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Malawi Queens’ Mwawi dependency syndrome

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There is something so remarkable about New Zealand-based star shooter, Mwawi Kumwenda, when she is unavailable for the Malawi netball Queens, it just feels like four players have deserted the team.

And when she is around, stretching, pushing and shoving to either seek passes or score with her repertoire of jump-and-turn passes and blatant disregard for gravity, it just rubs on the rest of the squad.

Such is the case at the ongoing Netball World Cup in Australia, where save for a 59-47 loss to New Zealand on Wednesday, the Queens had at the time of writing, won four games on the bounce.

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Talk about Kumwenda’s positive charisma. But, but if this were tennis singles, then putting all Malawi’s netball emotions in one basket of Kumwenda would have been no big deal.

Unfortunately, we are talking about a team sport of netball.

So, what if she is unavailable due to inevitable injuries, her Tactix club commitments and indeed, if she decides to remind the Netball Association of Malawi (Nam) of her value? Problems. Problems.

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So, are the Malawi Queens a one-player team?

Not so, suggests the team’s fan Frank Banda of Blantyre, adding “it’s just that every team has its own star and Mwawi is one for the Queens.”

Well, every team needs stars—Real Madrid marvel at the feet of Cristiano Ronaldo. Everything about Barcelona revolves around Lionel Messi’s magic.

Yes, every team ought to have a star. But the healthiest situation is for teams to have stars who can step in for the bigger- than- life individuals. Not so with the Queens. Yet, Kumwenda will not be there for the Queens forever. Nobody has.

When Kumwenda is not around, Sindi Simtowe of Complex Tigresses steps up. Can she then be touted as the next big thing for the Queens?

In a narrow 59-53 beating of Uganda on Tuesday, goal attacker Simtowe, despite playing slightly away from the ring, surpassed Kumwenda by missing just three of her conversions whereas the New Zealand-based player missed five times.

But in as far as comparisons between the two players are concerned Tuesday’s performance was more of a one-off performance. Of course, Simtowe is quieter, a workaholic and is able to combine her role by dropping deep to fetch the ball.

However, it was Kumwenda’s return to the Queens’ fold that has translated to the team’s encouraging displays enabling them to, for the first time in five meetings since 2013, hand rivals South Africa’s Spar Proteas a bitter taste of their own medicine.

It was in Kumwenda’s absence that the Queens slipped to fifth in the world and second in Africa after swapping positions on the rankings with the Proteas.

Not that Nam, given a choice, would readily call Kumwenda, but the association simply has no option. Even fellow Queens players such as captain Caroline Mtukule-Ngwira know that.

“We all want to win and as long as she comes in and helps to win, it’s ok. We accept that is how Mwawi is,” Ngwira said on the World Cup eve.

You can understand Ngwira’s point. Netball games are lost on the margins of clinical conversions or lack of it and some cases interceptions. And if a team can score with ease as the Queens are, the defence tighter and everyone is lifted up.

Now with the lanky shooter, who spins like a dolphin, the possibilities are many. The equation is now balancing.

Coaches rarely admit that some players are bigger than life for that would be tantamount to sowing seeds of mutiny in the squad. The Queens’ technical director Griffin Saenda is no exception.

“The answer is yes and no. Yes, her influence is great, but the wins are about team work,” said Saenda, who the gaffe-prone Nam left behind while taking administrators to Australia.

“The difference between Mwawi and the rest is that she is professional. She trains, plays and behaves like a professional.”

During her self-imposed exile as ‘a freedom fighter for the often oppressed voices in the Queens squad, the team surrendered everything to South Africa and generally looked clueless in defence, toothless in attack. The Queens were no longer striking fear in opponents.

Saenda for once, admits that the Queens badly need another netball export, “I think Simtowe can make it.”

Clubs in England and Asia have enquired about several Malawi players, but so unprofessional is the Malawi netball set up even Kumwenda’s deal first with Peninsula Waves was largely due to the efforts of her manager and advisor Hlupikire Chalemba.

Nam is unable to make follow ups on interested clubs hoping they would come knocking on the door themselves.

Result? South Africa has exported over four players such as centre Bongiwe Msomi to England and even Uganda and Botswana national teams have more foreign based players than the Queens.

So unless domestic netball attracts intermediaries for players’ transfers to foreign clubs, the sport would remain at the mercy of Kumwenda and the often inept Nam that seems so overwhelmed and at times, too powerful to listen to voices of reason.

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