In the two years since her debut, Jemimah Rodrigues has become a vital cog in the batting order as well as one of the poster players for the new-look, young Team India.
At the recently-concluded ICC Women’s T20 World Cup in Australia, Rodrigues didn’t have the best of times on the field, a fact she acknowledges straight off the bat. But off-field, the 19-year-old was one of the faces of the Indian team, starring in social media videos that made a fan out of former players and even the ICC.
Rodrigues takes it all in her stride, looking to work on both her on-field and off-field aspects while spending an extended period of time at home in Mumbai due to the coronavirus lockdown – something she is sure will be a blessing in disguise.
“It feels weird, you want to do so much after coming up from the World Cup having analysed what you need to work on. At home now I’m just trying to do basic things correctly, knocking down with a plastic ball… maybe when we look back these moments it might be good. Normally you don’t work a lot on basics once you’re in the flow and playing matches,” Rodrigues told Scroll.in.
The teen’s approach to the lockdown and assessment of the Australia tour reflects a maturity far beyond her age, a trait she possessed long before her India debut and one that has helped her process the final heartbreak. It may have been a personally indifferent tour with a World Cup runner up trophy weighing heavy but there were plenty of positives too.
“For this young team with an average age of under 23 to do so well and reach the finals in the tri-series and World Cup was a big positive for us and for Indian women’s cricket, in spite of how it ended. We have a developing side and are doing so well. Just imagine what’s going to happen once they get more experienced and grow a little stronger because now everybody is still growing up... Shafali [Verma] and Richa [Ghosh] are only 16,” she said.
“Yes, the World Cup didn’t work out so well for me… I had been working a lot on my technique, my shots, uppish hitting and all that. [But] every player goes through this and that’s what cricket teaches you actually. What happened in this World Cup is definitely motivating me to work even harder to get better and to take my game to the next level,” she added.
Still a teenager, she has played all matches in two T20 World Cups already and with two 16-year-olds in the team, is already a senior. One of the biggest differences she sees in the team in the last couple of years is the improvement in fitness, which is still a crucial and much-needed aspect in Indian women’s cricket.
“We have worked a lot on our fitness, BCCI even had specific camps only for fitness so that is one thing that has developed over the last one and a half year. But we are all still working on it and it will take us some time to reach a particular standard,” she said.
Bridging this gap between planning and execution is the biggest takeaway from the final loss in Melbourne, according to Rodrigues.
“More than anything, in batting, bowling and fielding, the team [had an issue] with the execution of the plan. You could see Australia execute their plans very well and were very clear on what they had to do. But on that day, we were just not able to execute our plans, starting from the bowling, then fielding and even batting. Trailing in one department is fine but not in all three, you cannot win a match like that,” she admitted.
Personally, the biggest takeaway is the need to take more responsibility. Her patient innings in the opener against Australia was a stark contrast to a seemingly avoidable shot that saw her fall for a duck in the final. “For me, it would be just focusing on taking more responsibility for the team… just play the role I’ve been given by the team as best as I know”
Pressure, of course, is the buzzword then and entirely understandable given India were first time-finalists taking on four-time champions. The teen said that as much as coach WV Raman had prepared them for the occasion, the moment still got to them.
“I think pressure is always going to be there and some of it is good. About handling it, I think it’s important for us all to not think about the result. That’s only going to add more pressure on us. The one thing you can do is just focus on the process, the results will automatically follow,” the Mumbai batter assessed, talking like a true veteran of the game.
A big part of this process for the Indian team will be how they approach big scores in the future. With power-hitting becoming increasingly common, the definition of a ‘good score’ has changed and India will have to follow.
Rodrigues herself has been working on improving bat-speed in shots where her size can let her down and her stupendous run in the KIA Super League in England last year, where she was the second highest-scorer, has helped her approach T20 batting differently.
“Women’s cricket has always seen a lot of progress and development and that’s just the same thing that’s happening now [about power-hitting.] We see the Big Bash League, KIA Super League and even the men’s game and automatically develop a mindset where big scores are chaseable and don’t intimidate you. If you can divide it like over by over and keep small targets, the chase doesn’t look so big. Now 150 is a fighting score, not a winning one like how it would previously be in a T20 game for women’s cricket,” she explained.
This will be an aspect India will look to focus on heavily, once normalcy resumes in sport and the world at large.
Away from cricket, though, the chirpy teenager – aka ‘Lil J’ – has become quite the social media star. In Australia, her video of dancing on a Bollywood song with an off-duty security guard at the World Cup went viral as did her video of playing the guitar when she was in England last year.
But her online fame is not the result of a conscious decision, rather an extension of her everyday self. Lil J is the name her brothers Enoch and Eli call her by and it fits her persona well. Her brothers even help run her accounts.
“I didn’t plan for it, just wanted to keep my social media as real as possible, how I am off the field. I didn’t know people would actually ask me about it in interviews,” she laughed. “I didn’t really expect all this to happen but it’s good to have a balance in both cricket as well as your life.”