Watched by Sports Minister Fikile Mbablu and his Malawian counterpart, Justin Saidi, as well as Olympic canoeing bronze medallist Bridgitte Hartley, the teams put on an outstanding display of international netball.
While the honours were even early in the match, the Malawians looked to have the upper hand as they dominated possession. Both teams made nervous errors, but Malawi edged narrowly ahead with a 12-10 lead at the first break.
In the second quarter, the Proteas held their own but Malawi still held a one goal advantage at half-time, with the scores at 23-22. Chrisna Bootha turned the game around in the third quarter.
Having missed the first two matches of the tournament with flu, Bootha arrived at the courts alone, early in the morning, and worked on her shooting before the final. It paid off, and the goal shooter broke into a rare smile when the SPAR Proteas held a six-goal lead midway through the third quarter.
A rare mistake in the circle allowed Malawi back into the game but the Proteas refocused quickly, outscoring their opponents by 14 points to nine in the third period.
Malawi pulled it back in the final fifteen minutes and kept the home side on their toes by picking up the pace. Mwai Kumwenda’s experience showed as the Malawian shooter was impressive with her quick handling of the ball.
It was a tense final few minutes with only one point separating the sides, but South Africa held their nerve to lift the trophy.
Bootha’s final statistics showed a 90 percent accuracy in her shooting, while Kumwenda was far and away the shooter of the tournament, scoring 39 from 41 attempts. SPAR Proteas captain Zanele Mdodana said she was still replaying the final moments in her head. “It was such a phenomenal win and I am so delighted, I don’t know what else to say,” Mdodana said.
“To see the girls fighting right to the end was fantastic. “Last night we said we had to raise the bar and we were not going to lose to Malawi twice in a row. “Now we are walking on top of a mountain.”
Mdodana said it was a team effort and the coaching staff, Elize Kotze and assistant Lana Krige, deserved praise as they had more belief in the players than they had in themselves. “It’s about time South Africa were back as the best team in Africa,” said Kotze. “It will always be a tough encounter against Malawi and I cannot ever imagine playing them and having an easy game.
“The score could have been higher, but considering Chrisna (Bootha) was not supposed to be on the court and Maryka Holtzhausen, our goal attack, had a stomach bug, I can’t complain.
“I saw something out there today which pleased me more than anything – the commitment, and the fact that the girls would put anything on the line to win.”
The SPAR Proteas had every reason to celebrate after they beat Malawi in the final of the Diamond Challenge in a spectacular display of netball on Saturday. Unable to contain their joy after the final whistle, the SPAR Proteas ran around the court in celebration, hugging each other and overcome with emotion.
Whilst the verdict is still to be confirmed as to whether this match will raise South Africa’s ranking to top in Africa, beating their African nemesis was enough for the Protea team today.
For more coverage of the series, view You Tube uploads at southafricanetball, follow the matches on twitter using #DiamondChallenge @SANetball or @TashZoe, and visit the Diamond Challenge website.
SPAR Proteas: GK Vanes-Mari du Toit GD Karla Mosert WD Bongiwe Msomi C Thuli Qegu WA Zanele Mdodana GA Maryke Holtzhausen GS Chrisna Bootha Reserves: Precious Mthembu Anneret Viljoen Adele Niemand Nosiphiwo Goda Melissa Myburgh Malawi: GK Towera Vinkhumbo GD Caroline Mtukule WD Grace Mwafulirwa C Bridget Kumwenda WA Beatrice Mpinganjira GA Sindi Simtowe GS Mwai Kumwenda Reserves: Lorren Ngwira Joanna Dzirimbire Kachilika Tina Kamuyambeni Thandie Mwale Galleta Joyce Mvula Fixtures and Results at the inaugural Netball SA Diamond Challenge: Wednesday 15 August: Malawi 75-32 Zambia South Africa 55-26 Botswana Thursday 16 August: Malawi 63-29 Botswana South Africa 47-34 Zambia Friday 17 August: Botswana 59-41 Zambia Malawi 47-42 South Africa Saturday 18 Aug: 11:50 – 13:25 Botswana v Zambia 13:25 – 15:00 SPAR Protea South Africa v Malawi Queens