She picked up a cricket bat at an age when the girls would typically play with their dolls. Growing up with two elder brothers, cricket was the game she took up naturally. Her journey from the dusty maidans of Mumbai to iconic MCG has been an exciting one. Making her India debut at the age of 18, she has been a consistent member of the team over the last two years. Blessed with a sound cricketing technique united with a sense of youthful exuberance this pocket-sized dynamo is unequivocally one player to watch out for.
We are talking about Jemimah Rodrigues, who graced the Female Cricket feature Cricket with Queens, before the outbreak of COVID-19. During the episode, Female Cricket’s Vishal Yadav engaged in a heartfelt tête-à-tête with the talented Mumbai bat.
Excerpts from the interview.
1. Tell us about your early days in cricket.
Growing up alongside two elder brothers, I think, cricket came naturally to me. Taking full advantage of their age, I used to be made to field for two long hours just to get 10 minutes of batting in return (smiles). My father, my two brothers, and sometimes, my mother also used to join the family cricket practice sessions (chuckles). I started playing cricket with my brothers in the gully when I was around four and a half years old.
After six years of serious play, when I was around 11 years of age, I was picked up in the Mumbai U-19 team. It so happened that during the selection trials, I was batting alongside a senior Mumbai player Sheryl Rozario. You won’t believe I scored just 24 runs in 24 overs. Though the number of runs recorded against my name was minuscule, I think the partnership (around 100 runs) that I stitched with the senior player came to my rescue. At that time, I was not that strong physically, but probably the selectors saw my mental strength and my temperament to stand for 24 overs, which helped me to make the cut.
2. At a very young age, you were already in the state U-19 team. How did you manage school and cricket?
It was a tough task. I was literally juggling between school and cricket. I used to attend half-day school from 7.30 am to 10.30 am. After that, I used to rush to MCA (Mumbai Cricket Association) for practice. Our practice used to be either between 12 noon and 3 pm or between 2 pm and 4 pm. After the MCA practice, my father used to take me to my school for practice. I used to devote around four to five hours to cricket daily.
3. Considering your busy schedule back then, when did you study?
(Smiles) From a very early age, I was touring for cricket. I used to carry my books on tour. My father used to call me up every day to check whether I had actually studied or just carried the books with me. Honestly, the answer to my dad’s question was always affirmative. I used to study on tour. I remember one instance when we took special permission from the association to allow my mother to travel with me. It was my 10th standard and just before the board exams, I was playing a tournament. My mother, who is a maths and science teacher herself, traveled with me and took my lessons on tour.
4. Your parents have played a significant role in your growth as a cricketer. Can you tell us about their contribution?
Yes, I feel blessed to have such a wonderful set of parents. My mother and my father have played a pivotal role not only in my upbringing as a good individual but also as a professional cricketer. I vividly remember the things that my mother used to do for me when I was in school. Preparing tiffin, dropping me to school, picking me up from school, and dropping me to practice, she did everything. On the other hand, my father took care of my cricket. He was a persistent father, similar to the “Dangal” father (chuckles). My parents have made enough sacrifices to see me play for India. I am glad that I have been able to stand up to their expectations.
5. Before getting picked up for India, you had some prolific domestic performances playing for Mumbai. Can you take us through some of them?
I started playing for Mumbai U-19 in 2011-12. I had some good domestic performances to my name; however, for some reason, I could not score in big matches. For instance, the years 2015-16 and 2016-17 were exceptional for me. I averaged over 300, thanks to my unbeaten innings and high scores. But when we played against Railways, I didn’t score much. Also in the Challenger Trophy, I couldn’t put up too many runs on the board. That thing bothered me. In view of my domestic performance, there were talks of my selection into the Indian side for the 2017 World Cup, but maybe, my inconsistency at the higher level hampered my chance. In the hindsight, I feel it was a boon in disguise that I wasn’t picked for the World Cup in 2017. I took that in my stride and worked harder on my batting. Back then I had limited shots in my repertoire. That year I was determined to add more shots and strengthen my armory.
6. In November 2017, you scored a double century against Saurashtra. How was that feeling?
That season I worked tremendously hard on my batting. My father kept on saying to me that it is important for me to not only play a big inning but also finish the game for the side. I was motivated to do well. Getting a double century against Saurashtra was an amazing feeling. The cherry on the cake was that my parents had come to watch me play that day. They were sitting in the stands and when I achieved the feat, even though we were far from each other, I could see the twinkle in their eyes. That day I got a lot of calls from friends and media. I was surprised to see women’s cricket given so much recognition.
7. After that, you played for India A against Bangladesh. How did that tournament help you?
Playing for India A meant that you are just a stone’s throw away from playing for India. I was excited to feature in that tournament. To my joy, I had a good outing with the bat, which gave me a lot of confidence.
8. In February 2018, you made it into the Indian side. How was your debut game?
After a few dismal performances in the Challenger Trophy, finally I rose to the occasion in the Challenger Trophy that was played before my India selection. Though I had a lot of pressure to perform well, I absorbed all the pressure and went out to bat, keeping in mind the fact that at the end of the day I have to enjoy the game. I ended up as the third-highest run-getter in the tournament.
Backed by my prolific domestic performances, I made my India debut in February 2018. My father got a call about my selection and the next moment he had tears rolling down his cheek. My mother also got emotional. Together, we sat down, said our prayer, and thanked God.
Talking about my debut, it was a T20 game. We were playing against South Africa. In my debut game, I walked out to bat when we had lost two quick wickets. We were chasing 165 odd runs. Till that time, I think we had never chased such a big target.
Mithali di was at the other end. She talked to me which instilled confidence in me. My first shot was a cover drive followed by a lofted hit. I was feeling at ease and together we stitched a 69 run partnership. I scored 37 off 27.
9. Before flying to South Africa, you got a chance to meet Sachin Tendulkar. How did the interaction with God help you in your debut tour?
Before the tour, I got a chance to meet Sachin Tendulkar sir and his words of wisdom helped me to sail through the South African waters. When the news of my selection was out, people around me were congratulating me but at the same time cautioning me about the difficult South African conditions. That’s why my selection news had a mixed effect on me; I was happy but at the same time I was nervous about playing on the foreign soil.
During that time, my coach Prashant Shetty sir told me that Sachin sir would like to meet me and he has invited me to his house. I was excited to meet Sachin sir. I reached his home and we had a wonderful hour-long conversation. First up, he asked me, “Are you nervous?” I said, “Yes”. To which he said, “Good, that means you care about doing well.”
Those words of his calmed me down. Next up he asked me, “What are you working on?” I said, “Considering that I will be playing in South Africa, I am working on the back foot and playing the bouncers.” He replied, “You can either see it as oh, it is South Africa, it is going to be difficult or you can see it as oh, it is South Africa, where the ball is going to come nicely on to my bat. It is important to send the right kind of message to our brain.” Those pearls of wisdom helped me a long way.
10. Rewinding a bit, in your journey you stumbled on a block in 2014-15, when you did not have a good cricketing year. How did you come out of that?
That year I had done my first India U-19 camp. There were expectations from people around me which probably I could not handle well. There was a blip in my form. I got off to starts however failed to capitalize on them. I had no idea what was going on. Honestly, at that time I was thinking of calling it quits.
Conversely, my parents believed in me and said, “Scores don’t matter, we know you are a good batter.” