. The fact is that Marshall is off and on his way in an event where he reached the final just two years ago. "It's probably getting harder rather than easier coming here, but then the first match is always the hardest to get through. It is good to have come through such a hard game," he said.

Next up, a second-round meeting with Ewan Shearer from Bo'ness who, as an international team-mate, will know what to expect.

* Since it markets itself as a sport for life, Bowls Scotland found new poster boys at their National Championships yesterday when Colin Burnside and Peter Robertson took to the rink, writes Kevin Ferrie. The former is a teenager, the latter a septuagenarian, yet it has been very much a case of role reversal for the pair who formed the 'front end' of the Lesmahagow rink in the men's fours.

"Colin has taken me under his wing," said the more experienced man, who will turn 75 next month. "I only joined Lesmahagow last year after 30-odd years at Lanark, so we've just started playing together. I watch what he does and this is the first time I've got through to the National Championships."

Robertson was a relative veteran of 24 when he started playing in 1961 and he reckons his team-mate, some 60 years his junior, is a class act.

"We came through five rounds of district matches and he's been extremely consistent," he added.

Both played their parts in a hard-fought meeting with Melrose which was decided only when Lesmahagow skip Harry Meikle's last-gasp drive slipped just wide of the target at the final end.

For Burnside, introduced to the sport five years ago by his stepfather Ian Steele and now in his fourth year as a club member after starting indoors, yesterday was an experience to relish in spite of having lost.

"There were no nerves, just pure excitement at being here," he said, beaming with pride moments after hands had been shaken. "I'm leaving here on a high and hopefully I've got a few more National Championships in me."

Ultimately his aim is to play for Scotland, just like the player he most admires. "I really look up to Tattie Marshall because he is Scottish. I used to just play, but now I'm starting to understand what I can learn from the big names," said Burnside.

They, in turn, might do well to keep a note of his. If he keeps progressing as he has so far, he may be teaching them a thing or two soon enough.