‘Culture change within the dressing room played a huge role in South Africa’s road to success’   

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Shabnim Ismail joins Sydney Thunder

Shabnim Ismail is one of the fastest bowlers on the women's circuit. © Getty Images

South Africa pacer Shabnim Ismail feels that the culture change over the years in the Proteas dressing room has played a significant role in their path to success and growth especially with the youngsters like Laura Wolvaardt, Nadine de Klerk and Nonkululeko Mlaba shining alongside the veterans such as herself, Dane van Niekerk, Marizanne Kapp and Mignon du Preez.

“Obviously when I started I was very young. I was 17-18 years old. I remember coming into the side at that time and it was very difficult for me,” Ismail was quoted as saying to IOL. “They used to make me do the laundry. They used to bully me, obviously trying to make me scared. It was very difficult.”

“But for the youngsters coming into the side now we have spoken about we need to make them feel comfortable so they can play at their best ability. If we are not making the youngsters feel comfortable, how can we expect them to perform?” added the South African Women’s T20 Cricketer of the Year.

Delivering her first ball in international cricket 13 years back, Ismail has experienced all the aches and pains of the game shifting from a virtual recreational pastime to fully-fledged professionalism – something which was on display in the recently-concluded T20 World Cup earlier this year when they narrowly lost to eventual champions Australia in the semi-final.

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A vital cog in the Proteas set-up Ismail plays an integral role with the new ball both in T20Is and ODIs forming a potent partnership with Kapp. Speaking about the possible rule change that could see the pitch shortened and ball lightened for women’s cricket, Ismail would love to see that.

“Although I am turning 32 I still firmly believe I have a good couple of years to play cricket. I believe if you keep fit because not many people see what you do behind the scenes,” she said. “I would definitely love that (the rule changes). It would be great for me as the fastest bowler to have a smaller ball and a shorter pitch. I think I would then definitely be clocking 130km/h every ball that I bowl.”

At a time when Australian skipper believes that the COVID-19 pandemic won’t impact the game much, the 31-year-old thinks otherwise in a sense that it denied the sport the platform to put its exposure into overdrive after a hugely successful T20 Worlds Cup earlier this year.

“100% ... Covid-19 has handed us a massive knock,” said Ismail, who was South Africa’s leading wicket-taker in a campaign. “Coming back from the World Cup, we knew we were going to face the Aussies in our own backyard and were really looking forward to it. Everything happened so quickly that some people still didn't realise the seriousness of the pandemic.

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“We’ve been at home for the past three months, it’s really been tough. We love being out on the field and having people around us. For now, it's just about staying safe and doing our best to train at home. It doesn’t beat actually running in and bowling, so it is a difficult situation. Luckily for us, (the World T20) was actually the last big tournament that got played. It’s sort of the last one in everyone’s memories and it was such a great event. Hopefully, it’s not all lost.”

However, she admitted that South Africa missed a golden opportunity to reach their maiden ICC final, an honour cruelly denied by the Sydney weather. “We showed in that tournament that we came here to play. I still believe that if the rain didn’t come, we definitely would’ve been in the final,” said Ismail.

“I think getting over the last hurdle is just a mental thing. All the skills needed are already in place. We just need to go out like we did in the World T20 and get on with things. We have the best attack in the world and there are match-winners, particularly with the youngsters coming through. We’re arguably the best team South Africa has produced to date. We just need to get onto the field again.”