The script has become an all too familiar one for England’s netball players. They entered the last quarter of the three-Test series in Jamaica two weeks ago level on points with their hosts, the series win seemingly within their grasp, only to be blown off the court in the dying moments of the match.
The story unfolded in similar fashion in the bronze-medal match against the same opponents at last summer’s Commonwealth Games, as it had in the preceding semi-final against New Zealand, the most heartbreaking of defeats for a team that had genuine aspirations to win gold.
Those latter two games did wonders for the sport – the uninitiated captivated by the nail-biting nature of each game – but one wonders what it has done for the mentality of the players entering a World Cup year, with the tournament taking place in Australia in August.
Sasha Corbin played in all three games. “It was heartache twice in Glasgow,” is her assessment five months on. “It was hard to pick ourselves up. We struggled under the pressure situations. That’s something we’ve worked on.”
Surely the only approach to rectify what appears to have become an increasing issue is to tap into a Steve Peters-type character to capture the right mentality for the dying moments of those pressure games?
“We’ve been working with a sports psychologist and we’re looking at ways of replicating that pressure in training,” Corbin says. “It’s definitely something we have to look at. We need to take on those memories to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
England clearly have the ability. The current crop of players are the first ever to win a Test series against Australia, a feat they achieved in 2013.
It led Corbin and sister Kadeen, her club and country team-mate, to unleash a series of on-court backflips with the despondent Australian players in a post-game huddle in the background.
Repeating such a historic result is a goal that has eluded the Corbins and Co ever since; that dramatic celebration, learnt in a youth immersed in gymnastics until the sisters grew too tall for the discipline, has remained on hold for nearly two years. However, Sasha, at 26 the elder of the Corbin sisters by three and a half years, says such acrobatics could yet be reproduced should the Hertfordshire Mavericks win the Netball Superleague, which gets under way today – or if England win the World Cup.
Is the latter realistically achievable? After all, no England side has ever done it since the tournament’s inception 52 years ago. “I feel we’re getting closer,” Corbin says. “But it’s about doing it on that stage.
“We can beat these sides, we’ve shown that, but it’s about doing your homework and doing it in competition. We’ve beaten them before. I believe it can be done again.”
Another key factor taken from the Jamaica series defeat was the anti-England sentiment shown by the crowd, which is expected to be similar at the World Cup.
For now, though, the goal for Corbin, the league’s Player of the Year in 2013, is to lead the Hatfield-based Mavericks to the league title for the first time in four years.
Among her supporters will be a cast of athletes from a remarkably sporty family. Dad Algernon played second XI cricket for Glamorgan, while mum Violet, herself an accomplished netball player, used to compete against former Olympic javelin champion Tessa Sanderson.
Then there is Corbin’s cousin, Asha Philip, in the top 10 quickest British 100m runners of all time.
Growing up, the cousins used to compete with and against each other in gymnastics competitions. They have been through career-threatening injuries together and both have season highs, in theory, coming to fruition in August, with Philip targeting the World Championships in Beijing that month.
“We watch her whenever we can and she comes to our games for the Mavericks and England as well,” says Corbin. “We’ve always been tight. When we had our injuries, we definitely stuck together and were able to bounce off each other.
“At the time our goals were similar: to play for England and run for GB. And this year’s a big one for Asha. She just has so much potential – she’s so explosive.”
For Corbin, it is a similar big year, both with the Mavericks and England, as they attempt to shed their past as the nearly women of netball.
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