Netball: Cookey predicts bright future for England

By Jessica CreightonBBC Sport at the National Indoor Arena
'Belief in ourselves' led to success - Pamela Cookey

England netball captain Pamela Cookey says the sport is in the best condition ever after her team's international series whitewash against world number ones Australia.

Cookey led her side to three consecutive victories against the reigning world champions - the first time ever for England, culminating in a 58-51 win at the National Indoor Arena on Saturday.

Before the series, England had only beaten the Diamonds twice in their histories but with wins in Bath, London and now Birmingham, captain Cookey thinks the sport can only progress from here.

"With more people getting on the court than ever before - not just in schools, but in clubs and at universities - the more competition we have for our places, makes us play better," she told BBC Sport.

According to national funding body Sport England, almost 160,000 women play netball every weekexternal-link, 40,000 more than in 2008 - a remarkable rise considering the sport is yet to join the high-profile Olympic programme, so was unable to showcase itself in the recent home Games.

This growth at the grassroots level helped lead to a £6.6m improvement in the sport's funding to £25.3m over the next four years.

"The funding increase shows a belief in netball, that people are willing to invest in us," Cookey said.

"In this past week we've never seen so much support. Our domestic Superleague kicks off next month so it's not just internationals people can see. People know there's that step and then there's the national team, so they have something to strive for."

England made their intentions clear from the outset with a strong starting line-up that included experienced internationals Cookey and Joanne Harten. But it was a trademark determined start from Australia as they strode to a 15-11 lead in the opening quarter.

The hosts remained focused and some industrious play from Sasha Corbin at wing attack ensured Cookey at goal attack and goal shooter Harten were well supplied to bring England within a point of their old rivals at half-time.

Some slick passing from England in the third quarter made light of the visitors's defence as they swept to a 43-38 lead. A downbeat Australia took to the court in the fourth but had little reply to the hosts's energetic movement.

As a loud and enthusiastic 7,000-strong crowd inside the NIA heartily applauded England's every pass and interception, the home side remained composed to take a deserving victory.

"We've really had that belief that we can go out and put in performances on the court [during this series]," said Cookey. "Three-nil against Australia, the first time ever in English history, I'm so proud to be part of this."

Starting line-ups:

England: Sara Bayman, Eboni Beckford-Chambers, Pamela Cookey, Sasha Corbin, Stacey Francis, Serena Guthrie, Joanne Harten.

Australia: Erin Bell, Madison Browne, Rebecca Bulley, Catherine Cox, Renae Hallinan, April Letton, Kimberle Ravaillion