Not many India players – male or female – have caught the public imagination as fervently, and as early into their international careers, as the 17-year old allrounder Jemimah Rodrigues.
Through her prolific domestic returns, the 37 on T20I debut in South Africa that contributed to an Indian win, and the stunning catch at the midwicket boundary on the same tour, Rodrigues had already become quite the social media sensation. On Monday, after her maiden international half-century Rodrigues came in for praise from the Australia captain Meg Lanning.
“She’s an exciting talent. She comes out and plays without fear, and we know when we’re bowling to her, we know we have to get it right or we’ll be going the journey,” Lanning said.
Rodrigues’ 51-ball 50 made her the second-youngest women’s T20I half-centurion, and the youngest from her country. Rodrigues clobbered eight fours en route to the feat; the rest of the Indian line-up collectively managed only nine.
Rodrigues’ fearless shot-making came in for special praise from Lanning. “India have a few of those players coming through, which is really good,” she said. “That’s just sort of the new nature of the women’s game. Those sort of players are going to thrive in the next few years.”
Naturally, Rodrigues was excited when asked about the potential opportunity to play in the Women’s Big Bash League. “I would like to play,” she said with a grin. “[But] I will have to improve a lot on my fitness and batting. I have not spoken to the Australians yet, but if I get an opportunity I would love to play.”
Promoted to open the batting, Rodrigues had to witness a Megan Schutt hat-trick from the other end. India were reeling at 26 for 3 chasing 187 when Rodrigues was joined by Harmanpreet Kaur.
Rodrigues then took on the aggressor’s role as she repaired the Indian innings through a 54-run fourth-wicket stand with her captain. “I had to control [my game] and change gears, because we were chasing and making the most of the Powerplay,” Rodrigues said. “But then I had to change my mindset because three wickets had gone, and Harry di [Harmanpreet] told me to just build the partnership and carry it forth from there.”
The stand ultimately proved inadequate as India suffered a sixth straight loss this home season that also knocked them out of the tri-series, but Rodrigues was hopeful of a turnaround before the World T20 in November.
“The best part of our team is that we are together and there is no blame-game going on because of these consecutive losses,” Rodrigues said. “Each one is taking their responsibility and they are agreeing that it is because of us.
“They are sad, and I believe in our team and the support staff, we have the trust they are putting in us. We are going to bounce back and we are going to come back in the coming series, and especially in the [T20] World Cup.”
Before her fifty, Rodrigues was an active member in the field, snaffling catches to send back Alyssa Healy and Beth Mooney. Rodrigues’ reliability on the field comes at a time when India’s fielding lapses have consistently cost them.
“I love fielding, and right from when I started cricket,” Rodrigues said. “Bjiu [George, India’s fielding coach] and Tushar [Arothe, the head coach] sir have worked a lot on our fielding, because if you look at the past two years, India has been lacking in fielding.
“But this year, after every practice session, we used to have one hour of fielding, so every day take like 30-40 catches, ground fielding, that is how we have improved on our fielding. And this time, we had special camps for fielding and fitness. Everybody in BCCI is stressing more on fitness.”
For a 17-year old only into her 10th international appearance, Rodrigues has already experienced the highs – the double-series wins in South Africa – and the lows – blanked 3-0 in the ODIs against Australia, and now the elimination from the tri-series.
Among the youngest centrally-contracted players with the BCCI, Rodrigues, however, saw the team’s oscillating fortunes as a learning experience.
“My experience [with the team] has been really good,” she said. “Playing in South Africa on their soil and doing well over there – that has boosted me and given me a lot of confidence. I can do much better, it was a learning experience for me. I understood how the team goes about, what the process is and how the South Africans play, and like, what’s their stand.
“I just need to keep on learning. Even when we do well, my thing was which areas I can get better, because normally when we do well, we forget about everything and get carried away with the victory. When we lose, we realise our mistake better and we get an opportunity to learn from it.