Less than 24 hours to go before the opening ceremony for the New World Netball World Championships and it feels like the whole city of Auckland is on tenterhooks, ready for the whole thing to get started.
The final teams have now arrived in the city (Botswana’s final players arrived yesterday afternoon), the arrangements at the Trusts Stadium have now all been completed and all over the city, people have chosen their favourites for the title. For the England team, the day has included a final practice game, against Samoa, which resulted in a comfortable win for England, with all 12 players gaining court time. Then a quick trip to the Trusts Stadium, to walk through what will be expected during tomorrow’s opening ceremony and to identify where all the relevant facilities are within the Stadium, so that nothing comes as a surprise on Sunday, when the squad arrives for its first match, against Barbados. Coach Caldow and captain Newton have given their final interviews to the media – and now all they can do is count down the hours until the first whistle.
Many journalists I’ve spoken to out here have been finding it hard to find a new angle, a new story or new questions about the competition – the build up, since July, has been so long than many have felt that they’ve asked it all before! And now, in the past 24 hours, they have been handed a perfect new story, with the arrival of the Malawian team, and their relaxed and overwhelming confidence ahead of their match against the reigning champions, New Zealand, tomorrow night.
Since captain Peace Chawimba’s claims at the captain’s conference, that her squad is ready to pull off a shock in the first match of the competition, Malawi’s netballers have been under siege. With their pre-match singing, simple yet devastating style of play, and infectious smiles, Malawi are a journalist’s dream, and they have taken full advantage, demonstrating the benefits that netball brings to its women who, shockingly, have an average life expectancy of just 39. I’ve even watched as a well known tv anchor man has attempted their gently melodic singing style – sadly, he was no Malawian singer!
During the final afternoon of waiting, I took the opportunity to explore a little more of Auckland,pounding the pavements across the Newmarket and Parnell districts. Both are packed with broad tree-lined streets, gorgeous wooden framed houses and interesting shops that lure you in (or at least that’s what I’ll be telling my bank manager!). In Newmarket park, I stopped to watch a group of 13 and 14 year old girls playing netball – their skills were no different from those of players in the UK, but they were 100% focused on a victory, and spent the entire game urging each other on. “We’re the Silver Ferns, remember,” yelled one team member to another, “we’re not the All Blacks – we’re going to win the World Champs. We can’t and won’t lose.”
Wonder if anyone has told them about Malawi?