Dale Steyn bowls to Dwayne Bravo

Mr Speed: a fired up Dale Steyn was thrilling to watch

Mark Ralston / © AFP/Getty Images

The First Sportsperson I Wanted to Be

Shabnim Ismail: 'I dreamt of roughing up batsmen like Steyn did'

South Africa's fastest female bowler on the pace ace who inspired her

Interview by Shashank Kishore  |  

In our series where cricketers talk about the first sportsperson they wanted to be: Shabnim Ismail on Dale Steyn

My first memory of Dale Steyn is from early in his career. I was sitting at home and watching cricket with my mum, and I remember asking her: "Why is he celebrating like that?" His face would go red and his veins would appear to pop. There was fire in his eyes, he had so much intensity and aggression. I was able to connect with that and immediately took a liking to him. Whenever he bowled, I used to sit and watch.

Early in my career, I grew up wanting to be a batter, but as I started becoming serious about cricket, my grandfather honed my talent as a fast bowler. He used to set targets for me, and when I used to keep hitting the stumps, he convinced me I had to just bowl fast.

As I became a fast bowler and women's cricket started getting recognition, I loved the fact that everyone felt that the intensity and focus I carried on the field was just like Dale's. I also admired Andre Nel. He was a colourful character and had so much heart. He loved a chirp but had the great ability to back that up with performances. So when I chose my jersey number, 89, Andre called me and joked about me copying his number.

Andre used to speak to me about the need to consistently bowl fast, and how that would be the only factor that could set me apart. Though I didn't blindly copy them, I would be amazed at how Steyn, in particular, used to rough up batsmen with bouncers. I dreamt of doing that in women's cricket.

"The first time I bumped into Steyn was at the Cricket South Africa awards in 2012. I wanted to say so much, but all I remember squeaking out was: 'I'm a big fan'"

I remember a game against Thailand at the T20 World Cup this year. I was bowling real quick and kept bouncing their batters. I could sense a bit of fear. I felt special. Later, I heard that Brett Lee, who was a commentator at the tournament, praised my ability to bowl quick. Coming from someone like him, it meant a lot. Sometimes, when I sit back and reflect - and lockdown has given me plenty of time to do so - I imagine what Dale would feel like when he comes pounding in and lets a bouncer rip at 150kph.

The first time I bumped into Steyn was at the Cricket South Africa awards in 2012. I was nervous going up to him to initiate a conversation. I wanted to say so much, but all I remember squeaking out was: "I'm a big fan." I was surprised that he knew about me and had watched me bowl. He even said he'd heard about some comparisons between his action and mine. That was quite special.

Steyn had so much fire about him that it amazed me how different he was off the field. Sometimes I used to wonder if he was the same person. He is so soft-spoken and polite, very warm and engaging in the way he talks to people. He's someone who can connect with anyone and everyone at a human level.

I remember thinking that this is how you should be as a cricketer: full of focus and intensity on the field, and spend time off it having a laugh and doing things with a smile. It's not just about what you do on the field but the examples you set off it, and Steyn has been an absolute legend in that regard.

I'm very close to becoming the first South African - male or female - to get to 100 T20I wickets. I still have a good three or four years left in me, and the dream is to win a big tournament for South Africa. It's amazing to see Dale's longevity. That is something I'm trying to emulate as well.

Shabnim Ismail has played over 90 ODIs and T20Is for South Africa since 2007

Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo