In Malawi’s first hit-out of the Games they faced a much tougher England than in their recent closely-matched test series. England were able to run all their top-flight players and this time the gap between the two seemed quite wide. Despite the adoration of the crowd and an even second quarter, where Malawi combined teamwork with controlled tenacity, rather than relying overly on their star goal shooter, they had to lick their wounds with a 25-goal loss.
GS Mwai Kumwenda
GA Sindi Simtowe
WA Thandie Galleta
C Takondwa Lwazi
WD Joanna Kachilika
GD Towera Vinkhumbo
GK Loreen Ngwira
GS Joanne Harten
GA Helen Housby
WA Natalie Haythornthwaite
C Jade Clarke
WD Beth Cobden
GD Eboni Beckford-Chambers
GK Geva Mentor
Umpires: Marc Henning, Jono Bredin, Maria van der Merwe (reserve)
It was clear before the first whistle that the crowd were fans of the flair of the African underdog, hoping they could upset the clinical English. Unfortunately, Malawi were headed for one of their predictable bad starts. The first couple of passes from Jade Clarke were a touch off, allowing Jo Harten to demonstrate her balance and brilliance hauling in tricky feeds.
In contrast, Malawi struggled to find their shooters, with Mentor opening her stats account with two deflections. Lwazi gave almost 20 centimetres of height away to Cobden, and couldn’t see anything through the lanky reach from three feet. The English wing defence covered the top of the circle assiduously throughout the match. Beckford-Chambers switched admirably between front, back, and baseline cover, and Sintowe couldn’t drive hard enough to open the circle. It was 7-3 to England after the first five minutes.
Soon the Malawian frontline settled, keeping parity but only through the unpredictable movement, wizardly leaps and perfect shooting from Kumwenda. The crowd, already enamoured of the Queens, went crazy for the risky, athletic passes required to merely keep posession. The defence end, meanwhile, really needed to lift. They failed to obtain front position on the taller English shooters, and could barely cover their leads for two seconds.
Malawian captain Kachilika found it impossible to block Haythornthwaite’s space and persistently rode her body too hard around circle edge, receiving a caution from umpire Henning. She then spoiled a turnover ball by pegging it hurriedly over the head of Kumwenda. The pattern of Malawi was in no way structured to dictate space in attack, but rather tended to play into England’s hands, as evidenced by Lwazi always looking back on the centre pass and not giving her forwards a chance to break free. They finished the first quarter trailing 11-17.
Encouragingly for the Roses, Guthrie returned to court a mere 24 hours after a mild ankle sprain, at wing defence. Corbin joined her on court at goal attack, while the Malawians swapped Lwazi and Galleta in the middle. The Africans came out with a different attack plan – many players using preliminary moves and dodges that are not historically part of their game. This in turn allowed flatter passes, faster progress to the goal third, and more access to the circle edge. There were a few wasteful breaking and stepping errors from both sides, with the score even at 6-all for the quarter after six minutes.
Still the problem for Malawi remained Harten, who was always allowed front space for the feed and seemed to never miss. Corbin, too, was contributing, hitting six from six for the second quarter. After receiving a warning, Kachilika was subbed off in an injury timeout and replaced by Dambo, seeing also the introduction of Mvula at goal shooter and switch of Kumwenda to goal attack. Simultaneously, England took Clarke off, and Cobden came back to wing defence and Guthrie at centre. Despite a lower shooting accuracy and double the number of turnovers, England lead 33-25 at half time.
Tracey Neville rang more changes during the break, the England team now running with Harten at shooter, then Haythornthwaite, Pitman, Guthrie, Cobden, Agbeze, and Mentor. There were no changes for Malawi, given the close tussle in the second quarter. The zippy Roses frontline surprised the Queens and the lead was suddenly 13, five minutes in. A pattern emerged of slow adaptation from the players and the rookie coach of the Queens, the lead snapping out in the first part of each quarter.
Goal keeper Ngwira was forced off with an injury, and she was replaced at the back by Vinkhumbo, while Mtukule joined at goal defence. Despite accuracy over 90%, Mwai Kumwenda was also sent to the bench, seeing Chimaliro at goal attack. Pitman and Haythornthwaite were very organised on the centre pass and leads around the circle, so fast that there was no time to set up on Harten. Lwazi gave a spark to her team with outstanding leaps down court and powerful shoulder passes to shooters from the centre third. Malawi briefly got back to within single figures, but ended the third quarter at 49-38 down.
At last perhaps revealing their best seven, England placed Housby back with Harten for the final quarter, and the youngest of the team found the goal in the first minute. There was a nice flow all around from Harten – easy access to clear holds, excellent timing in popping forward, and good balance on the shot. Even missed shots were rebounded by the Roses shooter from behind her opponent. Notably, both Harten and Mentor stayed on court for the whole match, perhaps belying the seriousness with which England viewed this fixture.
Back on to anchor her team at goal shooter, Kumwenda was forced to watch the slick structures that contrasted with the desperation and risk of her teammates. Bridget Kumwenda got her first quarter of the tournament. She used the typical Queens style of asking for the ball too far into the centre third and not looking down or clearing. While Lwazi at centre continued to be a shining light with her tenacity and athleticism, England powered on to a lead of 21 halfway through the fourth, with entertaining variety used in the approach to Harten. The class, depth, and fitness of the Roses was too great, in the end winning 74 to 49.
England 74 def Malawi 49
Harten 48/54 89%
Housby 14/18 78%
Corbin 6/7 86%
Haythornthwaite 6/7 86%
Kumwenda 31/33 94%
Simtowe 1/3 33%
Mvula 10/11 91%
Chimaliro 7/7 100%
Chelsea Pitman, England
“I’m extremely nervous about each game – I guess that means I’m ready to play. If I don’t have nerves, I get anxious that I should be nervous – but that’s extremely rare for me. I think I’m nervous because I care so much. I’ve put in all this prep, and I should be ready, but there’s always that unknown with sport. I want the team to perform. We have an expectation of ourselves, to perform under this pressure, and that creates the nerves.”
What do you remember about playing for Australia at the World Cup in 2011?
“That’s one of my massive highlights of my career, back with Australia. But I feel so at home with these girls, my heart is 100% with them. My dad’s from England, and I was back and forth throughout my childhood, so for me to have the privilege to pull on the England dress was unbelievable.”
You’ve slotted in well to this squad. Do you have a favourite player in your team?
“Obviously I get along well with everyone so well, and they’re all weird and unique in their own fantastic way, but I’m really enjoying working with Jo Harten – I’ve never played so much with a goal shooter that moves like her and has her creativity. Sometimes I’ve got to remember to make a lead for her, because I stop and like to speculate what she’s going to do with the ball. Obviously Coxy (Cath Cox, Australian veteran) was similar, but I was much younger and didn’t get much court time with her. I just remember to be ready for those bullet passes! I’ve had quite a few broken fingers over the years and I think one of them was from her!”
What’s the secret to getting through a long tournament?
“Just have fun! Enjoy it!”
Serena Guthrie, England
How is your injury from yesterday progressing?
“It was just a tweak of the ankle, we got onto it pretty quickly, but it’s nice to get out there today without hobbling around. I was feeling pretty anxious after yesterday, so I was icing it all night. Nice and easy, whatever it takes, but I’ve got a pretty good medical team around me at Team England.”
How do you think you dealt with Malawi as a team today?
“It was a slow start, because you never know quite what you are going to get with Malawi. We stuck to game plan as well as we could, it wasn’t perfect, we’re well aware of that. But we’re getting better.”