Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Netball: Star of the Queens has helped lift Malawi above rivals South Africa

Mwai Kumwenda (left) has helped put Malawi on the netball map.Picture/ Getty Images
Mwai Kumwenda (left) has helped put Malawi on the netball map.Picture/ Getty Images

Mwai Kumwenda is the undisputed star of the Malawi Queens, who begin their three test series against the Silver Ferns in Wellington tomorrow night.

The 24-year-old's athletic ability caught the eye from a young age when she was given a nickname meaning bouncy.

She has gone on to become an international netball star, helping Malawi leap to fifth, above arch-rivals South Africa, in the world rankings. Malawi's growing status has resulted in their being included in the netball series against Australia, New Zealand and Fiji.

The goal shoot made African netball history by signing to play for the Mainland Tactix in the ANZ Championship. She has played club and state netball out of Melbourne for the past three years, winning MVP awards in both.

She talks to the Herald about her career, netball in Malawi and a tough childhood.

What do these international fixtures and your move to the Tactix mean for Malawi netball?

There is a lack of sponsors so this could help. When I go back to Malawi, I want the young girls to learn from me. Young girls don't play competitively in Malawi. The girls play for fun. They usually start around the age of 15. I want to help develop the younger children, the 6 and 8-year-olds.

Are you a celebrity in Malawi?

Yes.

What do you put your success down to?

I always listen to my coaches and practise hard.

Childhood heroes?

We lived in a village with no TV so I didn't know any of the players when I was young ... later there was Mary Waya [Malawi netball legend and current assistant coach], Irene van Dyk, Sharelle McMahon and Maria Tutaia.

What were the challenges and things you enjoyed in Australia?

Australians speak so quickly that I found communication quite difficult. The food was very different - I am used to a diet of maize and corn and I missed that. There was good netball, a good life, good social life, good people and friends.

Your upbringing?

It was a really tough life.

There wasn't much food ... I had to get water from the ground with a bucket. My father passed away when I was very young and my mother was very poor. I came from a small village but then I lived with my sister in the city.

What is the Malawi netball style?

Australia and New Zealand might find it unorthodox to play against. Our players like to keep the ball for a long time and pass back and forwards to each other, which can keep the score down. But I have tried to change them and be more direct but it is hard. Malawi doesn't have the money to help develop the players.

The game has become more physical ...

That is good for me. I don't worry about that at all.

What would be a good score against the Silver Ferns?

If it was something like 20 goals [difference] I would be disappointed.

- NZ Herald

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