Despite winning the opening match of their three match series against the world number one team England lost the second match on 21 February, ensuring the Co-operative International Netball Series will go down to the third and final game at the 02 on 23 February.
In the first game at the Echo arena in Liverpool England were finally celebrating beating Australia for the first time in 29 years with a 41-40 victory. It was a cracking game of netball for the fans this time out, but not the goal-fest it could have been.
Australia had first centre pass but it was four minutes of play before any goals were netted. Pamela Cookey breaking the seal on the match. Sara Bayman was bossing her way around in the centre and put in a couple of telling turn-overs.
Mentor and Mkoloma forced errors from under the post from Pratley and Medhurst when the Australians were able to get hold of the ball that is. M’n’M are superb opportunists snatching any possession within their reach and with arms as long as theirs - that’s quite some reach. Natalie Medhurst had one chance to take her team into the lead in the first 15 minutes but the ball lipped around the ring and out. The response from England was to rattle the ball down the court culminating in Karen Atkinson’s hard and high pass to Pamela Cookey and GOAL. After 15 minutes England led 9-6.
No quarter changes made for the second fix of top class netball, as the starting sevens resumed battle. England started well under the posts with Dunn and Cookey finding space in the circle the Diamonds upped the amount of possession for their post huggers. At 15-15 there was a great few minutes where Australia showed off the speed down court they are so famous for, with England then matching them and stepping up pace. The players were left glistening with effort under the bright arena lights as the Diamond fought back to even out the deficit. It was 18-18 at half-time. Missed opportunities for both sides to take a stand in the first half.
England’s superleague pairings are working out nicely, Mentor and Mkoloma in the defensive circle, Clarke and Bayman in mid-court working well and they were left in place as Louisa Brownfield moved under the post as shooter and Tamsin Greenway came on at wing-attack to make an immediate impact. Australian Susan Pratley moved out to GA making way for Kate Beveridge, who soon found out what it is like to have your personal space invaded by England’s rangey defending duo.
Despite further turnovers and good defence work England were stalling and just could not get ahead. The third quarter was very tight with the kind of traffic congestion that would have London’s Mayor looking forward to increased revenue. England’s confidence never dropped and it was still a below par shooting performance from the Diamonds so the home-crowd were keeping things crossed for the win as they regained the lead 30-26 with 15 to play.
In the fourth quarter England led by six at one point but everyone knows Diamonds are hard. The animated antipodeans were energised by the tricksy Madison Browne who handled the task of getting away from an excellent Jade Clarke effectively, although it must be said Clarke worked tirelessly and did not put a foot, hand or ball wrong all night.
With two minutes to go and the game looked won, with England four goals ahead at 39-35. Long fat seconds blimped by. At 41-38 Pamela Cookey had a pass intercepted and the momentum swung back to the Diamonds. It was 41-39 then Australia’s centre pass - another goal 41-40. It may have been the Echo Arena in Liverpool but at this stage there was too much noise to hear any repeats. Hearing the whistle was impossible and it was the longest time for England fans until Chris Campbell raised one hand to his mouth and the other over his head to signal the end of the match and a victory for England 41- 40.
England head coach Sue Hawkins said after the historic victory “These girls have got something special and I truly believe in this team and we’ll go out even stronger”.
Geva Mentor, the Mitre Player of the match: “Obviously all of us are absolutely ecstatic with the win. It was hard fought but we made quite a few errors.”
“The Co-operative Netball Superleague has been instrumental in the pairings as some of us have taken the decision to move to different teams to work on those pairings. It’s coming into a Commonwealth Games year so building those partnerships is definitely going to help and I think it showed tonight.”
The second test in Nottingham on Sunday 21st February, 2010 saw the Aussies fighting back.
The weight of expectation England must have been great and it was a cautious start GS Louisa Brownfield’s first shot of the game skipped over the ring but the ball was turned over mid court, returned to Pam Cookey who netted the first of her 23 goals from 24 attempts. It was smooth going for a while before England started letting errors slip into the game their 2-goal lead was reversed and Australia went ahead for the first time in the series. Dynamic Diamond Madison Browne, remember that name, was outstanding at wing-attack as the Aussies kept tighter and sailed into a 13-7 lead.
Throughout the next fifteen minutes England dragged themselves back in touch only to toss away advantage with some bad decisions under pressure and bad communication. The Diamonds were seven ahead, 15-22, before the red and white mid-court went on a mission; Bayman halting the influence of Browne turning-over just shy of the Aussie circle. Tamsin Greenway was also industrious tipping ball left, right and centre court - they were all-in-all a right pair of profitable scavengers. Their efforts got England back within a goal at half-time. Score 23-24.
Co-captain Karen Atkinson came on at centre for the third quarter while the Diamonds gave Rebecca Bulley a run at GK. There was a kind of formal kind of goal-swap to get underway (your turn, my turn) before England snuck a turnover through Tamsin Greeway and levelled it up at 28-28 but could not convert the centre pass and so missed the opportunity to go head. Again it was the bulldog spirit for the English, fighting back with a cracking Jade Clarke interception and with quick ball up the court it was in the net. But there was not enough of the classy stuff, which is a shame as it worked. An Aussie time-out mid-quarter allowed Cookey and Harten to swap bibs as Medhurst had her finger strapped, they finished with Cookey as GS and Harten GA trailing 39-34.
And they changed back for the final quarter while the Diamonds stayed as they were. With a bit more pep from the England girls and more close marking from Australia it was tight now on both sides. England double-marked Madison Browne at times but she seemed as lively as when she started, always available for free ball from centre to give to shooters - she was deservedly the Mitre Player of the Match. The home side were still making handling errors and there was a lack of communication between the players as balls failed to go to hand and disappeared out of court. A stark contrast to their opponents. Jade Clarke had to leave the court after hurting her finger and was replaced by her Northern Thunder team-mate Sara Bayman. Eventually the England pep pooped and at the final whistle Australia celebrated victory 53-48.
The final match will decide the series in London on Tuesday, 23rd February, 2010 at the O2 Arena.