VADODARA: Made her cricket debut for Mumbai U-19 at the age of 13. Captained Mumbai team at U-23 and senior level when she was 17. Became the second cricketer after Smiriti Mandhana to hit a double ton in first-class game, at the age of 16. Represented Maharashtra in hockey at both U-17 and U-19 level. India T20I debut at 17. Amidst the Mithali Rajs, and Harmanpreet Kaurs, Jemimah Rodrigues managed to hog the limelight with sensible batting, notching up 44 off 34 in the fifth and final T20I against South Africa last month. Welcome to India’s batting prodigy’s story, who is showing maturity beyond her age.
Coming back after a successful South Africa sojourn, the youngster shares some of her learnings. “One doesn’t necessarily learn only while playing. I didn’t get a chance in ODIs there. But by sitting out, I got the insights of the game. Watching Mandhana take on Proteas seam bowlers and adjusting to conditions unfamiliar to you was a big learning curve. Every ground had different wicket there. Initially we thought it will be quick, but in second and third ODI it was slow. Even in the T20Is, the second match was on the slower side but the final one was quicker,” she said.
Having made the headlines in the domestic scene, the much-awaited debut came during the T20 leg, which was broadcasted live. Though senior pros are used to the attention, it is not easy for a youngster, especially playing women’s cricket, to be in the forefront of attention. “Mithali knew I was little nervous (on my debut), hence she was telling me which bowler to go for, and how to pace the innings while chasing. Even Harmanpreet backed me. That’s a big thing, a team that trust in your abilities.”
Just around five feet, Rodrigues knows she won’t be able to target the big boundaries. But what she has specialised in is timing the ball well, to stay in the hunt, as runs would come invariably. Pacing the innings isn’t new for Jemimah, as she has showed her capabilities in the U-19 tournament last November. The 202 off 163 balls and 178 off 142 are the knocks she takes inspiration from. “I still remember a match at state level when I notched up 81 but it had only two boundaries. That’s when I realised I need to buckle up. Thereafter, I started concentrating on bat speed. In order to strengthen my cover drive, I started practising it every day.”
With the three-match ODI series against Australia women set to kick-start in Vadodara on Monday, there is no surety if Rodrigues will get a chance, but the teen is certainly one to give selection headaches. Though India women defeated Australia in the semfinals of the World Cup last year, they know the team from Down Under won’t be pushovers. That day it took a special knock from Harmanpreet to take India home and with summer already setting in, the fitness levels will be tested. “This time we are concentrating on fitness and fielding. Two years ago we had the skills, but we were lacking on the fitness front. Ever since Biju (George) sir and Tushar sir have come, they have emphasised a lot on these two aspects. We need to be above our best to beat a team like Australia.”
In a city with 94.5 per cent literacy rate, Suresh Raina’s ‘Swachh Shouchalay’ billboards are not only the ones sending out messages, as Baroda Cricket Association has also got one for the upcoming three-match ODI series against Australia women. “Women empowerment is going to be the central theme,” says Snehal Parikh, secretary of BCA. Parikh wants to make the series noteworthy.
Apart from inviting around 500 physically challenged girls and boys to watch the match, the BCA is also attempting a Guinness world record. They have plans to bring in around 4000 women for the first ODI, who will be asked to form the world’s largest human chain involving only women around the boundaries ropes.