England belittled by Cricket

Andrew Baker watches Jamaican netball feast on a big McDonald
Click to follow
The Independent Online
A netball crowd makes a very special kind of noise. It is not just a matter of volume, although the 4,500 fans in the Nynex Arena in Manchester last Wednesday were loud enough, it is more the pitch of the screams that sets ears ringing. And when Tracey Neville, local girl, sister to the United footballers Gary and Philip, stepped on to the court to join her England team-mates against Jamaica, every pane of glass in the building trembled.

But it was not to be Tracey's, or England's, night. The dominant figure at Nynex, as she had been in Birmingham and was to be at Wembley, was Patricia "Cricket" McDonald, Jamaica's 6ft 5in goal shooter.

The basic idea in netball is to get the ball to your goal- shooter, who will then do her best to get it in the net. So it is doubly useful to have a goal-shooter who is exceptionally tall, because (a) all you have to do to get the ball to her is throw it over the heads of comparatively tiny defenders, and (b) once she has got it she is that much closer to the rim of the net.

The statistical evidence of Wednesday's game - Jamaica won 50-37, and McDonald's personal tally was 41 points - suggests that these tactics were remarkably effective. But that is not the whole story.

The England coach, Liz Broomhead, who described McDonald as "a formidable piece of netball machinery" had realised that the only way to stop the pleat-skirted Terminator was to cut off her lines of supply. To that end the England players harried and leapt and intercepted with great vigour early on, and led 13-12 at the start of the second quarter.

But after that the stronger Jamaicans took charge, and McDonald's aim, unsteady at first, became truer. Hellen Manufor, England's goalkeeper, was withdrawn at half-time and replaced by Chantel Mortimer, two inches taller at 6ft but still no match for McDonald. Mortimer swayed and waved and leaned like a willow sapling in a gale, trying everything legal to obstruct her opponent, but to no avail: McDonald still ran up a cricket score.

At the other end, Tracey Neville was England's top scorer with 19 goals from 25 attempts, but she was profligate with passes, giving away prized possession. "I'm gutted," she said afterwards, "particularly after all the hard work we put in. We were so close to matching the Jamaicans, but they just got away. When the pressure was really on us, we felt rushed and missed a few crucial shots."

Such errors are the stuff of inexperience; Wednesday's game was Neville's second international. McDonald is at the other end of her career, having made her debut for Jamaica in 1983, and toured England with them in 1984, when Neville was seven. But with all her wealth of experience in netball and basketball - which she has played professionally in the United States and Japan - McDonald is far from complacent.

"I wasn't too impressive tonight," she said after the game, easing off the heavy support bandages that had protected her knees. "I wasn't scoring with enough of my first shots." Heaven help England when she finds her form.

McDonald's nickname, "Cricket" is more to do with her jumping ability than any affinity with the bat and ball. But she enjoys the contrast between her two chosen sports. "Basketball is the faster game," she said. "You can get all over the court, and use the backboard as well. It's more physical, too. But I enjoy netball more, and I always will - it was the first sport I played."

Her enthusiasm is apparent on court, and she alternately chastises and encourages her team-mates, very much in the manner of another sporting giant, Peter Schmeichel. "Some people think I'm giving lip to the opposition," she smiled. "But I'm only driving my own team on." Patricia McDonald bad- mouthing opponents? Unthinkable. It just wouldn't be "Cricket".