The Australian Diamonds have come from behind to claim the 2011 World Netball Championships title in a thrilling finish, with a goal in the last second of extra time to secure the 58-57 victory over New Zealand at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday night.
Trailing by six goals at halftime, second-half substitute Caitlin Bassett converted the winning goal with the last shot on the game, extracting revenge for last year’s Commonwealth Games final defeat and reclaiming the world number one ranking in game for the ages.
“I’m trying not to cry, this is the most overwhelming the greatest experience of my life and to be able to do it with such a great team and to have Sharelle here on the sidelines is amazing,” Chelsea Pitman said.
“Norma said we had to lift our intensity at halftime, play our game and not get fazed by what they put out there on court and that’s exactly what we did and we brought it back.”
“We knew we just had to keep possession and get the goal, if we happened to go to another extra time then so be it but we won.”
With a long rivalry between Australia and New Zealand, the final lived up to all expectations as the Diamonds held their nerve to claim their tenth world title.
The Silver Ferns got off to a fast start as the Diamonds were guilty of turning ball over with errant passing and miscommunication as New Zealand stunted Australia’s movement in transition, forcing errors from their opponents.
While scoring was hard to come by for the Diamonds, it was also hard for their opponents as strong defence prevented the Silver Ferns from using the corridor and forced them out wide, but patience in attack saw New Zealand leading 12-10 at the end of the first quarter.
At quarter-time, Diamonds coach Norma Plummer replaced Kim Green with Chelsea Pitman at wing attack, hoping to provide some spark and quick ball movement into the shooters.
Despite forcing the Silver Ferns shooting combination of Irene van Dyk and Maria Tutaia to shot from the exterior of the circle, the New Zealanders scored five consecutive goals to further extend their advantage early in the second quarter.
A Diamonds turnover in the mid-court with 17 seconds left before halftime gifted New Zealand possession with a long ball from Liana Leota finding van Dyk in the circle, giving the Silver Ferns a six-goal lead at the main break.
Needing to breathe life into her side, Plummer replaced Susan Fuhrmann with Laura Geitz at goal keeper and introduced Caitlin Bassett for Catherine Cox at goal shooter – moves that would ultimately play a significant role in the Diamonds securing the title.
Immediately the halftime changes paid dividends for Australia who overcame the six-goal deficit within five minutes of the restart, it came courtesy of seven straight goals from the Diamonds and strong defence from Geitz and Julie Corletto.
While nerves got the better of Bassett early on, shooting partner Natalie Medhurst stepped up to the mark and continued her outstanding form in 2011 which has seen her collect both an ANZ Championship title with the Queensland Firebirds and now a World Championship medallion.
With their rhythm back, a Pitman turnover and patient ball movement from the mid-courters of Mo’onia Gerrard, Natalie von Bertouch and Pitman saw the Diamonds take the lead for the first time in the match, 30-29, with six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
New Zealand held the narrowest of leads heading into the final quarter and superb defending from goal keeper Casey Williams, playing with a calf strain, picked up an intercept to help her team out to a three-goal advantage.
But the Diamonds struck back immediately to again level the scores as the two sides went goal for goal as time wore thin.
The advantage swung into New Zealand favour with only a minute left after Medhurst missed a shot from the corner to all but secure the victory for the Diamonds before the Silver Ferns went down the other end to take the lead and the subsequent centre pass.
Medhurst quickly made amends for her inaccuracy by forcing a turnover from the resulting centre pass as Bassett levelled the scores with ten seconds left, forcing extra time much to the delight of the strong Australian contingent in the stands.
While the netball community would feel a sense of déjà-vu, the trans-Tasman rivalry reached fever pitch for the second time in as many years with the Diamonds and Silver Ferns needing extra time to decide a final.
Little could separate the world’s two best teams in the two extra periods of seven minutes, until Tutaia missed the opportunity to seal the victory for New Zealand with less than a minute to go as the Australians rebounded down court for Bassett to win the game with the last play of extra time.
“That was absolutely unbelievable,” Medhurst said.
“To be on the other side and feel the disappointment at the Commonwealth Games, I certainly much prefer our result tonight.”
Natalie Medhurst paid tribute to her shooting partner Caitlin Bassett after the match with her introduction at halftime spurring the Diamonds to victory.
“She did fantastic, held so well and really changed it up for us down there the forward line,” Medhurst said of Bassett.
“We got some fantastic feeds into her.
“That’s obviously why Norma did the change and it worked.
“I can’t believe that third quarter in particular, to come back and peg it back so quickly in such as short amount of time and to finish it off in the end was truly fantastic.
“Full credit to the girls, we came out in the extra time and kept at it to finish it off and Caitlin (Bassett) nailed that goal.”
Medhurst was named Player of the Match.
Australian shooting stats:
Catherine Cox 12/16 (75%)
Natalie Medhurst 19/23 (83%)
Caitlin Bassett 27/30 (90%)
photos Janos Schmidt