It’s pleasing for your shooter to be crowned player of the tournament. It’s gratifying to nearly secure a historic semi-final place and then receive a hero’s welcome on your return home.
For another team it would be nice, but for Malawi netball team which—after making a bright start at the Netball World Cup in Sydney, Australia—ended the campaign a step further backwards.
New Zealand-based Mwawi Kumwenda’s refusal to join training overshadowed preparations for the competition that run from August 7 to 16.
The shooter warned she will only return after the Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) had withdrawn a warning letter issued against her after she expressed displeasure at the netball authorities’ failure to pay players allowance arrears.
It took the intervention of Minister of Sports Grace Chiumia for Kumwenda to return to the national team after a year-long sabbatical.
Enter the court; Malawi flouted worries and strains over the Mwawi controversy into the back of her mind and put up an amazing performance to sink their fiercest continental rivals South Africa 58-51.
In the opening matches, the then fifth ranked Malawi also defeated Uganda 59-53 and other teams before meeting Jamaica in a battle for a semi-final place.
This encounter, perhaps more tellingly, saw the Queens stage the most resilient fight against one of the strongest netballing nations.
The Jamaicans led in all quarters but in the final quarter, their lead was reduced to one basket.
After the final whistle, the Sunshine girls of Jamaica narrowly won 63-62 to deny Malawi a maiden qualification into the World Cup semi-final.
Malawians, who closely followed the match, showered praise on the Queens via social networks. It was indeed a gallant fight, one wonderfully spearheaded by Mwawi and Sindi Simtowe, who television commentators nicknamed “sniper.”
After the match, Jamaica’s shooter Romelda Aiken admitted his side escaped from Malawi’s resilient fight by a whisker.
” It was a tough game,” she told The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper. “Malawi always come to play really hard but it was up to us to just stick to what we know best,” she said.
After the semi-final dream ended bitterly, the Peace Chawinga-Kalua coached side set their sight on maintaining the fifth position on world rankings.
The path was cleared after the Queens trounced Wales 71-52. During the fifth place play-off against South Africa, Malawi players were just too slow, both in mind and body. They lost 48-46.
After the semi-final place had gone with a fight and fifth place gone without a fight, Mwawi emerged as the face-saver in being named World Cup player of the tournament.
She really deserved it. The Mainland Tactix player was almost flawless in her shooting after netting 321 times in eight games. This represented 91% shooting accuracy rate.
Upon arrival from Australia, some Malawians led by the First Lady Getrude Mutharika accorded the Queens a heroes’ welcome. But serious questions still hung in the air: Did the team deserve the colourful reception after failing to even defend their fifth position? Is coming close to beating Jamaica a feat worth such a welcome?
Whatever the answers, Malawi’s story of glorious failure is now more or less like a portrait living close to legends, but never quiet becoming one. n