Zimbabwe had shown themselves to be no idle threat by demolishing Sri Lanka on day 1 of the championships. Australia meanwhile had put Northern Island to the sword in clinical fashion. The world number one were not able to operate in the space they wanted in through court play, due to the speed of the Gems, who shadowed well and usually were right there with a strong three-foot guard. After a few earlier turnovers with rushed feeds, Zimbabwe also started to find their big target shooter Joice Takaidza and keep up with the world number one. Using only nine of their squad, eventually the incredibly well-drilled firepower of the Diamonds kept pushing out in explosions of goals, and they doubled the Gems’ score in another exciting victory.

At the start, Australia was quite organised in defence, but the natural flow between wing and goal defenders seen yesterday in transition wasn’t there between Jo Weston and April Brandley. It took considerably more passes and more involvement from Watson and Hadley in the middle third to get to a feeding position. Shooting perfectly, Australia lead 10-4 half way through the quarter.

Caitlin Bassett was having frustrating first quarter, with goal keeper Rudo Karume able to force her off balance and even cause her to trip. This allowed goal defence Felisitus Kwangwa to pick up the ball right on the goal line. The umpire was missing a lot of contact on Bassett and even called the infringements completely the wrong way. Also, some of the time the Australian captain was in excellent shooting position but opted pass across the circle. The quarter time score was 18-9 to Australia.

A physical circle. Image May Bailey

 

In the second quarter Zimbabwe showed yet more confidence and patience, beginning the period ahead four to one. When they got a run on it almost seemed they were better at playing their own game and disrupting the plans of the Australians. Thereafter the game resumed its expected complexion when Gretel Tippett changed tactic and focused on being available at the post rather than as a feeder, leading to an eight goal to two run to the Diamonds. It was possible at times to see improvement even from one play to the next for the Gems, as goal attack Ursula Ndlovu hurriedly sprayed a feed once, but then held her feet to allow time for the right space to become clear and get a goal assist. Halfway through  the quarter they trailed 15-29.

Courtney Bruce began to star at the back for the green and gold, taking four intercepts in the second quarter alone. She was confusing the space for the high ball and dancing around to the front or behind to get the tip and back herself up. To reward her, all four Australian attackers were involved and patient, swinging the ball well and converting with a 98% accuracy, leading to another solid quarter win by 12 goals, the half-time score 39-18.

Courtney Bruce on her way to 9 intercepts. Image May Bailey

 

Bruce and Weston applying strong pressure over the shot. Image May Bailey.

 

Analysing first-half trends saw a large disparity on the contact penalties for each team – 10 then 5 for Australia, but 4 then 17 for Zimbabwe. Whether this was due to umpiring, tactical changes, or fading strength of the Gems’ athletes was uncertain. The trend was repeated but not as drastically in the second half, suggesting umpire Edeling blew more penalties on the whole.

Lisa Alexander made just two changes at half time with Kelsey Browne on at wing attack and Jamie-Lee Price at wing defence. Lloyd Makumbe brought on two new goalers, Pauline Jani at shooter and Sharon Bwanali at goal attack. This helped the Gems to a good restart, as did a string of at least four bewildering calls against Gretel Tippett by umpire Peart. Zimbabwe actually lead 8-4 after six minutes in the term. Despite excellent pressure from Price and Hadley, Zimbabwe were still getting plenty of access to the circle.

Karume had to leave the court injured with 5 mins remaining, replaced by Sharleen Makusha who had been injured yesterday in the win against Sri Lanka. Australia were avoiding the rough stuff a lot better, with satisfying glimpses of their normal attacking flair, yet they were not pulling away, scraping by with a 15-13 quarter win.

In a rarely-seen strategy for Australia, coach Alexander made no more changes for the last quarter, thereby keeping five athletes on court for a whole hour. Another wrong call against Bruce ate up time and created a funny situation when Perpetua Siyachitema sought treatment from her bench while the penalty was being set and the floor wiped. The Zimbabwean wing attack had to go off briefly to get her hand seen to. The Gems struggled to the end with their lowest quarter score of six.

