Ellina Mhlanga in LIVERPOOL, England
IT has been a long journey and, as they step onto the court for their first match at the Vitality Netball World Cup against Sri Lanka today, Zimbabwe’s Gems will be holding their heads high and stepping into the history books of netball.
Zimbabwe, making their debut appearance at the global stage, get their campaign rolling with a tie against Sri Lanka in Group A at the M&S Bank Arena. Captain Perpetua Siyachitema says they were ready for the match and pointed out they were going to defend as a team considering Sri Lanka have a tall goal-shooter Tharjini Sivalingam, who stands at 2.06m.
“It’s exciting. But I know we are a little bit nervous, especially like yesterday (Wednesday), we saw the team that we are playing. We saw their goal-shooter, wow she is very tall. So, she can just outclass our defender because they are all short. But I think we have talked with the girls and we have decided that what we need to do is just to help our defenders by defending the mid-court.
‘‘The girls are geared up for the games. They really want to play, they are so eager to play. Once we win this game, it will be a stepping stone to all the other games that we are going to play,” said Siyachitema.
The Gems captain said having watched Sri Lanka losing to teams like Botswana in their build-up to the World Cup, the Gems stand a good chance against their opponents.
“I think we have got a great chance. But here at the World Cup, every team is prepared and so we are not going to underrate them. We are going to play our normal game,” Siyachitema said.
Zimbabwe will be pinning their hopes on the likes of vice captain, Felistus Kwangwa, who is known for her defensive skills, as well as goalkeeper Rudo Karume. Goal attack Ursula Ndlovu, who was one of the key players during the qualifiers, said this is a huge moment for the team.
“This is something huge, to be among teams like Australia, England. We are here, sharing the same stage with those teams and we will not be intimidated, this is a new competition and you never know what happens in netball. So, we are looking forward to the matches.
“I believe we are going to pull through, we have been motivating each other, pushing each other and we want to go beyond the preliminaries stage one,” said Ndlovu.
For 19-year-old Claris Kwaramba, who was part of the team that finished ninth at the World Youth Cup in Botswana in 2017, this is a chance to use lessons picked from that event.
“From the Youth World Cup, I realised that you have to work hard if you want to make it. You have to keep fighting until the final whistle,’’ she said.
Coach Lloyd Makunde says victory in their opening encounter will be crucial for their adventure here. “I can safely say we expect very good results considering all the preparations we have had,’’ he said.
‘‘We were actually focusing on containing Sri Lanka on the mid-court so that they don’t get balls to their tall shooter. We are working on that, we are giving priority to that, so that if we can manage to retain the balls mid-way, or just before it gets to the shooters, that will certainly be our trump card.’’
Makunde said they were targeting the next round.
“We definitely want to get into the second round with two wins, if we can manage that we will be home and dry,’’ he said.
‘‘Also, it will put confidence into the players such that they will be able to face the next opponents.’’
While Zimbabwe are competing at the World Cup for the first time, Sri Lanka will be marking their 10th appearance. Their coach Thilaka Jinadasa said they were not sure of Zimbabwe’s
type of play but their experience will give them a slight advantage with seven of their players having been at the previous World Cup.
“Seven girls (from the team) have been to the previous World Cup, so I am sure it will benefit (us) for them to play.
“The experience matters when it comes to international tournaments. So, when you play international games, you get more experience and you are coming out of the fear factor.
‘‘I am sure that will be an advantage for my team compared with Zimbabwe.
“But I won’t take it easy with Zimbabwe because I know the Africans, (they) are really unpredictable from my experience,” said Jinadasa.
Adelaide Muskwe (goal defence), Claris Kwaramba (wing defence), Felisitus Kwangwa (goal defence), Joice Takaidza (goal shooter), Ndaizivei Madzikangava (centre/wing defence), Patricia Mauladi (centre/wing attack), Pauline Jani (goal shooter) Perpetua Siyachitema (wing attack), Rudo Karume (goal defence, goal keeper), Sharon Bwanali (goal attack), Sharleen Makusha (goal keeper), Ursula Ndlovu (goal attack).