Anyone who knows me will be well aware that I enjoy nothing more than flicking through a page or two of sport-related statistics. I have been fascinated by facts and figures for as long as I can remember and whilst whatever information I may have retained has never made any significant positive difference to my bank balance, I can occasionally be half decent bloke to have on a quiz team….
With the Ashes having been regained in such dramatic fashion, my sporting eyes are now focussed on the Netball World Cup in Sydney. Although the absence of Sky TV at Chateau Kirby (apparently I can’t have a collection of Doctor Who DVDs and access to endless hours of sport…) has been a bit of a hindrance, there are enough clips and stories coming out of New South Wales to keep me up-to-date with the fortunes of the home nations.
Even at this stage, the tournament appears to be heading for a shoot-out between Australia and New Zealand’s “Silver Ferns” who inflicted a rare defeat on the competition hosts and holders in the preliminary group matches. England and Jamaica may well battle it out for third and fourth place, but along with some great results from the Malawi team, it’s the progress of the Scottish Thistles that really deserves to be highlighted.
Today’s victory over Sri Lanka made it two from two for the Scots in their qualification group, and this current round robin of fixtures ends tomorrow with a tough encounter against Fiji, who were ranked six places above the Thistles leading into the tournament. Scotland have already defeated higher-rated opponents in Barbados, and the fact that the “Bajan Gems” subsequently lost to Fiji by just eleven goals implies (to me at least) that on current form, there is far less between the two sides than the respective rankings might suggest.
This will be the Thistles sixth game; they have won three of the five (including the last two). The confidence and momentum that comes from winning matches – especially the close ones viz. the 37-34 success over Barbados – cannot be underestimated. Psychology plays such an important part in elite sport, and when the time came to show the mental strength to produce their best netball under real pressure, Scotland did just that.
On paper Fiji will be expected to beat the Thistles, but in a sense, being the “underdog” may actually favour Gail Parata’s squad. I am sure there will be belief within the Scottish camp that they are capable of beating the Fijian side, but that belief does not need to become a burden of expectation. All the pressure is on the Pacific islanders, but recent results indicate the sides are probably separated by less than ten goals… two goals per quarter… that’s the kind of deficit that can definitely be overturned.
Oh I nearly forgot... some facts and figures. All twelve members of the squad have made at least two appearances so far; eight girls have featured in all five games, with Claire Brownie have played in at least part of seventeen quarters of netball. The team has scored 186 times in their five games, with five shooters having been used. The Grangetown duo of Gemma Sole and Jo Pettitt have 100 goal between them, with Gemma being the Thistle’s leading marksman/woman/person (I have no idea which word to use) with 74 (at 69% success rate). Lynsey Gallagher, Lesley MacDonald and June McNeill have shared the other 86 goals, with Lesley’s 27 coming from just 33 attempts – 82% is an outstanding conversion rate.
It’s clear that all twelve members of the Thistles’ squad have made a fantastic contribution so far; and I wish them the very best of luck for the challenge that lies ahead. Ninth place is more than a possibility... you can do this!