Malawi Queens have heaved a sigh of relief after securing friendlies against reigning world champions New Zealand as well as Zimbabwe ahead of the Netball World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa this July.
Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) general secretary (GS) Isaac Chimwala confirmed yesterday that the world’s second-ranked Silver Ferns and 13th-ranked Gems of Zimbabwe, who are also tuning up for the global showpiece, officially asked for the test matches against sixth-ranked Malawi National Netball Team.
He said: “The two sides offered us the build-up matches and we could hardly turn them down as the Queens need more games to be in good shape before the World Cup.
What remains now is to finalise the logistical arrangements.”
Chimwala said New Zealand would like to host the Queens in South Africa ahead of the World Cup while Zimbabwe is inviting the team to Harare and has offered to pay for almost everything, except transportation.
“We are currently discussing the actual dates for the games. We are also keeping fingers crossed that government, through the Malawi National Council of Sports, and the corporate world will support the initiatives,” he said.
Queens coach Peace Chawinga-Kaluwa yesterday said the friendlies will be a big boost in the team’s World Cup preparations.
She said: “This is great news we have been hoping for. This is really what we wanted because it is good to have friendlies against such big teams before such big tournaments,” she said.
“This is a stage where players are assessed while improving their performance. We are happy because these are teams that will also participate at the World Cup.”
The coach said she rates New Zealand and Zimbabwe highly.
The friendlies are coming at a time the Queens are desperate for further warm-up games to tighten the loose ends ahead of the Netball World Cup after competing at the PacificAus Netball Series in Australia where they finished second to seventh-ranked Tonga.
At the eight-team Series, the Queens were the highest ranked side, but only featured local-based players as overseas professionals Mwawi Kumwenda-Mbwana, Joyce Mvula-Nyirenda, Towera Vinkhumbo-Nyirenda and Carol Mtukule-Ngwira were not available due to club commitments.
Before taking part in the PacificAus Series, the Queens were dormant for at least seven months.
Sports Council board chairperson Sunduzwayo Madise, who recently pledged government’s total support towards the Queens’ preparations, yesterday said he needed more time to comment on the latest development.
“Let me check with the ES [Sports Council executive secretary] and chairperson of finance if we have received a request from NAM,” he said.
Queens’ legend Sylvia Malenga-Mtetemera yesterday said the international friendlies, especially against New Zealand, will provide real litmus test on the national team’s preparedness for the World Cup.
“When going to a big tournament, you need to test your strength against stronger opponents and the New Zealand friendly will be ideal as they are considered the best in the word,” she said.
At the global showpiece, which will take place on African soil for the first time, Queens are in Group B alongside third-ranked England, 10th-placed Scotland and 14th-ranked Barbados.
Group A has Australia, Zimbabwe, Fiji and Tonga while hosts South Africa will take on Jamaica, Wales and Sri Lanka in Group C. On the other hand, New Zealand are in Group D, which also has Uganda, Singapore and Trinidad & Tobago.