Pretoria, South Africa - South Africa established themselves as the top netball team in Africa, beating arch rivals Malawi 47-43 in the final of the inaugural Diamond Challenge tournament in Pretoria on Saturday.
Watched by Sports Minister Fikile Mbablu and his Malawian counterpart, Justin Saidi, as well as Olympic canoeing bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, the teams put on an outstanding display of international netball.
While the honours were even early in the match, the Malawians looked to have the upper hand as they dominated possession. Both teams made nervous errors but Malawi edged narrowly ahead with a 12-10 lead at the first break. In the second quarter, the Proteas held their own but Malawi still held a one goal advantage at half-time, with the scores at 23-22. Chrisna Bootha turned the game around in the third quarter. Having missed the first two matches of the tournament with flu, Bootha arrived at the courts alone, early in the morning, and worked on her shooting before the final. It paid off and the goal shooter broke into a rare smile when the SPAR Proteas held a six-goal lead midway through the third quarter. A rare mistake in the circle allowed Malawi back into the game but the Proteas refocused quickly, outscoring their opponents by 14 points to nine in the third period.
Malawi pulled it back in the final fifteen minutes and kept the home side on their toes by picking up the pace. Mwai Kumwenda’s experience showed as the Malawian shooter was impressive with her quick handling of the ball. It was a tense final few minutes with only one point separating the sides, but South Africa held their nerve to lift the trophy.
Bootha’s final statistics showed a 90 percent accuracy in her shooting while Kumwenda was far and away the shooter of the tournament, scoring 39 from 41 attempts. SPAR Proteas captain Zanele Mdodana said she was still replaying the final moments in her head. “It was such a phenomenal win and I am so delighted, I don’t know what else to say,” Mdodana said. “To see the girls fighting right to the end was fantastic. “Last night we said we had to raise the bar and we were not going to lose to Malawi twice in a row. “Now we are walking on top of a mountain.”
Mdodana said it was a team effort and the coaching staff, Elize Kotze and assistant Lana Krige, deserved praise as they had more belief in the players than they had in themselves. “It’s about time South Africa were back as the best team in Africa,” said Kotze. “It will always be a tough encounter against Malawi and I cannot ever imagine playing them and having an easy game. “The score could have been higher but considering Chrisna (Bootha) was not supposed to be on the court and Maryka Holtzhausen, our goal attack, had a stomach bug, I can’t complain. “I saw something out there today which pleased me more than anything –the commitment and the fact that the girls would put anything on the line to win.” — Jenny Bernstein, Sapa