Netball: Defending champions Sri Lanka seek sixth Asian title in Singapore

Captains of the 11 teams at the Asian Netball Championship pose for a photo before the tournament starts on Sept 3. PHOTO: NETBALL SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - Sri Lanka have not had an ideal preparation heading into their title defence at the Asian Netball Championship (ANC), which starts at the OCBC Arena on Saturday.

They have not played an international tournament since the 2019 Netball World Cup, while their rivals have gone on overseas training tours recently.

But the defending champions are still confident they can retain their title at the Sept 3-11 tournament.

Before a major competition, the team would usually have an overseas exposure series, said captain Gayanjali Amarawansa. But they were unable to do so this year because of the pandemic and economic situation.

Singapore went on three tours in Australia and Fiji this year, while last month, the Philippines competed in the International Netball Event in South Korea and Malaysia had a training stint in Perth.

The Sri Lankans had to settle for practice matches at home, besides competing in the local leagues with their respective clubs.

Amarawansa, 27, said: "We've been practising well since January and our coach has a plan so we just followed the plan. The girls are very stable physically and mentally so we're ready.

"The exposure series would have been good because we can learn from our mistakes and study our strengths and weaknesses.

"But we couldn't have it this time but we can identify those (strengths and weaknesses) as a team."

The favourites for this year's ANC, Sri Lanka are also the most successful team of the biennial tournament, having won it five times.

But Amarawansa, who works as a banker, knows it will be a tough title defence, adding that they are definitely monitoring Singapore and Malaysia, who are "great teams" with experienced players.

Two-time winners Malaysia have seven returning players from the 2018 ANC in their 12-strong squad. They also have a new coach, Australian Lisa Beehag, who was appointed in 2020 but rejoined the team only in April because of the pandemic.

She said: “I’m absolutely pleased with their progress so far. You always would like a little bit more time but it’s not possible every time. We’ve worked really hard through a few things and the last camp was good.”

Captain Nur Syafazliyana Mohd Ali said the Perth tour was a fruitful one as they learnt about their strengths, areas for improvement and also faced different playing styles and had to think of strategies to counter them.

Three-time champions Singapore, however, face a tricky task to qualify for the Netball World Cup again – the top two sides at the 11-team ANC will earn spots at next year’s showpiece tournament in Cape Town, South Africa.

Five  players – Khor Ting Fang, Amandeep Kaur, Miki Ng, Tan Yi Jie and Yew Shu Ning – are making their debut at a major international tournament, while the squad are also missing stalwarts Aqilah Andin, Vanessa Lee and Nurul Baizura from 2018.

The defending champions have not played an international tournament since 2019, but are confident they can retain their title. PHOTO: SRI LANKA SPORTS.COM/FACEBOOK

But Singapore coach Annette Bishop is confident the team will come through, adding that the tours gave the players much-needed exposure and lessons.

Bishop, who is taking charge of her first major tournament, said her young team can now showcase their skills collectively in front of the home crowd.

“Yes, they may be lacking a bit in experience but what they have physically makes up for it and it’s a great opportunity for them to step up and take the lead,” she added.

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