Lack of proper succession plan in Malawi Queens squad has left Griffin Saenda-led technical panel with a depleted squad at the African Netball Championship in Kampala, Uganda after six key players failed to make the trip.
Australia-based shooter Mwawi Kumwenda, centre Takondwa Lwazi alongside defenders Carol Mtukule-Ngwira, Grace Mwafulirwa-Mhango, Towera Vinkhumbo and Laureen Ngwira, who have been key national team figures for almost a decade, have missed the competition for different reasons.
The unavailability of these experienced players has not only reminded Netball Association of Malawi (NAM) the importance of having sustainable grassroots structures but has also prompted the technical panel to think of creating two sets of national teams that will be participating in international competitions on rotational basis.
He, however, admitted that funding would be a major setback to this project unless the corporate world comes to their rescue. Already, there are a few companies sponsoring netball competitions in the country.
“The idea of coming up with two sets of national teams aims at having a readily available reservoir of experienced players if other key players do not show up when called-up for camp,” Saenda said.
“The current scenario should give us food for thought to consider exposing more players on the international stage frequently so as not to panic when we need replacements. It is risky to go to prestigious competitions with more than half the team making their first appearance in competitive international games.”
He said the second team will mostly comprise players that rise up from the youth development stages but lack international exposure due to the junior national teams’ sporadic participation in international events.
Saenda’s suggestion comes in the backdrop of the absence of a sustainable junior national team, whose players would be under-studying the current crop of senior national team netballers.
Although there seem to be plenty of talent in domestic netball, it has been hardly possible for new faces to make a breakthrough into the Queens’ squad. Sometimes, the technical panel even struggles to replace players that are on martenity leave.
All this happens because there are no grassroots structures in place to facilitate the succession process as was the case between 2008 and 2011 when the then Under-21 players Kumwenda, Vinkhumbo-Nyirenda and Sindi Simtowe-Msowoya were slowly, but surely, taking over the mantle from Queens’ legends Mary Waya, Peace Chawinga-Kalua and Linda Magombo-Munthali.
By the time these legends stopped playing for the national team after the 2011 Netball World Cup in Singapore, the youthful players had already gained international exposure and got the DNA of the Queens’ orthodox netball style as, apart from rubbing shoulders with the seniors in training camps, they also participated in the 2009 Youth Netball World Championship, the 2011 Zone VI Games in Namibia and a number of international friendlies.
The same cannot be said about the current squad because since 2012 when the Junior Queens failed to defend the Zone VI Games crown against their rivals South Africa in Zambia, there had not been a junior national team until 2016 when the haphazardly-assembled Under-21 side failed to make the grade in Botswana during qualifiers for Netball World Youth Cup.
The junior side, which is nowhere to be seen, comprised players that were purportedly scouted in various districts by the team’s coach the late Connie Mhone before her death earlier that year.
“While I agree with coach [Saenda] that having two sets of the senior national team would help us have a strong base of Queens’ players, I believe the revival of the youth team, which should frequently participate in youth competitions, would as well be the best solution,” said Vinkhumbo-Nyirenda.
Re-elected NAM vice-president Chimwemwe Kachingwe said the issue of reviving the Junior Queens for sustainability and creating a foundation for proper succession plan in the senior team are issues they are already passionate about in their strategic plan. However, she could not explain what the strategic plan says about the succession plan.
“Nevertheless, the proposal by the technical panel to have two sets of the national teams will have to be discussed thoroughly at our executive meeting to weight its pros and cons because such a development will require a lot of resources,” she said.
According to Kachingwe, lack of funds and proper strategic plan had been the major reasons for the local netball governing body’s failure to put in place standard structures but, with their allocation in the 2017/18 National Budget being increased from K34 million to K200 million, things will change for the better.
In spite of that, we should bear in mind that if the Queens stutter at the continental championship in Kampala from today to next Thursday, the blame should not be on the technical panel’s failure to make the right combinations but rather lack of a proper succession plan in the national team.
Analyst Wesley Namasala said he would prefer a vibrant under-21 national team that consistently participate in all international tournaments.