In a bid to win netball gold for the first time since the Manchester games in 2002, the Diamonds selectors have gone out on a long, thin limb and relied heavily on performance at trials over performance at ANZ Championships.
Asked earlier in the year, Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander explained the three pillars of selection – past performances, ANZ Championship form, and performance at the selection camp. These are fairly standard things to take into account; the trick is how much weighting to give each one. The final team announced on Wednesday points to the fact that it was the final pillar that had the most bearing on selection.
As a result the controversy really centres on the players who were left out, rather than those who were selected.
The goal attack positions were always going to be the hardest call and it's no surprise that they are the most controversial selections in the 12-strong team for Glasgow. All four contenders are world class, and it must have been a gut-wrenching final decision to choose the Vixens' Tegan Caldwell and West Coast Fever captain Natalie Medhurst over the NSW Swifts' Susan Pratley and Adelaide Thunderbirds' Erin Bell.
Bell’s omission is particularly puzzling. She was at times the starting goal attack for the Diamonds during last year’s international season and has been one of the standout performers in this years ANZ Championship competition. She has been one of the few shining lights for the Adelaide Thunderbirds during their run of five straight losses, where all too often she has carried the burden of playmaking and scoring.
And former Diamond and NSW Swift Susan Pratley has been shooting the lights out this year, and would have hoped that her Swifts combination with Caitlin Thwaites – who made the team for Glasgow – would hold her in good stead. Both must be wondering what else they could possibly have done.
So the only conclusion that can be drawn is that Caldwell’s and Medhurst’s form at the selection camp must have been compelling. Clearly this suggests a selection strategy where ANZ Championships form is used to pick the squad, and then selection camp form as a way to pick the team. This is risky, but it has its upside.
At trials, the selectors get to see player combinations that they don’t see at ANZ Championships – for example Caldwell playing with Bassett or Medhurst with Thwaites.
These camps also show the selectors which players stand up when they are sore and tired and under pressure – similar to what they will be asked to do at the business end of a major championship.
Selection isn’t glamorous. It is held on a – generally cold – back court in a large hall at the AIS in Canberra. There are no TV cameras, no commentators, no crowd. The best 21 netball players in Australia simply face off against each other for hours at a time. The downside of this selection strategy is that in putting so much emphasis on performance at trials, the selectors to a degree are putting aside 10 weeks of form in the world’s toughest netball league. That’s dangerous.
For the selectors, of which Diamonds coach Alexander is one, the announcement marks the end of a difficult process and the revelation of their selection strategy. If it brings a successful outcome, they will receive no public thanks. If, however, the team isn’t successful, the strategy will come under intense scrutiny.
For the 12 players who have been selected, they can now celebrate. This celebration of selection is rarely over-exuberant, for with happiness comes relief and the realisation that selection is not the end but the beginning of a long journey towards winning Australia’s first Commonwealth Games Netball gold medal since 2002.