Innocent Kurira, [email protected]
A heart-wrenching turn of events crushed the hopes of a nation as the Gems, the Zimbabwe national senior netball side, failed to shine on the grand stage they had fought so hard to reach.
Anticipating an improvement from their respectable eighth-place finish in the previous World Cup, the captain, Felistus Kwangwa, had even boldly promised a fourth-place finish. Alas, fate had a different plan.
Right from the preliminary rounds, it was evident that something was amiss. The Gems lost all their group matches against Australia, Fiji, and Tonga in Pool A, leaving fans disheartened and players shattered. They looked unfit and unprepared, raising a red flag that couldn’t be ignored.
Cape Town was supposed to be a place of excitement and dreams fulfilled, but for the Gems, it became a harsh reality check.
Lack of proper preparation and support during training took a toll on the team’s performance. Although some cash came in, it arrived too late to adequately condition the players for battle.
Coach Ropafadzo Mutsauki acknowledged that all was not well in the Gems camp, signalling deeper issues within the team.
“Something is not right in our camp. This is not the way we play,” Mutsauki told the media.
The defeats to Australia and Fiji had already put them in a precarious position, and although Australia’s victory against Fiji offered a glimmer of hope, Tonga proved to be a hurdle too high to overcome.
It took five matches before the Gems could claim their first victory of the tournament against Sri Lanka, and they eventually clinched the 13th place after defeating Barbados. But the question remained: what went wrong with the Gems?
Experts and netball administrators pointed fingers at the coach’s failure to find the right combinations on the court. Players were deployed in unfamiliar positions, and turnovers plagued the team, indicating a lack of understanding among the players. The lack of proper preparation, limited resources, and a questionable team selection also came under scrutiny.
“Honestly, I don’t know what was happening. They looked uninterested to me. The combinations were not working out from what I saw. Nicole Muzanenhamo’s best position is goal attacker but I was surprised to see her play centre.
“We should have played her correct position and I believe we could have performed better in the matches which we lost.
“The coach should have come up with combinations. The coach should take responsibility for failing to come up with the correct combinations.
“We had so many turnovers which was a clear sign of lack of understanding on the part of the players. It’s a disappointing campaign because we expected more,” said netball administrator Loviah Bhebhe.
Zimbabwe Netball provincial chairman for Bulawayo, Joseph Nkomazana said it is sad to see how badly the team performed.
“It’s bad. I think the preparations were not good. Of course, the resources are not there but more should be done in terms of preparations. The girls needed more time together.
“Also, they needed to acclimatise to the conditions in Cape Town instead of going there a week before the tournament. The team selection was also suspect as the combinations never clicked.
“However, this was all a learning curve. If there is anything we need to take from this experience it’s that we have to start to be serious with grassroots development. We need to groom young players.
“Some of the players who went to Cape Town played in the last World Cup. We do need the experience but we must prioritise having a vibrant junior policy.”
Lungile Msimanga, an analyst, highlighted the need for improved co-ordination between national team coaches and grassroots level coaches.
“I think there is room for improvement. There is a need for national team coaches to be in co-ordination with coaches from the grassroots level. At this World Cup, the combinations were not clear. It’s a game of teamwork but we never saw that. Nicole is a goal attacker and she played as a centre.
That is one of the examples of where we failed to get things correct. The preparations also come into play.
“In the future, we need the foreign players to come and join camp before the tournament starts so that we work on the combinations. We need more friendlies with quality opposition.
“Lack of exposure really cost us in this competition. When you are to face sides such as Australia, there is no room for error. You have to be at the top of your game,” said Msimanga.
While the Gems’ journey ended with disappointment, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned — a call for a stronger focus on grassroots development and nurturing young talents. The nation must prioritise a vibrant junior policy to build a formidable future for netball in Zimbabwe. — @innocentskizoe