The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how to take the prized wicket of Aussie gun batter, Meg Lanning.
Twenty-four hours later, Ismail was the toast of her Sydney Thunder team, as they upset the favourites, Melbourne Stars, bowling them out for one of the lowest totals of the tournament, and chasing down the required 87 runs in 14 overs to win their second WBBL title.
In a dream finish, a beaming Ismail stood on the winners’ podium, the first South African to win the player of the match award in the final. In fact, she is the first overseas player — male or female — to achieve this milestone in Australia’s Big Bash League.
In a furious opening spell of four overs, Ismail turned it on for the Thunder. After Lanning was dropped off the final ball of the first over, the Proteas speedster accounted for the potent Elyse Villani in her second over, and went on to land the perfect delivery to dismiss Lanning with her first delivery of her final over.
Speaking to gsport a day later, Ismail was surprised to hear that her match-winning performance was one for the record books.
“[I] never really thought about it as ‘making history’, but it’s a flippen’ good feeling! [I’m] really happy to have contributed to the team’s winning performance,” she said.
The season didn’t start well for the diminutive powerhouse. “To be honest, it was very hard in the first three games,” she said. “I felt like I had no rhythm and I just couldn’t get any wickets. It was very frustrating for me. I felt I was letting the team down. I then had a chat with the captain, Rachael Haynes. She said I should stop being dramatic; that it will take time, as I haven’t played any cricket in the last six months.”
Ismail settled things with a slight change to her game plan, which boosted her performance: “This season I bowled much tighter lines than last year, which paid off for me — I didn’t need to change much.”
With her captain’s backing, Ismail found her rhythm and improved as the tournament gained momentum. “They always say: “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
This year, Ismail was joined in Australia by South African teammates, Laura Wolvaardt, Chloe Tryon, Mignon du Preez, Lizelle Lee, Marizanne Kapp and captain, Dané van Niekerk for the WBBL’s sixth season. “I think they were fantastic, it’s really good to see their skills improving, and it’s a positive for us as the Momentum Proteas.
“Hopefully we can get more players playing next year; it’s great exposure, experience and it helps a lot of players grow their game.”
Ismail is not resting on her laurels, but aims to keep pushing the boundaries. “I want to keep striving to be better all the time, and keep ticking those goal boxes,” she said.
This article is part of a collaboration between the M&G and gsport, a platform dedicated to journalism about women in sport