Malawi has managed to beat prophets of doom who predicted dwindling fortunes for netball, thanks to good player-succession plans.
Just some two years ago, many feared that netball was on its death bed as many of Malawi’s top notch netball players near retirement.
The instrumental Mary Waya, probably the world’s fattest netball player, has a reputation running across the continents. Captain Peace Chawinga-Kalua, too, has had an industrious career spanning over two decades.
The two have been the heart beat of the Malawi National Netball team but now faces prospects of retirement as age catches up with them.
The print media has been awash with debate over whether the old guard should retire now, but national coach Edith Kaliati has turned such a suggestion down- opting to blend old and new blood.
The move seems to be bearing immediate fruits following Malawi’s growing dominance in netball.
Teenager Mwai Kumwenda, for instance, hardly existed in the minds and hopes of Malawian netball fans some four years ago. Now, the Escom Netball Team player has become a house hold name, even leaving a mark on the international netball scene.
She scored the most baskets in the World Under-17 Netball Tournament held last month in Cooks Islands. Within two weeks of that record, Kumwenda accompanied Malawi to South Africa, and took part in the Confederation of Southern Africa Netball Associations (Cosana) tournament.
She blended well with goal shooter Waya to make South Africa look like ordinary amateurs. Malawi retained the Cosana tournament and proceeded to Tanzania where they took part in a Six Nation Invitational Tournament.
The Queens, again, carried the day but did not have time to receive the trophy as they were rushing to the United Kingdom to take part in a competition pitting the world’s top six netball teams.
The Queens braved managed to move up from position six in world netball rankings to 5. The encouraging part was that the team managed to reduce the number of baskets conceded from such giants as England, New Zealand, and Jamaica to within five baskets difference on average. Teams like Samoa were easy folder for the marauding Queens.
The Queens came back home on Tuesday this week, and Kaliati is buoyed by the players’ performance.
“Contrary to fears that we were on the down ward spiral, we are moving from better to best. There is good coordination in the team, and our blending process (mixing the old guard with up-coming players) seems to be working wonders. South Africa can attest to that. In fact, we consider the South African Senior Netball Team as our Team B or concubines,” said Kaliati.
Sports Development Minister, Dr. Luscious Kanyumba, is also thrilled with the new events brewing in netball cycles.
“Netball is one sport that makes us proud. As you know, we have been struggling in soccer- though we now are coming back to where we were in the 1970s. We could beat the likes of Ivory Coast by five-goals-to-one then,” said Kanyumba.
Ivory Coast’s worst defeat (in soccer) came at the hands of Malawi when they went down 5-1.
Kanyumba said government was committed to supporting netball, a sentiment echoed by state president Bingu wa Mutharika.
Mutharika has vowed to increase state funding to all sporting disciplines.
“Let’s spread our net wider and success will come. Netball, especially, has given us the hope that we can do better. It’s not only soccer that matters, netball and other sports disciplines are crucial to success, too,” said Mutharika.