Australia 73 defeated Zimbabwe 37

 

Liz Watson driving down court. Image May Bailey

 

Australia

Caitlin Bassett GS, Gretel Tippett GA, Liz Watson WA, Paige Hadley C, April Brandley WD, Jo Weston GD, Courtney Bruce GK

Bench – Kelsey Browne, Sarah Klau, Jamie-Lee Price, Caitlin Thwaites, Steph Wood

Coach – Lisa Alexander

 

Zimbabwe

Joice Takaidza GS, Ursula Ndlovu GA, Perpetua Siyachitema WA, Patricia Mauladi C, Claris Kwaramba WD, Felisitus Kwangwa GD, Rudo Karume GK

Bench – Sharon Bwanli, Pauline Jani, Ndaizivei Madzikangava, Sharleen Makusha, Adelaide Muskwe

Coach – Lloyd Makumbe

 

Umpires– Terrence Peart, Janet Edeling

 

Key statistics

Shooting

Caitlin Bassett – 49/53 (93%)

Gretel Tippett – 24/28 (86%)

 

Joice Takaidza – 15/20 (75%)

Ursula Ndlovu – 3/4 (75%)

Pauline Jani – 11/13 (85%)

Sharon Bwanali – 8/9 (89%)

 

Intercepts

Courtney Bruce 9

Felisitus Kwangwa 4

Jo Weston 3

 

Goal assists

Liz Watson 21

Kelsey Browne 16

Gretel Tippett 16

 

Turnovers

Perpetua Siyachitema 11

Caitlin Bassett 10

Images May Bailey

Lisa Alexander, Australian coach

“Good solid win with a bit of a test, so it was good! I think there was obviously some unusual [umpiring] interpretations from time to time, but I thought we adapted well to that, we changed up what our defence was doing, so got some ball at the right times during quarters, which is what we’ve been working on in our camps beforehand.

“Giving players four full quarters in a tournament before we get to the business end is really important as well, so we know that I could have made changes easily and pushed the score on, but I think that it was important for that group to get out there and make sure they kept going. We’ve also got search for is to get those combinations working IN four quarters, and making the changes during quarters. That’s what was pleasing, apart from the third quarter.

“Yeah [Courtney Bruce] did adapt, and we’ve still got a little bit of work on tidying up a bit of hand work, her obstructions and holding, but I think she did adapt well, and she adapted well to both sets of umpiring decisions, so that was great.

Courtney Bruce

“Yeah, 60 mins WAS tough work to be honest! It’s really hot out there and their shooters are quite dynamic, so I just had to make sure I had that continuous movement of my feet, it was tough work today. I’m telling [the other defence players] which sides if there’s a goal attack and wing attack on a particular side, just to have a crack, we want to be contesting ball in that middle third. Letting them know that I’ve got their backs, if they fly it opens me up at the back, so just reassuring them that they’re doing their job, and trying to create energy and voice out there.

“[The Zimbabweans] just love to find the body, so they’re tall but really really strong, you think you’re getting around but they’re really good at pinning you on their hip. For us it’s about trying to get up and around, but the more I get stuck on the body the more I’m not going to be able to contest when an umpire comes into it.

“We do a lot of PA sessions, so watching the girl on the other teams – so video analysis and just chatting through what systems we want to put out there. Then yeah, we also do train, we practise what we’re talking about in those sessions, so maybe what we’re trying to box, or to do in long court. Nailing down those strategies, sitting as a defensive group and an attacking group and nutting out what the other teams are doing, really breaking down their systems.

“Sahz [Sarah Klau] was definitely yelling a lot out there for me, and telling me what to do in the breaks. That’s fantastic! We’re really just about trying to build each other up – we obviously want to win the trophy, that’s gonna take all 12 players. The best way that we can communicate and help each other out is what we’re gonna do. We’re everyone’s best sister out there!”

Caitlin Bassett, Australian captain

“For a physical match, I’m sure you could tell, the players who were out there certainly felt it, and it’s good practise for us for later rounds. I think they took advantage of their smaller stature, they used a lot of bounce passes and got around the body really well which is something we talked about at half time. It was hard to put the high ball in because they had a really big long reach as well.”