Shabnim Ismail admits she was heartbroken after the winning runs were scored off her in the Women’s World Cup semi-final against England.
It was a contrasting experience for the fastest women’s bowler in the world. From hitting the winning runs on the last ball of the 48th over in the Proteas’ opening match against Pakistan, to having another chance to be the hero for SA, this time with the ball in the semi-final against England.
One thing which stood out in this tournament was the Proteas’ fighting spirit throughout, and Ismail was pivotal in lighting the Proteas’ fire.
Ismail, one of the senior players in the side, has built a reputation as a deadly fast bowler in women’s cricket, but it was her batting which sparked her self-belief, which she has embossed as her personal ethos.
The Proteas’ bowling attack did well to keep the Pakistan batters at bay, restricting them to 206-8 after 50 overs. The target looked easily chase-able for the talented South African batting lineup, but a collapse followed Laura Wolvaardt and Lizelle Lee’s dominant start, after the pair guided SA beyond the 100-run mark.
With the Proteas seven wickets down and needing just 16 runs off the last two overs, Ismail took SA over the line, hitting 14 runs off the final four balls of the 49th over to hand the Proteas a three-wicket win.
Despite Ismail ending as the hero, there was a nervousness which cracked her fierce ‘tough girl’ persona.
‘Do you really want to know?’ Ismail replied when asked about her batting performance.
‘I was flipping sh**ting myself, I won’t lie [she laughed]. I was sitting downstairs with my blues on, and I told the batters, “you know what? I’m not going to put my greens on, you guys need to go do the job.”
‘Wickets starting tumbling and I started to get nervous.
‘As soon as Dane went in I said, “Oh sh*t, I need to put on my greens.” I went upstairs to the dressing room and Dane went out. I put on my gear and watched from the dressing room, I was so scared and didn’t know what to do.
‘I was sitting in the dugout and focused on how they were bowling. I was hoping that the pace bowlers would come on because they are easier to hit and the pitch was low and slow in the afternoon.
‘I always tell myself that if I hit my first ball through the covers then I know I’m set for the game, and that’s what happened. Then I told myself “now’s my time to shine, I need to win this game for my country.”
‘Sune then came up to me and said “Shibs, don’t leave too many runs for the last over” and then I told her “don’t worry, I’ve got this, we’re going to win the game in this over.” And then I hit 14 runs.’
It seemed unlikely that Ismail would be the one to see the side home, but a ‘miracle’ was not what she called the occurrence on the day.
‘It wasn’t a miracle, I just believed in myself and the hard work I put in, and I displayed my talent.’
This set the tone for the rest of the tournament, as the Proteas displayed a remarkable team cohesiveness. Ismail was convinced that the opening win spurred their road to the semi-final.
‘If you win the first game you know you’re set for the whole tournament. Australia said we were the dark horses and that we were the team to look out for in the tournament, so that was nice for us because teams took us seriously and people knew we were there to try win the World Cup.’
Ismail was handed a second chance to be the hero once again, this time in a more familiar setting. The semi-final against England went to the wire, and despite the Proteas only posting 218-6, they managed to curb the hosts’ batting prowess, reducing them to 216-8 in the final over.
With the hosts needing three off six, Ismail was given the ball while deep in conversation with her captain.
‘Dane told me “you’ve got three balls left, make it three good balls, you don’t know what’s going to happen next. These are the three most important balls of your career, today is your day.'”
A dot, a single and a wicket off her in-swinging yorker gave the Proteas a sniff of a first-ever World Cup final, but her fourth ball was short and wide as Anya Shrubsole hit a boundary to win the match and break South African hearts.
‘I mean it just didn’t come out the way I’d like it to,’ Ismail said about her last delivery.
‘I kept thinking about that last ball I bowled, and I know it was a sh*t ball and I couldn’t believe it.
‘Because, I mean, it’s me. I know I could’ve done it, my teammates believed it, and it was heartsore because everyone believed in me, and I couldn’t execute it and it was very disappointing for me.
‘I wasn’t scared or anything because I love pressure situations, I just couldn’t execute what I wanted to bowl in that last ball. I aimed to bowl the yorker because I knew she was going to come down the wicket, but I just couldn’t execute it.
‘It was hard, even though a lot of people sent me messages to say it’s not my fault.’
The experience has invoked the determination in the 28-year-old Ismail as she sets her sight on staying a crucial figure in the side by the next World Cup.
Photo: Simon West/Action Plus via Getty Images