Women's Cricket

Jemimah Rodrigues’s confidence and sharp cricket acumen makes her a strong India prospect

While the Mumbai youngster was set on the path of cricket very early, in some ways it was the sport that chose her.

A day after her much talked about double ton, 17-year-old Mumbai captain Jemimah Rodrigues led her team to a much more hard-fought and thrilling victory in the Women’s Under-19 ODI league. It was a match that many had turned up to watch thanks to the interest generated by her batting heroics. It was also a match where she got out cheaply and Mumbai were on the verge of being eliminated.

Maharashtra needed 10 runs to win with 15 overs and two wickets left, a simple equation. But the gritty captain didn’t give up. The off-spinner had bowled seven overs at a stretch, but got herself back again at the crunch moment. She finished with match-winning figures of 4/28.

“It was a question of reputation, we were the defending champions and we couldn’t get knocked out at this stage so the pressure was there. But at that moment, it’s an instinct that made me come and bowl that over,” she recounted.

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The way she won a crucial game with the ball speaks volumes about her skill. And the way she talks about these two crucial games gives a glimpse into Jemimah’s sharp cricket acumen.

Only 17, she sounds like a seasoned player when talking about her game. But ask her about the Barcelona jersey she is wearing or her favourite cricketer – Rohit Sharma – and you can see the easy-going teenager under the focused cricketer.

She is confident, cheerful and yet completely aware of the buzz she has created with her double ton. At a time where women’s cricket is being talked about in the mainstream public consciousness thanks to India’s phenomenal run at the World Cup, a performance like this counts for much.

“Honestly I didn’t expect such a reaction. But after the World Cup, things have changed a lot for women’s cricket,” she said. They certainly have, as she was felicitated by the Mumbai Cricket Association at the event to celebrate their 500th Ranji Trophy match, a tangible sign of the impact she had made.

Starting young

Jemimah’s initiation into cricket started early and completely unwittingly. “I’m a person who can’t sit in one place at home. I have two older brothers and whatever they used to do, I used to do. They used to play cricket so looking at them I decided I’d also want to play cricket,” she told The Field.

“I used to go for practices also with them, even when we stayed in Bhandup. We used to get up at 5 am in the morning and travel to Bandra to St Andrew’s and practice till 9 am, then return, rest and by 1 pm I was in school.”

While this sounds strenuous for a seven-year-old, she didn’t want to give up the thrill of playing, as is evident from an anecdote she shared.

“My brother used to play for MIG Club in Bandra, so my dad spoke to them about me and I joined him when I was nine. But after a few days they told my brother to not bring me along. So I was a little dejected. But my dad said, ‘It’s okay. We’ll work hard and we’ll go again.’

“Afterwards I had gone for Mumbai zonal selections at Shivaji Park where [Mumbai Under-19 women’s selection committee chairperson] Kalpana Murkar was there. I got selected and played a boys U-10 match. In the semifinals, we met that same MIG team and in I batted really well. Then the coach went and asked about me. At the end of the match, he went and spoke to my dad and said, ‘There are going to be U-14 selections. Call her. She’s already selected,’” she recalled.

Hockey’s loss, cricket’s gain

Much has been discussed about how the youngster played two sports for Mumbai – hockey and cricket – at the junior level.

But what isn’t as well known is that while Jemimah was set on the path of cricket very early, it was not a path she consciously chose, and in some ways it was the sport that chose her.

She had played junior hockey for Maharashtra, but when Mumbai became a separate team at the inter-school level, she didn’t get selected when she went for trials due to reasons other than merit. In the end that turned out to be huge silver lining as had she been picked, she would probably have missed the cricket selection and not made it to the Mumbai team.

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Now a full-fledged India probable, she has shown every sign of making it big. Jemimah was part of the special, month-long camp at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore, rubbing shoulders with current international players. She credits her experience at the NCA behind her record performance this season, along with the inputs from her father and first coach, Ivan Rodrigues. A former Kanga League cricketer himself, he has been Jemimah’s support since the beginning

Her record double century, only the second in Indian U-19 women’s cricket, came days after she had got out on 178. When she was disheartened at missing the mark, it was Ivan who told her that if she focused on playing all the 50 overs, the double would come. As it did days later.

At the same time, Jemimah is insistent that her mother’s contribution as the back-end support is no less. “Washing our whites isn’t easy,” she said with a laugh. “But she has always been there to take care of every small thing.”

The aim now is an India debut, as soon as possible. “I’m one step away from playing for India. But I still want to continue performing especially at the higher level. It will give me a boost also as I enter the international level too. And yes of course it’s a dream of any cricketer to play for India and raise your helmet and bat for India. And I hope that I score a double century even while playing for India,” she signed off.

The way she is going, an international match seems more a question of when, than if for Jemimah.

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