Tall Ferns looks to end 23-year WC hoodoo
BENGALURU: Former New Zealand basketball team captain, Natalie Taylor, has long dreamt of seeing the Tall Ferns play in the World Cup. However, her dreams have remained unfulfilled so far, thanks to Australia, who have dominated the Oceania group over the years and shut out the Tall Ferns, who last qualified for the tournament 23 years ago.
But the 34-year-old Natalie’s wish may soon be fulfilled with Federation Internationale de Basketball (FIBA) deciding to shift both Oceania countries to Asia. With four spots on offer from Asia, New Zealand have a realistic chance of qualifying for the FIBA Women’s World Championship 2018 in Spain, behind powerhouses like Australia, China and Japan. All they have to do is finish in the top 4.
New Zealand’s lone appearance in the World Cup was in 1994 when Australia qualified as hosts and opened the door for them. But now a World Cup spot is just a match away. If they beat South Korea in FIBA Women’s Asia Cup quarterfinals here on Thursday, Natalie and her teammates will book themselves a place in history.
“When I started playing, it was just a dream. But now it’s a match away and I think we have a realistic chance. Otherwise, it was just the Aussies and us and we always used to end up on the losing side. But now I think I can play one World Cup before I hang up my boots,” she said.
While most of the Kiwi cagers play in the Women’s National Basketball League in Australia, they lack international exposure, forcing the team down the world rankings to No 38, just two places above India.
“The best exposure we have is the William Jones Cup and Olympics. But qualification for Olympics is again difficult. So we have been overshadowed. But our national body is planning a women’s league back home and hopefully that will help us be on a par with the Aussies, if not better,” Natalie said.
Natalie is making a comeback to the national team. She played two friendlies in Singapore, but this is her first international tournament after her son Rocco’s birth. “It was difficult at this age to make a comeback. But I pushed myself hard in training and just got lucky,” she said.
She hasn’t really clicked in the tournament so far. She has averaged just 1.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and assists in three matches. “I am just trying to play smartly with the younger girls. They are faster and more agile so coping up has been tricky,” Natalie signed off.