The International Netball Federation (INF) has shifted the Netball World Youth Cup from June 2021 to later dates due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a development that might be a blessing in disguise for the Malawi Under-21 national team.
As INF consults netball associations that have the qualified teams regarding rescheduling the global showpiece to the end of 2021 and early 2022, it is time Malawi seized the opportunity to intensify the preparations.
For a start, the team needs ample time to assemble players and start preparations, having been dormant for over a year since it won silver at the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) Region Five Youth Games in Botswana.
The junior national squad dismantled immediately after the contest and since then and most of the players hardly featured in competitive games due to the absence of a national netball youth league.
Of course, there was the inaugural K8 million Botsalt Southern Region Netball Committee (Sereneco) Under-20 League in 2019 for the youthful players, but being a regional contest, many players did not have such an opportunity.
Junior Queens coach Christina Mkwanda-Nsinji believes the fact that the Junior Queens qualified for the 20-team Netball World Youth Cup without the normal qualifiers, means there is a lot of homework to do for Malawi to be ready for the global contest.
“It is a blessing in disguise that the tournament has been shifted. Although we are worried with the uncertainty of the competition, it could not have been easy to build a strong team for such a prestigious event within a short period,” she said.
Prior to the latest qualification along with Africa’s top-ranked netballing nation South Africa and third-ranked Uganda, second-ranked Malawi had not made the grade at the world youth contest since 2009 in Cook Islands, where shooter Mwawi Kumwenda was spotted by Australian club Peninsular Waves to become the country’s first netball export.
Three years ago, Malawi failed to qualify for the last edition in Botswana, finishing on fifth position during the Africa Region qualifiers that saw them winning only two of their six games. Then, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe made it to the 20-team finals as the continent’s representatives alongside the hosts.
Former Queens captain Emmie Waya-Chongwe said the postponement of the tournament will affect the Junior Queens’ selection process, considering that some players earmarked for the event will be over-aged by the time the competition starts.
She said: “The technical panel will have ample time to assess the junior players through training sessions and, probably, international friendly matches for international exposure.”
The Queens legend reckoned the postponement has given the junior team an opportunity to put its house in order because, in the absence of a national netball youth league, most youthful players are just idle and there is a need for Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) to intensify the groundwork, especially sharpening the skills of young players.
“With the Covid-19 pandemic, there can be a deliberate arrangement to organise training sessions online for the youthful players that are in NAM’s database,” she said.
Waya-Chongwe caalled for serious investment in the junior team, which is key to the senior national team’s player transition process.
During the Netball World Cup in England and the Africa Netball Championships in South Africa last year, the Senior Queens banished their recent performance demons to take sixth and second positions, respectively, and move a place up on the latest rankings to sixth in the world and second in Africa.
However, the team that managed such a feat is aging and there is a need for a fast and effective transition for sustainability.
South Africa and Uganda took advantage of the two competitions to give their young players international exposure, but the Queens featured the oldest squad that had an average age of 29.6 followed by dethroned champions Uganda’s 27.
Therefore, as the Junior Queens prepare to compete in the World Youth Cup, NAM and netball stakeholders should also bear in mind that such a tourney is important towards the rebuilding of the senior side ahead of upcoming tournaments such as the 2022 Commonwealth Games and the 2023 Netball World Cup.
NAM technical director Sam Kanyenda on Saturday said Malawi is gifted as far as netball is concerned and they will do their best to produce a formidable side that will make the country proud on the world map.
He said: “We now have so many structures and strategies in place than before.”