EXCLUSIVE | Jemimah Rodrigues opens up on her successful KSL stint, India debut, friendship with Smriti Mandhana, family’s role in her cricketing journey and more
One of the household names in women’s cricket in India, Jemimah Rodrigues continues to enamor fans with her mesmerizing batting displays on the field. After making her debut in 2018 at a nascent age of 17, she has consistently put in commendable performances and has established herself as a key member of the side. Earlier this year, while plying her trade for the Supernovas in the Women’s T20 Challenge 2019, she finished top-scorer with 123 runs from three games at a stellar average of 61.50 to help her side win the competition. She was also named as the Player of the Tournament, further confirming her status as one of the brightest young talents in Indian cricket.
Following her superb showing in the T20 Challenge, Yorkshire Diamonds secured her signature for the 2019 KSL season, making her the third Indian to feature in the tournament. This was her first assignment in an overseas T20 League and she ended up further enhancing her glowing reputation in the KSL. After initially facing difficulties acclimatizing to her new conditions, she found her feet and embarked on an incredible run-scoring spree plundering 401 runs at an average of 57.28 and strike-rate of 149.62. In the match against Southern Vipers, she smashed an unbeaten century (112 off 58) – her first in the tournament and fastest in the history of the competition.
In an exclusive interview with the author, Jemimah Rodrigues talks about her successful KSL stint, difficult early days in England, and the importance of the constant backing she received from her family, among many other things.
Excerpts from the interview:
Let’s start with your debut against South Africa. In a potential record run-chase for India, Smriti Mandhana departed after an explosive cameo. On the next ball itself, Harmanpreet Kaur was run out without adding to the scoreboard. What was going through your mind when you entered the field at that moment?
Honestly, before the match when I was given my debut cap, I was really nervous but since we were fielding first, I got time to digest the fact that I was playing for India. When I walked in to bat, I had the scoreboard in mind and I had to build a partnership in the middle. So, that was the only thing that was going on in my mind, like the fact that it was my debut didn’t play in my mind. I don’t know how that happened but that was good. I was happy that I shared a partnership with Mithali Raj, did well in that match and chased down a target we had never chased down before. So, I could not have asked for a better debut.
You share a special relationship with Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana. How important of a role have they played in helping you settle in the side and in what way have they contributed towards your growth not only as a cricketer but also as a human being?
I think that it is what every youngster coming into the Indian team would want and I am blessed that I got such good seniors. I looked up to them and they talked to me, made me feel comfortable, and we really bonded well. It feels good as a youngster and gives you the push you need to express yourself and be yourself out there and that really helped me. Harry di ( Harmanpreet Kaur) has also supported me a lot as a captain and to get that type of backing from your senior player gives you an added boost to do well when you go out there to bat. They are good human beings, to be honest. They taught us that life is not just about cricket and it is more important to be a good human being. Harry di, Smriti di ( Smriti Mandhana), Jhulu di ( Jhulan Goswami) and all have set an example of what a good senior should be like.
Recently, you enjoyed an incredible KSL campaign and finished second on the highest run-scorers list having played a game less than Danielle Wyatt, who topped the batting charts. How important was this tour as a learning curve for you?
The tour has helped me to grow not only as a cricketer but as a human being too. It was the first time I was travelling alone away from India to the UK, playing in a whole new team, with people I haven’t played with and have only seen them on the field. It was a completely different experience. I had to cook my own food, do my own laundry, and plan my own training sessions. Like, normally in India, we get everything, our laundry, we can order food, stay in hotels, and even practice sessions are organized by the coaches. In that respect, there it was a growing experience for me.
The tour didn’t start well and I had to get out of it (tough situation) on my own. Overall, it was a good experience for me but again at the start it was tough, I am someone, who likes to talk, loves having people around me. So, it’s not that the people were bad. In fact, they were really sweet, they used to talk to me, give me company, but it’s just that it was something new and I had a lot of unfamiliar faces around me. It was difficult personally and I really understood the value of people there.
Do you want to talk us through how you managed to successfully turnaround the situation?
It is something that we are taught from a really young age. In our childhood, we were instructed to begin our day with a prayer and the rule was if you don’t pray, you don’t get to play and as young kids, you cannot go a day without playing. So, this habit of praying is what got me through this situation and gave me the strength I needed. I don’t think I would have gotten out of this situation on my own. Getting back to this experience, it was difficult, I am not sure why, but I couldn’t gel up with my team-mates. Again, they were really sweet people, but it was really different, I wasn’t talking to anybody, was silent and unusually quiet. With me, if I am quiet, it means something is definitely wrong with me.
Also Read: 2019 review: Women’s team of the year
Even Smriti had come to meet me before the game against Western Storm, she asked me if I was okay because we had spent a lot of time together as roommates and hence, she knows me well. Their side had traveled to Yorkshire so we decided to catch-up before the game. When we met the night before the game, I stayed quiet since I knew I might break into tears as soon as I start speaking. It was tough for me but now when I look back, I wonder why I cried, but actually, at that moment, I cannot express how difficult things were. I used to feel all alone, cry every day but stayed in touch with my parents, who used to encourage me and help me out.
Finally, I told Lord Jesus that I don’t want these scores and I just want to know that you are right here with me. The Bible says that God will never leave you nor forsake you. Honestly, I told Jesus that this is what the Bible says but I don’t think you are here and I just want that feeling back that you are with me. And, we were traveling on the bus and all of a sudden, I got the sense that he is back with me again. That was the turning point for me and in the next game, I scored a fifty against Loughborough Lightning and that was the start of one of my best tournaments.
