Netball: Brave Zambia on unbeaten run

Zambia goal shooter Hellen Banda catches a ball during the Mission Foods Nations Cup match against Canada     yesterday. Banda, 25, shot 52 out of 53 attempts during Zambia's 78-26 victory.
Zambia goal shooter Hellen Banda catches a ball during the Mission Foods Nations Cup match against Canada yesterday. Banda, 25, shot 52 out of 53 attempts during Zambia's 78-26 victory. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Early preparation vital as tactical supremacy puts them at the top of the Nations Cup table

They are the shortest team at the Mission Foods Nations Cup but Zambia are looking down at the rest of the field now.

The newcomers beat Canada 78-26 at the OCBC Arena yesterday to remain the only undefeated team in the six-nation invitational tournament.

Zambia, ranked 16th in the world, had earlier beaten world No. 19 Botswana, No. 15 Papua New Guinea and No. 25 Ireland. They meet Singapore tomorrow.

While Zambia have an average height of only 1.62m (Ireland are the tallest side at 1.76m, while Singapore are at 1.73m), coach Charles Zulu insisted his charges are not disadvantaged.

Explaining that they can get past their taller opponents in other ways, the 44-year-old said: "My players are short, so when we want to get past a tall player, we mark them closely on court and create a bigger space to pass the ball around them."

He attributed his charges' dominance in the competition to early preparation, noting that they have been in training since June.

Efficient training is also a key reason for their strong performance, said team manager Martha Sichone.

"The coach did his part training the girls at home, where they worked on their physical strength and stamina," she added. "Here, it's just a matter of reading the game and discussing tactics - that's why there are no injuries in the team."

With four wins under their belt, Zambia are top of the Nations Cup league table with eight points, and will likely feature in Saturday's final.

Said Zulu, who has been Zambia's head coach since 2012 and is the only male head coach at the tournament: "I'm very happy with our performance so far. We will be expecting more, and at the rate we are going, I am confident we can win."

If Hellen Banda's performance yesterday is anything to go by, then his confidence is well placed. The 1.72m-tall goal shooter, on her maiden international outing, shot 52 out of 53 attempts against Canada.

Praising her performance, Zulu said: "Hellen was practising very hard at home, where we were training her to shoot at different angles.

"She managed to put that into practice, so I'm very happy what I taught her came through."

The Nations Cup is the Zambia netball team's first senior-level international outing since last year's Netball World Cup in Sydney, where they finished 14th.

Sichone hopes the Nations Cup, which is sanctioned by the International Netball Federation, will pave the way for Zambia's rise in the world rankings and, ultimately, a place at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

The top 12 teams in the world will qualify for the Commonwealth Games, and Sichone added: "With the girls' performance here, the tournament will definitely take us to the Commonwealth Games."

For now, however, Zambia's immediate focus is on their match against Singapore.

Said Zulu: "We'll take the match as it comes. Singapore will be playing at home, but in any sport, the supporters cheer for everyone.

"The noise will be for both teams, so we must be prepared."

In other matches, Botswana beat Ireland 34-27 while Papua New Guinea beat Singapore 61-37.

Today is a rest day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2016, with the headline ' Brave Zambia on unbeaten run'. Print Edition | Subscribe