The Zimbabwean netball team may have lost to the current world champions but they stretched the all professional Aussie girls.
Australian netball team captain Caitlin Bassett admitted that the Zimbabwean team was a tough opposition that gave them a lot to think about. “There is work to be done after a “scratchy” 36-goal World Cup win against a Zimbabwean side that had to fundraise simply to take the court in Liverpool.
The final score of 73-37 paints a picture of dominance for the defending champions at the M&S Bank Arena but the reality was trickier than the numbers suggest. The World Cup rookies Zimbabwe played an athletic and at times unorthodox game to occasionally rattle the Australians.
The Australians had some frustrations with officials as well, conceding penalties and turnovers that stunted their momentum at various stages of the contest. It wasn’t anywhere near as easy as the game-one demolition of Northern Ireland but Bassett said that was a blessing.
“It was a good physical struggle out there which will prepare us for later rounds,” Bassett said. “We got there in the end.
“I was happy with the defence in the final quarter, I think we tightened up a lot. It’s about controlling what we can, we did a lot better in the back half of the game but wasted a bit of ball early.”
Zimbabwean players took to GoFundMe earlier in the year to try and raise money so they could attend training camps and help pay their way to the UK for the World Cup. The Australians are made up of professional players but it took some time to make the needed adjustments, with coach Lisa Alexander leaving her big guns on the court all game to try and find some cohesion.
“We’ve never matched up against any of them before and I think you could tell it was scratchy at times. It was hard to tell where to place the ball because they were good in the air and had very good reach,” Bassett said.
Bassett was player of the match and helped herself to 49 goals from 53 attempts, with Gretel Tippett chiming in with 24/28 to be the only two contributors to the Diamonds tally. Goalkeeper Courtney Bruce was brilliant, with nine intercepts to stall the Zimbabwe attack, headlined by Joice Takaidza (15/20).
The Australians finished with a 90 per cent shooting rate but 28 turnovers would be unlikely to please the coach ahead of a clash with Sri Lanka. Much stiffer competition lies in wait beyond them, especially should they meet Commonwealth champions England on their home court.
The Australians led 18-9 after the opener quarter, with Bassett and Tippett perfect in the first term, even if their defence was leaking some goals as Zimbabwe threw everything they had at one of the giants of the sport.
Bassett had five turnovers of her own by that stage and Alexander sent the same team back out in the second term. Everyone saw court time in the opener but this time, she wanted her stars to find their way through a few rough patches.
Zimbabwe came out hard and at one point got back to 19-13 after a run of goals, before the Australians snapped out of their slumber to take a 39-18 lead into half-time.
Once again, Zimbabwe made it clear they were in for the fight. The trimmed the margin by three goals and produced some brilliant athletic efforts in and around the ball.
They had the third quarter tied at eight goals each and the Australians could only end it 15-13 to edge ahead of their little-known rivals.
But they found more fluency and defensive zeal in the final term, pulling clear to win 73-37 and safely advance through another of the pool matches.