It’s been a long road from Cravenby to the Women’s T20 World Cup final for Shabnim Ismail

Shabnim Ismail of South Africa celebrates bowling England captain Heather Knight during the 2023 ICC Women's T20 World Cup semi-final match at Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town on 24 February 2023. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Shabnim Ismail of South Africa celebrates bowling England captain Heather Knight during the 2023 ICC Women's T20 World Cup semi-final match at Newlands Cricket Ground in Cape Town on 24 February 2023. Picture: Shaun Roy/BackpagePix

Published Feb 25, 2023


Johannesburg - Shabnim Ismail had delivered 8 671 balls in international cricket. And even thousands more in the T20I franchise leagues around the world.

But when the Proteas’ fiery fast bowler was standing at the top of her mark at the Wynberg End, about to deliver comfortably the most important six deliveries of her entire career, she called for divine invention to help guide her team to the promised land.

“I said the biggest dua (prayer) that I have ever in my life,” Ismail stated after nailing her yorkers that closed out an epic six-run win for the Proteas over England in Friday’s pulsating women’s T20 World Cup semi-final at Newlands.

It was not surprising that Proteas men’s legend Dale Steyn was one of the first to take to social media to congratulate Ismail and the rest of the women’s team on being the first South African senior cricket team to come out on the other side of a World Cup semi-final.

Steyn had, of course, been right there, in that lonely place where all the lights are solely on you, before on that fateful night in Auckland back in 2015.

The situation was eerily similar. Steyn had 12 runs in his back pocket to defend. Ismail had 13. Both had a set batter at the crease along with a tailender.

Their mindsets were completely different though. Ismail was not even looking up the scoreboard. She had set her own mini-target.

"I'm not even going to lie, I didn't even look at how much they needed," Ismail said. "I just told myself I just wanted to defend three or four and that was my mindset."

She eventually conceded six. But she also claimed the massive wicket of England captain Heather Knight, sending her leg-stump cartling out of the ground, that set off celebrations within Newlands that could be heard all the way at her family home in Cravenby - 21 kilometres away from the leafy suburbs of Cape Town.

The significance of a woman from Cravenby - an Indian diaspora situated alongside poverty stricken neighbourhoods on the Cape Flats such as Ravensmead, Florida and Parow East - weaving iconic moments into South Africa's rich tapestry cannot be undervalued.

Equally, that of Ismail’s fellow heroes Ayabonga Khaka and Tazmin Brits.

Khaka hails from Middledrift - known as Xesi in the Eastern Cape’s mother tongue of isiXhosa - where women’s primary responsibilities still consist of herding cattle and nurturing the family through cooking and cleaning. They are not primed to take 4/29 - including three wickets in the 18th over of a tense run chase - in a T20 World Cup semi-final.

And while Brits, who struck 68 off 55 balls and claimed four catches including a majestic one-hander, may be of white Afrikaans heritage, she was certainly not born with any golden spoon back in Klerksdorp. Her subsequent journey, which includes been hurled from a car that shattered her pelvis and hip and forced screws to be inserted into her joints, which ended her Olympic dream and forced her to wait tables in Potchefstroom to earn a living wage relates to everyone’s daily struggles in Mzansi.

“I'd like to think God puts us in paths and ways to go so I think he changed my path. I'm maybe might be an inspiration to many young girls or whatever the case would be or helping other people not necessarily in cricket,” Brits said.

“I always try to remain and say I want to be a human first before a cricketer so I think that maybe just gave me the lines to change my direction and help people out.”

The Springbok men’s Sevens team are often touted as the epitome of transformation in a South African context, but it is hard to look past these Proteas women for what it genuinely is.

There are less than a handful that hail from privileged alma-maters and the Proteas women’s team remains among the lower echelon of earners in the country.

The cold numbers when compared to their male counterparts paints a bleak picture with a Proteas Women’s cricketer earning roughly 25% with an approximate salary of R33 000 to that of close to R114 000 per month for a Proteas men’s player.

But yet they give their maximum every time they step out on the field and leave everything on the park. And there is no distinction between Ismail, who was recently signed for R2.1million in the Women’s Indian Premier League auction, and Brits that was only recently awarded a Cricket SA national contract.

That much was evident when Ismail passionately embraced her teammate after Brits’ spectacular one-handed catch to send Alice Capsey back to the dug out.

"When she went down I just looked at the ball and I saw it was still in her hand and I just kept on running," Ismail said enthusiastically.

Ismail and her teammates did a lap of honour around the Newlands outfield post match to thank the boisterous crowd for spurring them on during those tense final overs.

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That is usually an act that is reserved for a campaign that has been concluded. But maybe the players themselves did not know how to react with the fact they indeed have another game left - and one which has now been confirmed will be the biggest match in the history of South African cricket and will define the legacies of this group of women.

It’s also against Australia - the indomitable champions of women’s cricket - so will the Proteas be able to scale Everest after just completing a hike up Table Mountain?

ALSO READ: It’s the final countdown … Proteas want to keep inspiring the nation at Women’s T20 World Cup

“I have been playing for 16 years so getting over the line, over that (semi-final) hurdle, does make me very emotional,” Ismail said.

“The crowd gave us that extra boost. We know what to expect from the Australians. They are classy outfit, especially the batting line-up which goes down to No 8/9, but we have to take what we learned (from the semi-final) and take it into the final.”


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