‘Quit­ting not an op­tion’

World Cup a shot at re­demp­tion for fastest bowler in the world

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - STUART HESS

prospects, ben­e­fits a player like Kings wing Maka­zole Mpimpi.

Born in Mdantsane, Mpimpi has never had to en­ter a camp full of new faces, full of for­mer Spring­boks, and fu­ture Boks, but with the SA ‘A’ side he has taken a baby step to feel­ing what it is like to be in such a po­si­tion.

In­deed, the SA ‘A’ side is a dress re­hearsal for the Spring­boks in every sense of the word, and plays an im­por­tant role for the Spring­bok coach.

Those play­ers are wait­ing in the wings, ready to take the call up should it come. They are gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence be­ing in a national rep­re­sen­ta­tive side, but with­out the Test match pres­sure of hav­ing to win at all costs.

Mpimpi, and oth­ers who have never played out­side the com­forts of their club teams, are able to ex­press them­selves in the safety net of an ex­hi­bi­tion match, while still learn­ing the nitty gritty that comes with play­ing at the rep­re­sen­ta­tive level.

Of course, it also puts them under the scru­tiny of Al­lis­ter Coet­zee, while re­mind­ing them that they are not far off from mak­ing it to the big time.

The SA ‘A’ side has never re­ally been taken se­ri­ously by SA Rugby, nor the fans, in years gone by.

But with the Boks in a re­build­ing stage, with ex­pe­ri­enced doyens lack­ing in the sys­tem, hav­ing a baby step from Su­per Rugby to Bok big time can only be a good thing for ac­cli­ma­tiz­ing our fu­ture stars.

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. 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/h - 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/h, 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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