Where does Irene really rate?
Was Irene van Dyk the greatest netballer ever, as some are claiming? The tall goal shoot’s retirement from the international arena has prompted various assessments of her career, some admittedly by people who would have no idea what went on in netball before 2000.
Van Dyk certainly has some great statistics on her side. She played 72 tests for South Africa from 1994 till 1999, and another 145 for New Zealand from 2000 till 2014.
Her longevity has been incredible – imagine being among the world’s best for 20 years.
Her shooting accuracy has also been astounding. It’s true that van Dyk shoots almost entirely from under the hoop, but still, to have a 91 per cent success rate over all those years defies belief.
( That said, it must be remembered that shooters of previous eras played outdoors and had to cope with wind, cold, sun and rain.) Is she the best ever? Van Dyk didn’t
move particularly well, and left all the long-range shooting to her goal attacks. She did have great hands and positional play, and relentlessly put the ball through the hoop, which was her job.
Tracey Fear and Casey Kopua were brilliant defenders and Sandra Edge was unmatched as a centre.
It’s impossible to compare van Dyk with them because the skills required are so different.
However, van Dyk’s impact on the game at international level has been unequalled.
She has been a pioneer and a wonderful advertisement for netball. It was New Zealand’s good fortune she spent most of her international career playing for the Silver Ferns.
The question of the best ever is totally subjective.
Most cricket followers nominate Don Bradman as the greatest cricketer of all time.
Yet Bradman seldom bowled and almost never kept wickets. Logically, therefore, how could he rate ahead of all-rounders like Gary Sobers, Jacques Kallis, Ian Botham or even our own Richard Hadlee?
There is no particular logic, but nearly everyone goes for Bradman. He was so far ahead of everyone as a batsman, and for so long, that his figures defy belief. He was also a ruthlessly successful captain. He is unchallenged as No 1. It’s the same with the debate over the greatest All Black.
Many opt for Jonah Lomu, though the big winger couldn’t really kick, didn’t have great rugby vision, had erratic defence and was not a great passer.
Because of his size and speed, he could score breathtaking tries.
But so could other wingers, such as Grant Batty, Bryan Williams, Ron Jarden and Jeff Wilson.
Despite his limited skills, Lomu had a massive impact on rugby and his worldwide reputation is unquestionable.
I’ve always thought No 8 Zinzan Brooke was the most skilled All Black I’ve seen. A previous generation said the same of fullback Bob Scott.
In 2000, Colin Meads was voted New Zealand rugby player of the century. Modern rugby fans might plump for Richie McCaw.
It’s only subjective and not more than an interesting discussion point.
My feeling is that when people talk about the greatest player, they are focusing on legacy and impact, which is where the likes of van Dyk, Bradman and Lomu score so highly.
Enduring greatness: Irene van Dyk has been among the world’s best for 20 years.