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Women’s Cricket World Cup: SA’s Ismail one of five players to watch

The Women’s Cricket World Cup kicks off in New Zealand on Friday after a year of delay due to the pandemic and with Australian favorites to lift the trophy.

Here, AFP Sports shows five players to watch as the 50-over extravaganza kicks off:

Shabnim Ismail (RSA)

Pace bowler Shabnim Ismail is a major reason South Africa is considered long shot at the World Cup, despite never making it past the semi-finals.

The South Africans are entering the tournament as second in the world after winning their past five ODI series, including against India and Pakistan.

Ismail, the country’s leading ODI wicket taker and fourth internationally with 164 casualties, took four wickets last month to seal a 2-1 series win over India in Johannesburg.

The 33-year-old, nicknamed “The Demon”, is considered the fastest bowler in women’s cricket, with a steady speed of 120 km/h.

Ismail cites Andre Nel and Dale Steyn’s uncompromising aggression as her inspiration, saying that even her teammates are sometimes intimidated by her intensity.

“In the South African team, many girls are afraid to face me,” she told Cricinfo last month.

Ellyse Perry (AUS)

Ellyse Perry
Ellyse Perry from Australia. Image: Kelly Defina/Getty Images

Ellyse Perry’s status as one of the greats of the game is already certain, but the all-rounder has a point to prove in New Zealand after her shock with the Australian Twenty20 team.

The 31-year-old has rewritten the record books since her debut in 2007, claiming five T20 World Championships, one Cricket World Cup in 2013 and numerous domestic honours.

She has also been named World Player of the Year and World Player of the Decade 2011-2020 three times in both ODI and T20 formats.

Still, selectors turned to a group of up-and-coming all-rounders for January’s T20 series against England and Perry will be happy to use the ODI showcase to prove she is far from an exhausted force.

Amelia Kerr (NZL)

Amelia Kerr
White fern Amelia Kerr. Image: James Allan/Getty Images

The host nation has well-known power hitters in Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates, but Amelia Kerr is the White Ferns’ form player heading into the World Cup.

Kerr was just 16 when she made her international debut and expectations were skyrocketing when she won an unbeaten 232 against Ireland in 2018, still the highest ODI score for women ever.

Last year she took a break from cricket and revealed that the ‘bubble life’ on the road during the pandemic had affected her mental health.

The 21-year-old has returned refreshed and is playing the best cricket of her life, scoring 353 runs at an average of 117.7 in a player-of-the-series performance against India.

“Now we really see what she’s capable of…in the women’s game she’s probably the best player we’ve ever had,” said former New Zealand all-rounder Grant Elliott.

Bismah Maroof (PAK)

Bismah Maroof
Bismah Maofof of Pakistan. Image: Lee Warren/Gallo Images

Bismah Maroof thought she should retire after giving birth last August, instead she captains Pakistan at the World Cup with her daughter in tow.

Maof, 30, is the first player to benefit from Pakistani cricket’s parental support policy, which has allowed her to take her mother to New Zealand to care for baby Fatima.

“The introduction of the parent policy has made the game more inclusive for women,” said the left-handed batter, who has earned 108 caps in a 17-year international career.

“It’s a great initiative that will definitely help more girls follow their passion.”

Shafali Verma (IND)

Shafali Verma
Shafali Verma from India in the colors of the Sydney Sixers. Image: Sarah Reed/Getty Images

Shafali Verma, the Indian teen batsman, has been hailed as a “rock star” by former men’s opener Virender Sehwag for her dashing performances at the top of the order.

Verma enjoyed a fantastic 2021, scoring 96 and 63 in a draw with England, before pushing India to the final of the Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

It was a far cry from 18-year-old Verma’s childhood experiences, when she cut her hair short so she could play cricket with the boys in the conservative northern state of Haryana, where women are not encouraged to participate in sports.

Captain Mithali Raj believes Verma, who faces the reigning Women’s Player of the Year Smriti Mandhana on the other side, can help India win the title after finishing second in the 2017 tournament and last year’s T20 event.

“She is one of the world’s rising stars and I support her to deliver more impressive performances for India during the tournament with the guidance and support of the stylish Smriti Mandhana,” said Raj.

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