After four years of patient waiting, the Netball World Cup returned to our screens, broadcast from Cape Town, demonstrating the very best of global netball.
Netball as a sport has struggled to gain traction in the media despite being the fastest-growing sport among women. The BBC only broadcast the matches from Day 4 of the tournament and onwards, choosing to ignore some tantalising fixtures in the group stages. Despite this, Sky Sports subscribers had full access to every match and approximately half of them were live-streamed on YouTube free of charge. Netball has come a long way in regards to coverage, but fans want more.
All they needed to do was overcome New Zealand’s already floundering zone defence in the semi-final to secure their place.
As a die-hard English fan, it’s nigh on impossible to not be biased, but England broke records and made history this year with their nail-biting one-goal, buzzer-beating win over Australia (the number one ranked team) in the preliminary finals, putting them in pole position for the grand final. All they needed to do was overcome New Zealand’s already floundering zone defence in the semi-final to secure their place.
With a late loss to their target 6’4” shooter, Grace Mweke, New Zealand was on the back throughout the tournament and, despite some expected wins, could not overcome the pressure of the big four – Australia, England, Jamaica and South Africa. Granted, there was some inspirational defence through the likes of Jane Watson and long-limbed Kelly Jury, against the 6’6” Jamaican powerhouse Jhaniele Fowler for example, but they were simply no match in the end.
At the approach of the semi-final against New Zealand, England was still riding the wave of their Australia win and took this through to make World Cup history and gain their first-ever spot in the grand final. The player that stood out particularly to me in this match was Imogen Allison, the pocket rocket centre-court player who can jump higher than some of the tallest shooters. The myriad of flying intercepts obtained by Allison was impressive, to say the least, and afforded England a healthy six-goal victory over the previous World Cup champions.
This could have been enough for England as reaching the grand final was massive in itself. However, the momentum wasn’t about to be lost and England came out fiercely against Australia in the final game. Despite this valiant attempt, the whole world knew that Australia would be back to avenge their prelim loss. The final score was 61-45 to Australia, England falling apart in the second half of the match.
Although gutted for England, fans could feel the jubilation of the Australian players and coaching staff. For the likes of players such as Ash Brazill, the feeling must have been overwhelming. Brazil has been a stalwart of the Australian centre court and defence but announced she would be retiring at the end of the World Cup, choosing to focus wholeheartedly on her life with her wife and two children. It’s a bittersweet moment for fans worldwide but we can be happy she ended on a high.
For me, the team that stood out the most were the Ugandan ‘She Cranes’ who finished fifth overall, overtaking South Africa to become the best African team. It’s a momentous achievement, putting Uganda on the sports map and shining a light on such bright talent.
I have faith that England will be back to continue their success in more international matches. With young blood coming up, the fitness and athleticism are better than ever before and it is this intensity that will give the other powerful nations a run for their money. For now, we can continue to encourage young girls and boys to take up grassroots netball. With the support from other sports such as the Lionesses and Manchester United Football Club, netball continues to gain popularity and the budding England Roses can blossom under the support of a nation.