The Sunday Mail
Against an opponent they have never faced, world number one Australia at times looked lost and confused in Liverpool yesterday and despite beating Zimbabwe 73-37, Lisa Alexander’s charges now have plenty to work on before the Netball World Cup gets serious next week.
Playing in just their second-ever match at the tournament, Cup debutants Zimbabwe rattled the Diamonds from the get-go and neutral umpires had a big say in how the game flowed, as bodies flew and hackles rose.
Captain Caitlin Bassett, in particular, looked like she might be whistled out of the game and couldn’t hide her frustration. Despite this, she remained her side’s main avenue to goal and finished with 49 from 53, at 92% accuracy, picking up the player of the match award.
The Gems qualified for their first World Cup after finishing second at the African Netball Championship in August last year, but for a time, it wasn’t certain they’d even make it to England, after financial support for their cause looked unlikely.
After a PR campaign, crowd-funding effort and support from the Zimbabweans, the team took the court on day one, thrashing Sri Lanka by 30 goals in front of joyous fans, at the same time that Australia accounted for Northern Ireland 88-24.
But the Gems, ranked 14th in the world, faced an enormous task in the reigning world champions in their second fixture.
If the opening match was the first chapter of a potential fairytale for Zimbabwe, the second brought the fantasy to an abrupt end, but Australia didn’t have it all their own way, making far too many mistakes and looking a long way from world-class.
Led by their captain, speedy midcourter Perpetua Siyachiteama and shooter Joice Takaidza, who scored an extraordinary 59 goals in the first match, Zimbabwe were not overwhelmed by the occasion, but turned over several balls in the opening minutes to allow Australia out to an early lead that they never relinquished.
Lisa Alexander tried another combination this match, putting captain Caitlin Bassett back at shooter, with Gretel Tippett in front of her.
Liz Watson started at wing attack and Paige Hadley centre.
Looking for more versatility later in the tournament, the coach started April Brandley at wing defence and the circle defence was Jo Weston at GD and Courtney Bruce at keeper.
While she was accurate with 16 from 16, Bassett attracted lots of whistle in the first quarter and gave away four contact penalties and had five turnovers, more than any other player on the court. The first ended with the Diamonds 18-9 up – but with plenty of improvement to be found.
The Diamonds added another 21 goals in the second, with Tippett stepping up her work rate and volume, but the “messiness” continued. At the other end, Bruce almost single-handedly kept the Diamonds in control of the game, with six intercepts to half-time. At the main break it was Australia up 39-19.
For the third, Alexander brought Jamie-Lee Price into wing defence and Kelsey Browne to wing attack, but it didn’t stem the flow, with Australia outscoring the Africans by just two goals. Although up 54/31 at three-quarter time, it felt much closer.
The Diamonds’ defenders dominated in the last, holding the Gems to just six goals.
A game best forgotten, the Diamonds now look to tomorrow, for their last preliminary round against Sri Lanka. — guardian.com