Australia 99 Sri Lanka 24
If Australia raised any doubts in their ability to defend their World Cup crown after their laboured win over Zimbabwe, the heavyweights of world netball have banished them as quickly as they surfaced.
The Diamonds inflicted a rampant 99-24 drubbing over Sri Lanka to set the highest goal tally of the tournament so far, surpassing the day’s marker laid down by England in their 90-24 victory over Samoa hours earlier.
There were only two negatives for Lisa Alexander’s side. Firstly, falling short of a century of goals. Secondly, by their own standards, their start was somewhat lethargic, given the intensity for which they are renowned. It was partly why Alexander believes the athleticism on show in Liverpool - where each team must play eight games in 10 days - is incompatible with the scheduling of the tournament.
“I’ve thought that for a long time,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, playing Sri Lanka was really important. But at the end of the day, it’s not necessarily conducive to great television watching.
“We might need to look at that differently in the future. Having a back-to-back schedule and then not being able to replace players if they’re injured, that’s a real downer for our sport I believe.”
Speaking in reference to England’s Layla Guscoth , who suffered a tournament-ending injury on Saturday against Scotland which means Tracey Neville’s side must finish the tournament with 11 players, Alexander said: “The athletes are so highly trained now and they are extraordinarily fit and so to have to do that level day in, day out, it’s going to take its toll. You are going to get injuries - I’m not saying that’s the reason Layla was injured, but it certainly doesn’t help.
“I’m a bit old-fashioned that way, I’ve always coached tournaments and part of their charm is the fact you’ve got to plan your week accordingly, but I think we’re just getting into such high territory with the athletes being so fit and so intense in the way they play, we have to be mindful of that, particularly with the back-to-back nature. A few more days off would make a huge difference.”
Despite the first quarter being interrupted with repeated infringements, the reigning world champions soon displayed their supremacy across each third and were ruthless in transitioning the ball down the court, with wing-attack Kelsey Browne the orchestrator around the shooting circle.
Tharjini Sivalingam , Sri Lanka’s towering six foot 10 inch goal-shooter, entered proceedings late on in the first quarter, but her teammates relied too heavily on pinpointing the ball towards her expectant hands. Tipping the ball over the backline was a typical occurrence when she scrapped with Australian goal-keeper Sarah Klau in one-handed challenges.
At the other end, Caitlin Thwaites dominated, scoring 65 of her 66 attempts on goal during the whole game. That she was able to enjoy such a prolific record at the base of the net was a credit to a mid-court led by Liz Watson at centre, as the Diamonds effortlessly opened up the court and competed for every 50-50 challenge with greater urgency. By half-time, they had run their opponents ragged.
As Sri Lanka wilted, Australia excelled. Having notched 20 in the opening quarter, Alexander’s side emptied the tank thereafter, netting 27 in the second, 28 in the third and 24 in the final fifteen minutes of the match.
If Australia’s concentration levels had been questioned the day previous, it was most probably due to the euphoria displayed by Zimbabwean fans who, while innocently intimidating, had succeeded in intermittently distracting the world’s best.
They were out in their force again on the adjacent court at the M&S Bank Arena, to watch their side become locked in a close battle with Northern Ireland in Sunday’s other Group A match. Egged on by the singing and dancing of their spectators, it was enough to help the tournament newcomers edge Dan Ryan’s side 51-49 in the dying minutes.
“I’m pretty gutted,” said Caroline O’Hanlon. “We gave it everything but made too many errors. We’ll have to go back and look at the breakdown but we made errors across the four quarters and they were costly at the end. The game was there for the taking and we should have closed it out.”
Northern Ireland will face Malawi on Monday in the second preliminary round of the tournament.