JOHANNESBURG – For Shabnim Ismail, this year’s World Cup offers an opportunity to change the narrative and people’s perceptions of her.
"The fastest and most destructive bowler in the world" is a description she’d prefer and it was one she revelled in until last summer when she and teammate Trisha Chetty were suspended for three months by Cricket SA for severe disciplinary breaches. Ismail still believes those suspensions to have been harsh and unfair.
Instead of the "fastest and most destructive bowler in the world", Ismail carried the reputation as a trouble-maker. That impacted on her professionally too, for where she could have earned the kind of income teammates like Dané van Niekerk and Marizanne Kapp were by playing in overseas T20 leagues, managers of those teams were wary.
So this year’s World Cup, one which all the South African players believe they are capable of winning, also provides the 28-year-old with an opportunity for redemption.
“It was difficult,” she says about the suspension. “But you learn from your mistakes and you carry on. I’m quite happy with where I am. I came back after a long, quite harsh three months, which made me stronger as a person. The way I’ve come back, I think I’ve proved to everyone what I am capable of.”
“There was a time I actually thought that I don’t want to play cricket, but then I said to myself that I am the best at what I do. I always wanted to be the fastest bowler. I’d achieved so much so far in life and in my cricket career. You get those times when, in the moment, you get so angry you say, ‘I don’t want to play cricket anymore'.
"This is my 10th year and if you think about the long term... the way I’ve been playing, the team’s been playing, they way the team’s been motivating me has been a real positive. My family and friends have backed me, they told me, ‘don’t give up on what you love’. That’s why I’m still here today."
That journey has been tough. “It’s not easy coming back from a tough stage that you’ve been through in your life. Not many people have been through something like that," Ismail added.
"The way I’ve been through it, I’ve really learnt my lessons. A lot of people may have quit, I think quitting is not an option for me; I hate quitting. I always want to go out there, do better and that’s what I strive to do.”
In the time she was absent, South Africa played Australia in a five-match series, tying one and losing another off the last ball, and there’s a feeling in the squad that had Ismail been with them last November, the series would not have finished 4-0 to the world champions.
Now Ismail is only targeting the next four weeks and having recently clocked 128km/* – the fastest delivery ever recorded by a woman – she’s pleased with her form and thinking.
“Mentally, I always had a negative attitude. Now there’s a lot more positivity in my life; the people around me, especially my teammates, my family back home, everyone has been positive.
"I now want to be here. I want to prove myself to everyone and up to now that’s what I’ve done. In the first game I played after the suspension I took a five-wicket haul and that motivated me more to want to do well in my cricket career and in life.”
Van Niekerk has no hesitation in saying she has the best new-ball pair in the game at her disposal with Ismail and Kapp.
Ismail stresses that it’s important the pair make an impact early in South Africa’s first match, on Sunday against Pakistan, and leave a psychological imprint on the bigger nations the Proteas will face later in the tournament.
“Myself and Kappie over the past few years have done a really good job. (The partnership) has been really successful. Going into the World Cup we want to get the momentum onto our side with the first game.”
The variety of bowlers at Van Niekerk’s disposal is certainly an element that concerns their rivals at the tournament. Ismail will concentrate on bowling fast.
“I don’t compete against anyone else, I compete against myself. That is how I became successful. In order to be successful you need to fail in life as well. I believe I’m the fastest in the world. I recently clocked 128 km/* , which is the fastest any girl has bowled. I’m always competing against myself and trying to be better than I was yesterday.”
Her value to this SA side is critical. There are no other bowlers in the tournament capable of doing what she does.
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