For a few hours in Auckland, something pretty special beckoned in the world of netball.
Malawi, that gutsy African upstart, sat on the verge of a semi-final appearance in an international netball tournament; the Fast5 Netball World Series.
They got themselves into the position with victories over Australia on Friday, and England, 27-23 on Saturday.
They held themselves away with losses to Jamaica, 32-31, and New Zealand, 44-24.
Victory against South Africa would seal a spot for them in the semi-finals of the tournament for netball’s newest, and shortest, form.
They fought, and they struggled away at Vector Arena. The crowd hollered for them. They didn’t give up.
But they’d eventually fall, 48-34.
A cynic could say their victories against Australia and England were all to nought.
They weren’t. This tournament was a powerful statement from one of netball’s emerging nations, and a ringing endorsement of Fast5, and its ability to grow the game internationally.
Malawi Coach Griffin Saenda said his team was no longer content to simply make up the numbers when it came to competing on the global stage.
“To beat England or Australia is not a joke. We know we are a small country, not all that abundant in resources, but we have skilled players who put it to themselves ‘let’s do this’. They are willing to do something and that’s why now we are producing the results,” he said.
“Most of these players are from under-20 and we are just now developing them. We are not going to be big-headed.”
Malawi’s gut-wrenching one-goal loss to Jamaica yesterday proved a motivating factor.
“It dejected morale … and that was in their minds. With England we said we can go flat out, we are underdogs and we don’t lose anything so let’s just play for the sake of the fans,” Saenda said.
Competing against traditionally stronger opposition was having a positive impact on Malawi, along with shooter Mwai Kumwenda playing in Australia’s Victorian State League.
“It is our wish to be at these tournaments and expose our players,” Saenda said. “At home they are clapping their hands and they know we have done something they can be proud of … we love it, we love it, we love it.”
Malawi Government funding has increased for the code in recent years, meaning the base could be laid for netball’s next power.
“The sport of netball is just growing up,” Malawi captain Caroline Mtukule said.
“[Growing up] we didn’t have much funds from the government, so people mostly played mostly for fun. But now, the money is there. The government is trying to support us.”
Today’s semi-finals will feature match-ups between New Zealand and Jamaica, and England and South Africa.
Malawi and Australia, who lost all five of their round robin matches, will clash to decide 5th and 6th place overall.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :