Ellis exposes South Africa's shortcomings

Tom Wyeth sees Australia dominate the World Netball Championship final
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The Independent Online
Australia and New Zealand came to the World Championship in Birmingham so brimful of confidence that it would have been a shock of some magnitude if one of them had not carried off the trophy on Saturday. Australia achieved it with ease against a tactically naive South African team.

South Africa's naivety was understandable on two counts. First, they had been absent from this competition for 28 years and the game has progressed in that time. Second, because they had, in Irene Van Dyke, a player who, it appeared, could win matches on her own.

Whatever tactic they had chosen, it is unlikely they would have outplayed the Australians. Even so, they invested far too much in Van Dyke's ability to outleap her markers. When, time and again in the first quarter, Liz Ellis intercepted the lobbed pass it was evident that an alternative strategy was necessary.

When South Africa started the second quarter 16-6 down and the looped passes continued, it was evident that an alternative plan did not exist. From that moment, the Australians could relax.

If the final was slightly anticlimactic it was because the gap in skills was too evident. Australia flick the ball forward with such pace that it minimises the opportunity for interceptions and carries play forward so rapidly that defences have little time to muster. Nor are they lacking in individual skills. A flicked backhand shot from Jennifer Borlase as she tumbled out of play was magnificent.

Only one team in the championship could come close to the Australians and that was New Zealand. Having underrated South Africa in the first phase of the competition, New Zealand lost out by one point to Australia in the group phase. They have only themselves to blame, but a better-structured competition would not have given us both semi-finals (in all but name) a week before the tournament finished.

For that reason, and the sheer length of the show, the World Championship was not perfect. Netball has few enough opportunities to catch the eye at international level without wasting them. At least the International Federation of Netball Associations is doing something about that; their council meeting last week amended the structure of the next championship to include semi-finals.

England did well to reach the top four in this tournament, but the bronze medal match against New Zealand showed how much work still has to be done.

England are likely to lose their captain, Kendra Slawinski, after the Test series against the Cook Islands in November, and others in the squad are close to retirement. The rebuilding has begun and the target must be the 1998 Commonwealth Games. From this championship, England, Australia, South Africa, New Zealand and Jamaica have qualified.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 23