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Netball World Cup: Who will triumph?

THE AFRICAN netball teams have a great opportunity in the forthcoming World Cup competition to make up for the disappointment in the recent cricket and women’s football tournaments.

They clearly have the talent to do so, as victories or near victories over the ‘Big Four’ of Australia, England, Jamaica and New Zealand indicate.

But do they have the confidence to convert a temporary advantage into success? We shall see very soon.

PICTURED: Malawi Queens’ Joyce Mvula

The Uganda She Cranes will be inspired by their fine performance in the Liverpool Echo Arena last November and know the importance of confidence.

They ran England very close, leading until the closing minutes when they let their hosts edge them in a narrow 50-46 defeat.

After that they wilted and lost the remaining two matches by more decisive margins.

Uganda, who ran England close in the preliminary stages of the Commonwealth Games, are the African champions and ranked seventh in the world.

Peace Proscovia, who is an outstanding goal shooter and is noted for her competitive instinct, played for Loughborough Lightning in the UK club competition, winning the Vitality Netball Superleague players’ player of the season in 2018, before moving to Australia, where she represents Sunshine Coast Lightning.

Lilian Ajo, goal defence, has represented her country since 2007 and participated in the previous World Cup in Sydney four years ago.

PICTURED: Outstanding Uganda goal shooter Peace

The Malawi Queens, ranked sixth in the world, will be keen to show that their shock victory over the formidable New Zealand Silver Ferns in the last Commonwealth Games wasn’t a fluke.

They, too, made a favourable impression during their recent England tour and in Joyce Mvula have a shooter to match Proscovia.

Mvula also knows what it’s like to overturn the odds. She was outstanding in Manchester Thunder’s performance in cutting down defending titleholders Wasps’ lead and then going ahead to beat them in the Vitality Superleague final at the Copper Box Arena in London a couple of months ago.

The Malawi ace, whose shorter-than-average height allows her to dart agilely around the court, has previous World Cup and Commonwealth Games experience going back to 2014.

Mwai Kumwenda has used her six-foot height to telling effect. She honed her talent in the Australian League, and has similar competitive experience going back to 2011.

The South African Proteas, rated fifth in the world, took part in the Quad Series against England, Australia and New Zealand at the host venue earlier this year, where they narrowly lost to eventual winners Australia 54-50.

The country will have an added incentive to excel as they have won the rights to stage the next World Cup competition in 2023, and feel they have the experience and the players to succeed here.

Bongiwe Pretty Nsomi, their influential captain and centre/wing attack, is one of the international game’s most intriguing personalities. She was formerly with the Wasps team, which has dominated the England club competition in recent years, before moving to Adelaide Thunderbirds in Australia. Bongi has been described as being a “great ambassador” for South African netball.

Goal attack Lenize Potgieter and goal defence Karla Pretorious are also cited as “players to watch”.

Zimbabwe Gems are an unknown quality, partly because they had not submitted their team selection by the anticipated deadline.

Nevertheless, excitement is keen and a provisional squad were invited to a training camp in Harare three months before the World Cup in which they – unlike their African competitors – will be making their first appearance.

The Gems won their place at Liverpool by finishing second to Uganda in the African Netball Championship held in Zambia last year.

Whereas the Zimbabwean players are not well-known by name, local media think that will be put right through captain Perpetua Siyachitema, veteran Patricia Mauladi, and shooters Pauline Jani and Mercy Mukwadi. Although they have come primarily “to learn”, it will be a surprise if the Gems do not ruffle some feathers along the way.

Meanwhile, the best-known netballer of African heritage – without whose leadership this World Cup would not have had the impact which it has achieved – will be missing.

Ama Agbeze captained England in the sensational Commonwealth Games triumph which spawned honours for the team and enthusiasm bordering on hysteria for the country. Unfortunately, towards the end of the year, Agbeze sustained a knee injury, which the selectors believe she has not made enough of a recovery to be included.

Is there a World Cup winner from among these teams? Perhaps. I am too old to take anything for granted.

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