THE Zimbabwe Gems gave the country something to cheer its spirits yesterday when they qualified for their maiden Netball World Cup after winning their fourth straight match in Lusaka, Zambia, yesterday.
Coach Lloyd Makunde and his triumphant troops left the country last week on a mission to make history, as the first netball national team, to book a place at the prestigious Netball World Cup.
And, as they promised just before their departure, they delivered the ticket to the tournament in Liverpool, England, next year after finding a way to rise from a first game defeat, at the hands of Malawi, to win their next four matches.
The Gems needed a victory against Kenya yesterday, to ensure they retained their fate in their hands, and they did just that as they beat the East Africans after a 58-42 victory.
It meant that an unlikely defeat by the Ugandans, who have won all their matches at the qualifiers, to hosts Zambia would stop the Gems from celebrating a place at the World Cup yesterday, with the battle for qualification spilling into the final day of qualifiers today.
Such a scenario would have set a high-stakes winner-take-all battle between Zimbabwe and Uganda today with the victorious team grabbing the ticket to the World Cup while the losing side was likely to be left mourning coming so close, yet so far, from the Promised Land.
Hosts Zambia, who also play their first qualifying match today, were heavily tipped to win that game and take one of the two tickets to the World Cup.
However, after Uganda’s victory over the Zambians, the Zimbabwe Gems and their East African counterparts were left to pop the champagne bottles as they celebrated qualifying for the World Cup next year.
They now join South Africa and Malawi as the African representatives at the tournament.
For the Gems, a team which has always shown a lot of potential, this was their finest hour and their success story was even more remarkable given the challenges that the sport faced recently when it was split into two factions.
The arrival of a new Super League, with some rich pickings, attracted most of the teams and left the netball controlling body, who have their fair share of critics for the way they haven’t fully tapped the potential which lies in the game, without some of their big players and teams.
However, when it came to the mission to represent the country, the netball fraternity united for the cause of their nation and yesterday they duly delivered when the Gems secured their place at the next World Cup.
They have become only the third national team, after rugby and cricket, from this country to qualify for the World Cup.
We agree with the Sports Commission, an organisation we have been very critical of in recent months, for leading the way in calling for the nation to ensure that preparations for that World Cup adventure start now.
“We would like to implore the nation to lend a hand to the girl child as they now shift their focus to the World Cup, which is highly demanding with respect to preparations technically, materially and financially,’’ said the Sports Commission.
“This is an opportunity for those who may want to be associated with this success to come on board and lend their hand in even making the World Cup mission a success.
“Let’s not be left behind by the wheels of success which are in our midst.’’
Recently we saw the Zimbabwe Cheetahs, a team that had a lot of potential, struggling at the Rugby Sevens World Cup in California, United States, not because they didn’t have the capacity to take on the best on the globe, but because they didn’t prepare for that tournament as adequately as was needed for them to make an impact.
For a long time, we heard the Cheetahs management calling for help, now that they were going to take on the best in the world, but those calls kept on falling on deaf ears.
We shouldn’t let that happen to the Gems, a team that has been on the rise for some time now, and we all have a responsibility to ensure that these sporting ambassadors of our country are giving all the possible help for them to do well in England next year.
It’s pointless for those who want to help them to start stampeding in their corner, at the last minute, when they would have lost valuable time for them to prepare for the showcase.
Zimbabwe, as a country, is turning the corner in a number of sectors, as we celebrate the new political dispensation, and we are happy that the Gems have given the people of this country a reason to celebrate by making it to the World Cup.