Malawi Queens’ performance at the 2022 Commonwealth Games and recent competitions has shown that the gap against higher ranked teams is further widening while that with lower ranked sides is narrowing.
It has been observed that the Queens are behind in many aspects of modern netball, including having height advantage, grooming new talented players and having tactical discipline in matches.
Even Queens coach Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa somehow admitted the problem as Malawi lost 56-43 to Uganda’s She Cranes in their last Group B clash last Wednesday to be condemned to the games’ successive seventh place playoff.
“We failed to contain the mid-court and their tall shooter [Mary Cholhok Nuba]. We tried everything we could but it didn’t end well,” she lamented in post-match interview.
Surely, skill alone was not enough for the Queens to outsmart the She Cranes, who have for the past decade invested a lot in talent nurturing, especially enticing tall girls into the game and embracing long-but-quick passes as compared to the Queens’ unorthodox play, whereby a number of quick short passes are exchanged before deciding to score.
It was not long ago when Uganda could quake in their boots whenever they were playing Malawi, but, thanks to height advantage, perfect transition and new style of play, they are slowly becoming a dominant force on the continent.
For the past five years, Uganda’s She Cranes have moved seven places up the rankings’ table to displace the Queens from sixth after a vigorous exercise of talent nurturing and team rebuilding. At the just-concluded Commonwealth Games, they also shocked continental champions South Africa’s Spar Proteas 54-48 in fifth-place playoff.
Standing at 2.01meter (m) tall, 25-year-old Cholhok Nuba was almost untouchable; scoring for fun as she towered above Queens defenders captain Carol Mtukule-Ngwira, Towera Vinkhumbo-Nyirenda and Martha Dambo, whose height is 1.75m.
Another Uganda shooter Peace Proscovia is 1.93m tall yet Queens tallest player is shooter Mwawi Kumwenda at 1.83m followed by goalkeeper Laureen Ngwira (1.82m) and shooter Joyce Mvula (1.80).
It is good to also note that the average height for the world’s top ranked netball teams Australia, New Zealand, England and Jamaica is 1.82m.
In spite of that, this does not mean height I the only aspect should be looking after because Malawi has some short but very skillful players.
Just look at the talent the Queens have in diminutive centre Takondwa Lwazi-Mtonga for example. She was regarded as the shortest netballer at the games, having a 1.6m frame but the police officer always charms the world of netball with her fantastic jumps, amazing catches and crispy passes.
While admitting that Malawi has talented netballers in abundance, Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) general secretary Isaac Chimwala admitted that it is high time they put a deliberate plan to scout tall players.
“The area we would probably want to do well is scouting for tall players. Most of the players we have are very good but are not vertically advantaged. There is a deliberate plan to seriously look at that aspect,” he said.
The NAM GS explained that their long-term plans include introducing netball academies and coming up with junior leagues for various age groups.
“We have since partnered with the Malawi Schools Sports Association on the establishment of the junior leagues, where we hope to spot these potential gems. Height is a huge factor in today’s netball,” he said.
Aside from that, poor transition has been a big thorn in the flesh for the Queens. Almost 80 percent of the Malawi squad is made up of players that have been featuring regularly for over the past decade, and the few players that luckily trickled into the netball system, have for the past few years hardly been exposed to international games to gain experience and learn the ropes from the old-guards.
The last 10 years, Malawi relaxed on talent development as it has the Botsalt Southern Region Netball Committee Under-23 League as the only youth development competition and has rarely been participating in international youth competitions at regional, continental and global stage.
Yet, the bulk of the current senior players such as Caroline Mtukule-Ngwira, Towera Vinkhumbo-Nyirenda, Mwawi Kumwenda and Sindi Simtowe-Msowoya had an opportunity to regularly compete in youth competitions and rubbed shoulders with former Queens stars such as Annie Mopiha, Judith Chalusa, Chawinga-Kaluwa, Mary Waya and Linda Magombo before gradually taking over and inheriting the team’s DNA.
In fact, Mwawi had the opportunity of becoming the country’s first netball export after being spotted by Australian out-fit Pensular Waves following her impressive performance at the 2009 Under-21 Netball World Cup in Cook’s Island.
It is undisputable that height, timely transition and tactical discipline have fast become a clear advantage in the game of netball and Malawi can learn from the giant netball nations or emerging wonders such as the She Cranes. Otherwise, the African Netball Championship that the Queens won in 2011 would be their last title.