SINGAPORE - For 30 minutes on Sunday, the 2,500-strong sold-out crowd at the OCBC Arena threatened to bring the roof down as they hollered and screamed, willing Singapore to finally end their eight-year title drought at the Asian Netball Championship (ANC).
And for 30 minutes they dared to dream, as the hosts first stormed to a 19-13 lead over Sri Lanka in the first quarter, before closing the half with a slim 30-27 advantage.
But once again, Singapore were bridesmaids for a second straight edition after defending champions Sri Lanka rallied to win 63-53. It was their second loss to the same opponents in the tournament after a 67-49 defeat in the second round.
Despite the loss, Singapore head coach Annette Bishop was proud of the team and pleased with the progress they have shown throughout the tournament.
She said: “The team fought till the end, they never gave up when Sri Lanka came back. Unfortunately, we didn’t adapt to that, but what they put out there with a young team, I was really proud of them."
In a repeat of the 2018 final, three-time winners Singapore came out firing, capitalising on errors from a nervy Sri Lankan side for a big first-quarter lead.
Sri Lanka fought back in the next period to outscore Singapore 14-11 but the hosts held on for a three-point lead. The third quarter was the turning point as the visitors tightened their defence, forcing errors from Singapore and limiting their attackers to just eight goals.
With Sri Lanka’s 2.06m veteran Tharjini Sivalingam lighting up in the circle with a game-high 19 goals, they levelled matters before leading 46-38 after three periods.
In a tense final quarter, both teams brought their A game with Sri Lanka’s shooters scoring 17 goals to Singapore’s 15. But the gap proved far too big for Singapore as Sri Lanka prevailed by a comfortable margin and captured their sixth Asian title.
Sri Lanka captain Gayanjali Amarawansa was overwhelmed with emotion after the match, which was the team’s first international outing in three years.
They had endured a tough build-up to the event owing to the pandemic and the country’s economic and political situation. Their training was disrupted by power cuts and transport issues, while travel was curtailed and they were unable to go on overseas tours.
She said: “I just have no words. Everyone’s commitment (level) is really high so I’m really so proud of the girls. We had a very difficult time back in Sri Lanka... I’m so proud to be a Sri Lankan.”
Tharjini, 44, who plays for the City West Falcons in Australia’s Victorian Netball League, had only linked up with her national teammates in Singapore.
The Australian permanent resident said: “Everyone came together and that’s why we could win, it’s not a just because of one person. (At half-time), our coach told us to think about our country, we’re having big problems now but we have ourselves to be proud of and we want to win.”
Both teams have qualified for the 2023 World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa.
Singapore co-captain Toh Kai Wei said: “It’s not the result that we wanted but the team fought till the end. So that’s something that we should be happy about.”
Next up for Singapore is the Nations Cup in December and she added: “This experience at the ANC will bring us further and help us put up a better fight at the Nations Cup.”
Teammate Amandeep Kaur Chahal, who came on in the third quarter and scored in all her 14 attempts, said: “This is just the start, because we’re a very young team.... once we’ve played more and got more experience, we can go a longer way. It felt very heartwarming to have played in front of (our) home crowd because you know everyone has your back.”
Malaysia finished third out of 11 teams after beating Hong Kong 54-42 in the play-off. The Philippines won the Plate division while India won the lowest-tier Bowl title.