Caitlin Bassett proved vital to the Lightning in their semi-final win over Vixens. (AAP: Mal Fairclough)
An athlete was asked who he would like to have playing for him if his life depended on it.
”My mother, at least she would care,” the athlete responded.
But had he seen the Sunshine Coast Lightning win a tense battle with the Melbourne Vixens in their Super Netball semi-final on Saturday, he might have chosen differently: ”Keep the tracksuit on Mum, I’ll take Caitlin Bassett!”
Bassett’s reputation as an ice-cold, big game shooter is long established – yet still wildly underappreciated in the Australian sporting landscape.
This is the Deadeye Dora who calmly scored the winning goal in the 2011 World Cup final; who shot 49 out of 53 in the 2014 Commonwealth Games gold medal match and 47 from 50 in the 2015 World Cup decider.
Steph Curry, Jonny Wilkinson, Hazem El Masri, Tony Lockett… name your game and Bassett’s incredible accuracy puts her in the conversation about supreme sporting marksmanship.
So it was hardly surprising when, with the Melbourne crowd screaming and the game in her hands, Bassett sunk her 44th goal from 47 attempts to give the Lightning a 56-55 semi-final victory that turned the title race on its head.
Instead of a preliminary final against Giants Netball, the Lightning have the week off to prepare for the grand final in Brisbane where, as ever, Bassett’s incredible conversion will be crucial.
Australia coach Lisa Alexander says despite Bassett’s heroics, there remains a misconception her success is mainly due to her 197-centimetre physique being ”parked under the post”.
”That sells short the hard work she does and also the physical aspect of the game,” Alexander said.
”The punishment she takes in the circle is quite legendary and I know the Lightning have modified her training this season to cater for that.”
The key to Bassett’s clutch shooting?
”Practice,” Alexander said.
”I know it sounds boring. But she’s just religious about her training schedule. She also wants the ball in her hands at those moments, so I would say [she has] a combination of the skill and the personality traits you need.”
Slater proves a point to Maroons Origin selectors
Billy Slater scored two tries for the Storm to give a reminder about his State of Origin claims. (AAP: David Crosling)
The most astonishing aspect of New South Wales’ demolition of Queensland in Origin I? It was the Blues, not the Maroons, who found a spark when the game was on the line – the crucial line break, the clever offload, the big hit.
The Maroons’ unusual lack of creativity and imagination became embarrassingly evident on Friday night, as Billy Slater tore apart Newcastle with a slashing performance for the Melbourne Storm.
Slater is not a man to hold grudges, but in scoring two tries and setting up two more, he played like he had a point to prove – most pertinently, to the Queensland selectors who apparently over-ruled coach Kevin Walters and did not include the 33-year-old in their squad.
Some believe Darius Boyd did well enough as Queensland custodian and, accordingly, Slater’s exclusion had little influence on its 28-4 thrashing in Origin I on Wednesday.
This blithely ignores the unique characteristics that Slater brings to the number one jersey – the ability to inject himself into the play and create scoring chances with his amazing step and sleight of hand. Never mind his almost telepathic partnership with Storm team-mates Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith.
Not even Slater could have stopped the Blues’ second-half tidal wave. But he and Johnathan Thurston were the X-factors missing in the early stages when Queensland played tough, safe but anodyne football.
The top-placed Storm face Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita’s Cronulla Sharks at Shark Park on Thursday night in the most engrossing match of the NRL season so far.
What better test of whether the champion full-back is again ready for Origin duty?
Hawkins incident set to test MRP’s consistency
So predictably benign have the AFL’s match review panel (MRP) assessments been in recent times the tribunal now sits about as often as the Papal Conclave.
Incidents are quickly assessed, sanctions reduced for an early plea and snapped up by grateful offenders faster than you can say: ”Where do I send the cheque?”
Geelong’s Tom Hawkins deserves a week on the sidelines for a jumper punch during the Cats’ excellent victory over Adelaide. Yet the power forward would be incredibly unlucky to be suspended given the leniency afforded others.
So does the MRP follow precedent, or defer to those AFL officials who have publicly stated they want jumper punches eradicated from the game by making an example of Hawkins?
Either way, the conundrum is the inevitable consequence of a system that, by favouring expediency over justice, allowed some serious offences to go virtually unpunished.
Aussie quicks to be challenged by Bangladesh
Patrick Cummins produced an underwhelming display against New Zealand. (Reuters: Andrew Boyers)
With the return to form and fitness of young tearaways Patrick Cummins and James Pattinson, Australia entered the ICC Champions Trophy with an embarrassment of fast-bowling riches.
But unless the Australian attack can improve dramatically, the embarrassment they face on Monday is defeat to Bangladesh and the prospect of a tricky sudden-death final group game against home team England.
Only rain saved Australia from defeat to New Zealand in its opening match after Cummins, Mitchell Starc, John Hastings and Josh Hazlewood all paid a hefty price for their wayward bowling.
Australia’s bowlers looked more like striking bowlers than strike bowlers against New Zealand as as the Kiwis accumulated 291 in 45 overs, you could not help wonder if the distraction caused by the game’s industrial chaos, as much as a the post-season lay-off, had contributed to a lacklustre performance.
The number six-ranked Bangladesh is no easy beat and boasts a batting line-up that forced England to chase 305 in its first match.
So this match shapes as an early test of whether the Australian attack is truly world-class, as it appears, or merely a paper tiger.