Also, we played our first game against Smriti’s team( Western Storm) and I gave my wicket away in that match after starting well. She questioned why I got out in the manner in which I did and told me, “ Jab ache lag raha hain toh form itna extend karo ki jab nahi lag raha hain toh cover up ho jaye” ( Make the most of your good form and extend it to such an extent that it compensates for any poor run of form). That made a lot of sense to me and I knew later I had to continue this form and drag it as much as I can on these beautiful batting tracks.
Apart from cricket, you are also a brilliant hockey player and were even selected for your state Hockey team. So does playing hockey in any way had a positive impact on your game and if so, how big an influence has it been?
Yes, it definitely has had a major impact. Especially on my fitness, as in Hockey, they make you run a lot. Also, the footwork is quite similar to cricket, not exactly the same but very similar. This has actually helped me in my footwork and to step out of the crease. The hockey stick is half the size of the bat and you have to halt the ball with that hockey stick. So that again, in cricket, I have a bigger bat and that helps my timing and hand-eye coordination with the ball.
You have been vocal about the role your parents has played in your life, pushing you to achieve excellence in your field. How crucial has that constant support been from your family, especially given the unpredictable nature of the sport?
I am honestly blessed and privileged that I got a family that let me play cricket because now it is still fine for any girl to play cricket but when I started playing cricket, a “girl playing cricket” was like something completely unacceptable. That was the mindset people had but my Mom and Dad never ever stopped me from playing cricket. They had this craze and passion for the sport. My dad himself wanted to be a cricketer but couldn’t because his family never supported him. They told him that studies are important, and they were right at that time. Any parent was concerned, if you do well in the sport, it is fine but what if things don’t go according to plan? However, that wasn’t the case with my parents. When I was around eight or nine, my dad spotted the talent in me, so he used to have me play cricket with my brothers. I used to field for an hour for both my brothers, so before a batter and a bowler, I was a fielder. Nevertheless, I loved fielding so that was fine.
It started like that but my dad thought there was talent there to be worked on and subsequently starting working on the other aspects of my game. However, when you are a child, you want to enjoy rather than practicing every day and doing the same boring drills repeatedly. My dad used to be very persistent about practice. If it wasn’t for my dad’s support, I don’t think I would have represented India at an age that I did.
He has worked a lot on my game. After playing for Mumbai, he used to give me throwdowns. He used to bowl 200-300 balls at me every day. Moreover, I came to know this a lot later that my Mom used to massage my Dad’s hands because his hand used to hurt after bowling every single day. Later, I started struggling against swing bowling since it wasn’t possible for my dad to get much swing on the ball as it does in the games. So he took a loan and bought a bowling machine for me, at a time when we weren’t that well to do financially. Yet, he did that for me so that I could improve my batting against swing bowling. That is my Dad, he is actually very similar to that father from Dangal ( laughs), he is very particular regarding practice. He has done a lot for me and he really loves me.
Would you talk us through your preparation methods ahead of each game? Do you like to spend hours in the nets or do you place emphasis on analyzing your previous batting performances and try to work on the finer details?
I don’t think much before the next game to be honest. After I play a game, for 10-15 minutes on the same day, I will think about my performance. The things I did and the stuff I could have done better. Maybe, I write it in a diary and that’s it. Also, I don’t like to do much net practice before matches. 10-15 minutes of batting practice in the nets is fine by me. So, I just like to get a feel of the ball and middle every ball, that keeps me in a good head-space before the game. That is how I prepare before each game and I try to do the same things in the nets that I will attempt to do in the match.
Are there any aspects of your game you are working on currently?
Yes, I am currently working on my bat swing, especially to hit sixes. That is one area I have to work on because I am not naturally muscular and I depend a lot on my timing. That is why I am working on my bat swing and uppish hitting to hit those sixes. Hopefully, you will see some of those in the T20 World Cup next year and I am looking forward to batting in Australia.
How do you deal with the spotlight that comes with being a professional cricketer in this country?
I am still getting used to it. My mom and Dad have told me that no matter who you are, what you become, remember that whatever you are is a gift from God so you can’t take credit for it. So, that’s what helps me remain humble and the knowledge that on my own I could have never done this. If I didn’t have this gift of playing cricket, I could never be in the place that I am. They have also told me to never forget the things that people have done for you, you are where you are because of God first and then second because of the people he put in your life. So whenever this thought of pride enters my mind, I am not saying it does but when I think about it then I remind myself that I am not where I am on my own, so that is what helps me to remain humble.
After that agonizingly close loss to England in the World Cup final of 2017 and semi-final exit in the 2018 T20 World Cup against the same side, do you think Team India can go all the way in the T20 World Cup in Australia next year?
Honestly, our team isn’t focusing on the result but are rather focusing on the process. The things we need we get right in the match that will help us achieve a positive result. So, definitely our ultimate goal is to win the World Cup. But, for now, we are focusing on doing the simpler things correctly and doing it on a consistent basis that will help our team achieve consistency. So, focus on the process rather than the result and the results will automatically follow suit.
Lastly, the recent ODI and T20I series against South Africa attracted huge crowds. What are your thoughts on the increase in the popularity of women’s cricket in India?
I think it has developed a lot, especially in the last couple of years after that 2017 World Cup because people started realizing that women’s cricket exists in India and credit goes to the girls who played in England. They did so well that is why today there is so much limelight, media is covering our games and there are people following our matches. Many people are expressing their love for women’s cricket. It is definitely growing and in the coming years, as we keep getting better, I believe it will grow further; more people will start watching and will come to our games.