Netball: Singapore's squad for the future ready for Asian Championship

Malaysian player An Najwa Azizan taking a shot during training at the OCBC Arena on Thursday, ahead of the Asian Netball Championship starting today.
Malaysian player An Najwa Azizan taking a shot during training at the OCBC Arena on Thursday, ahead of the Asian Netball Championship starting today.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Milicich picks in-form players for Asian Championship, game plans devised for Malaysia, Sri Lanka

When the 12-team Asian Netball Championship (ANC) starts today at the Singapore Sports Hub's OCBC Arena, fans of the national team will see a Singapore line-up that could serve the country for years to come.

After a period of rebuilding and rejuvenation, national coach Natalie Milicich believes she has not only assembled the best players available to challenge for the continental crown but they will also clock substantial mileage in the country's colours.

"I absolutely do. It's time for us to look at some of the younger players and most importantly - to pick in-form players," she told The Straits Times ahead of today's opening game against Brunei.

"We've added a little bit of youth and that is a good thing for the long-term future of the team."

There are four new faces in her squad - goalkeeper Sindhu Nair, 22, goal-shooters Tan Xin Yi, 21, and Lee Pei Shan, 18, and 20-year-old Ayshath Zaseela, who can play goal-defence, wing-defence or centre. They are among the final 12 selected from a group of 17 that went on a training tour of New Zealand in July.

Two years ago, a trio of key players - captain Micky Lin, co-vice-captain Chen Huifen and defender Premila Hirubalan, who collectively earned 328 caps - retired to make way for young blood.

Following their departure, Singapore, who won the ANC in 2012 and 2014, relinquished their grip on the title to Malaysia two years ago. And, last year, the Causeway rivalry heated up when SEA Games hosts Malaysia defeated 2015 gold medallists Singapore in the final.

  • ASIAN NETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP 2018

  • TODAY

    Gp C: Singapore v Brunei (1pm) Gp A: Malaysia v Japan (3pm) Gp B: Chinese Taipei v Sri Lanka (5pm) Gp D: Philippines v Thailand (7pm)

  • TOMORROW

    Gp A: Maldives v Malaysia (1pm) Gp B: Sri Lanka v India (3pm) Gp C: Singapore v Pakistan (5pm) Gp D: Thailand v Hong Kong (7pm)

  • Venue:

    OCBC Arena. Tickets: apactix.com

Malaysia coach Choo Kon Lee has set a clear target for this tournament, saying: "We are aiming to be champions or at least reach the final in order to qualify for next year's World Cup.

"There are six new players in the squad, which are a combination of the seniors and juniors. The seniors are leading the juniors very well. Nine of the girls have been trained by me at the Bukit Jalil Sports School."

While Singapore's strength lies in speed and movement, there is a pragmatic side to Milicich's tactics as she will not hesitate to sacrifice some aesthetics to use brawn to overcome difficult opponents.

She said: "Malaysia and Sri Lanka are both very strong. They offer different strengths. Malaysia are very fast and Sri Lanka are physical. We've got to have different game plans for different teams."

A case in point is 1.96m Chen Lili, a tower of power who is expected to neutralise Sri Lanka's 2.08m goal-shooter Tharjini Sivalingam.

But coach Choo believes she has an ace in 1.79m goal-shooter An Najwa Azizan. In February, the 21-year-old became the first Malaysian netballer to play professionally outside her country when she joined Australian second-tier club Greater Western Sydney Fury.

In last year's SEA Games final in Kuala Lumpur, the player billed as "The An-nihilator" by the Malaysian press played only one half but sank 33 of her 35 shots to propel the hosts to a convincing 65-41 win.

And Choo believes that An Najwa has improved after her stint Down Under, saying: "She's physically very strong now and she blends in very well with the team.

"She will be a good challenge for the other teams. Psychologically, she is one-up against Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2018, with the headline 'A squad for the future'. Print Edition | Subscribe