England took the victory against Malawi 62-60 in the third test at Birmingham’s Genting Arena, to clean sweep the series, but were forced to battle all the way after trailing for long periods of the game.

Mary Waya, coach of the Malawi Queens was left to rue a series of basic errors which cost her side victory and knows that with some more clinical finishing, and a lower error rate, the Queens could have taken a famous win over the world’s number three.

 

Starting line ups:

England
GS Cardwell
GA K Corbin
WA Haythornthwaite
C Clarke
WD Cobden
GD Gibson
GK Agbeze
Changes: Q1 WA S Corbin, GA Haythornthwaite, Q3: GS Dunn

Malawi
GS Kumwenda
GA Chimaliro
WA Galeta
C Lwazi
WD Sambo
GD Kachilika
GK Ngwira

 

The visitors set a blistering pace from the opening whistle and soon pushed out to a 7-3 lead. Takonda Lwazi was once again a key playmaker, using clever slight of hand and rapid footwork to create space on the circle edge to release her shooters into scoring positions.

Mwai Kumwenda and Jane Chimaliro were once again connecting beautifully, using sharp look-away passes to wrong foot the English defence and create uncontested shooting opportunities.

Kadeen Corbin, player of the match in the first test, seemed unfocused and make a series of unforced errors, including an airball. Roses coach Tracey Neville was quick to react, bringing on her sister Sasha to WA, with Natalie Haythornthwaite switching to GA. However, it was Malawi who settled more quickly after the break and pushed out to an 18-10 lead at quarter time.

To provide more drive and leadership through court, Neville switched England captain Ama Agbeze and Jodie Gibson after the first interval and Agbeze’s dogged defending and inspirational leadership started to bear fruit.

The Roses’ through-court defence tightened up, slowing down Malawi’s simple yet effective direct ball movement to goal and providing Beth Cobden and Agbeze with opportunities to tip or turnover the visitors’ attacking play.

Despite an eye-catching layup move from Kumwenda midway through the quarter, the impetus shifted to England and slowly the home side started to claw back the lead – Haythornthwaite and Ellie Cardwell snapping up every opportunity that came their way. As the halftime whistle blew, England trailed by a solitary goal, 31-30.

The third quarter was a similarly nip-and-tuck affair with neither team able to gain a foothold and push forwards. Cardwell continued to score freely, despite the close attentions of Loreen Ngwira.

Though at time congested from the work of Cobden and Jade Clarke, Malawi were able to stay in touch with some clinical finishing from Kumwenda.

With veteran shooter Rachel Dunn replacing Cardwell towards the end of the quarter, England tried to gain some sort of advantage, but Malawi could sense a famous victory and led 46-45 with 15 minutes to play.

Cometh the hour, cometh the woman and for England that was Nat Haythornthwaite. The utility attacking player, often overlooked as a shooting option, was particularly dynamic in the final 15 minutes, directing England’s attacking moves with a virtuosity belying her relative lack of international experience.

In addition to scoring seven goals without a miss in the final term, Haythornthwaite’s courtcraft and guile ensured that the scoreboard kept moving in England’s favour. With it, Malawi started to flag.

England forged ahead, but were unable to establish a significant lead, though it seemed that whenever the visitors threatened to take charge once more, Haythornthwaite stepped up with a clutch goal or some clever attacking play. Certainly, on this impressive performance, England coach Tracey Neville should be putting her name on the flight list for the Gold Coast.

Malawi closed to within a goal in the dying minutes of the game, but perhaps a lack of international experience in tight situations let them down, as England held on for a two-goal victory.

Neville was impressed with her untried team’s performance, “I am so proud of what was a really gutsy team performance. They were clinical at times and grew game by game through this series and showed us today what they are capable of.”

“Natalie Haythornthwaite was exceptional today. I’m so pleased for her. We’re called the Roses and it’s clear today that that that’s what we did – we rose. We now need to go away and think really carefully about selection for the Commonwealth Games as we have a better idea about what people are capable of. They’ve given me something to think about.“

For England, Jodie Gibson and Natalie Haythornthwaite have certainly shone in this series, and should be worthy of a ticket to the Commonwealth Games. Serena Guthrie, Sara Bayman and Chelsea Pitman were all missing from this series, but should make the plane alongside Beth Cobden, who put in another sterling performance during the three matches played.

Haythornthwaite’s ability to play WA as well as GA should be enough to book her place, but with Kadeen Corbin still prone to inconsistency and periods of seeming disinterest, does Neville take the tried and tested Rachel Dunn as her fourth shooter (alongside Helen Housby and Jo Harten) or reward the fast improving Ellie Cardwell the place with an eye to the future? Some long winter nights of deliberation beckon for the England coach.

 

England 62 def Malawi 60

Player of the Match: Natalie Haythornthwaite (England)
Players of the Series: Ama Agbeze (England), Mwai Kumwenda (Malawi)

 

Shooting stats

England

Cardwell 30/34 88%
Corbin 1 /4 25%
Haythornthwaite 20/21 95%
Dunn 11/13 85%
62/72 86%

Malawi
Kumwenda 44/47 (94%)
Chimaliro 16/16 100%
60/63 95%