These women hold the key
They’ve all played in every one of SA’s 19 matches in five trips to the game’s premier tournament. And it’s that experience the side will be looking up to in the Windies
● Shabnim Ismail is just more than a month into her 31st year, a time when most of us are pleased to have survived the pimply recklessness of growing up and are looking ahead to years of something like youth before our knees hurt and teenagers no longer recognise us as human.
But Ismail isn’t like other 30-year-olds. As a fast bowler, she has sent down close on 11,000 fast and furious deliveries in senior matches. So she likely has the knees of someone twice her age, and they probably hurt.
As the relentless piston in the engine that is South Africa’s attack, she is an example to follow. And she isn’t alone.
Ismail, Mignon du Preez, Trisha Chetty and Dané van Niekerk have all played in all 19 of the World T20 (WT20) games South Africa have contested since the inaugural tournament in 2009.
Things would be different this time
Does Ismail, who has played a Test, 86 oneday internationals and 69 T20s for South Africa, feel like a pensioner in the dressing room? “Not really,” she told the Sunday Times. “I’m one of the oldest players in the team, but I love the challenge presented by the fact that I am also one of the most experienced players.
“It’s a challenge to me because I always want the youngsters to look up to me, so I want to do well.”
Ismail will want to do well again on Tuesday, when she and her fellow super seniors will no doubt be part of the XI who take on Sri Lanka in St Lucia in SA’s opening game of this year’s WT20.
But they have lost all of their warm-up matches, against England, Australia and Pakistan. Only twice in those three innings have batters reached 30, and just four of the 18 bowlers have kept the damage to less than a run-a-ball.
The South Africans have also had to deal with disruption, what with Raisibe Ntozakhe taken out of the equation by an illegal action and Saarah Smith sidelined with a broken finger. Both off-spinners, they would have been useful on slow West Indian pitches.
The only time in the WT20’s five editions that South Africa weren’t eliminated in the first round was in 2014 in Bangladesh, when they lost to England in the semifinals. Of those 19 games, they have won only six.
But, Ismail being Ismail, there was no shaking her belief that things would be different this time.
“As the years have gone by, I can see the improvement in our performance in the WT20,” she said. “Now I’d like for us to get over that line of winning it.”
I’m one of the oldest players in the team, but I love the challenge presented by the fact that I am also one of the most experienced players
The oldsters are key to that happening, Ismail said: “Experience always shows on the field. Myself and Marizanne Kapp, you won’t get a better new-ball partnership.
“You can see the difference when I come into the lineup. Me and Marizanne take the lineup to the next level.”
Fast bowler Kapp, who turns 29 in January, has earned 162 white-ball caps in international cricket.
Medium pacer Masabata Klaas, who has played 38 ODIs and 24 T20s, will be 28 in February.
Indeed, Ismail and wicketkeeper-batter Trisha Chetty are the only players in the squad to have reached 30.
But, before Smith’s withdrawal, there were also three 19-year-olds. Opener Laura Wolvaardt, perhaps the most gifted cricketer to have emerged from South Africa in recent years, regardless of gender, and medium pacer Tumi Sekhukhune are the other kids.
“It’s good for Tumi to be alongside myself, Marizanne Kapp and Klaas,” Ismail said. “It’s for the senior players to say, ‘Listen, we got this; you just follow in our footsteps’.
“It’s about the senior players taking control and making the youngsters feel welcome and comfortable in the team.
“But not too comfortable. . . ”
Opener Laura Wolvaardt, perhaps the most gifted cricketer to have emerged from South Africa in recent years, regardless of gender, and medium pacer Tumi Sekhukhune are the other kids
Shabnim Ismail made her debut for the national team in 2007 and is among the fastest female bowlers in the world.
In 2013, skipper Dané van Niekerk became the first SA woman to take an international hat-trick in an ODI match.
Mignon du Preez was the team captain in all three forms of the game, Test, ODI and Twenty20 from 2007 to 2018.
Trisha Chetty is one of a core of young South African women who have broken into the national team in 2009.