“It’s probably my proudest moment,” said the captain Serena Guthrie after England came from behind to tie their third Quad Series game 48-48 with the world No 1 team, Australia, before playing them again in the final on Wednesday. “We showed them who we are,” she added.
Having already both guaranteed a shot at the title thanks to victories over New Zealand and South Africa, this game was touted as a dress-rehearsal before the title decider: ultimately meaningless but an important test of character.
Two minutes, 32 seconds was the time it took for the first goal of the game to sink. As the ball jerked its way down the court every inch was contested as the teams, having not met in two years, got the measure of each other’s will.
Up in the first quarter thanks to the formidable efforts of the Diamonds’ goalkeeper Sarah Klau, Australia stole the lead and forced England’s hand.
Looking a markedly different side with Eleanor Cardwell moved into goal attack, the position shifts sparked initial joy for the Roses who doggedly clawed back the five-goal deficit hanging over their heads. But an unrelenting and hungry Australia quickly adapted, pushing the score back to 19-23 at half-time.
The substitutions continued throughout the game, revealing that a second, poker-like game was also going on. England head coach Jess Thirlby and her opposite number Stacey Marinkovich seemed to make the most of the game of ‘no consequences’.
Up, down, level, reset – whichever players were on court, they never let the competition subside. In a fourth quarter pile-up Beth Cobden emerged victorious and the England bench roared. It might not have mattered to anyone else but to the players it did.
“To believe anything is possible you need some evidence,” said Thirlby. “I think we’re starting to build a really nice collection of evidence that we’re not beaten by any team, and we’ve got a place around the table.”
Sensing the occasion, clutch shooter Helen Housby shifted gear and England came to life. Hanging on until the final whistle it was almost poetic that, heading into the final everything, and nothing, had been established.
Every England Rose is willing but which seven will start? Can England cross the line at the second time of asking and claim a maiden Quad Series title? All will be revealed.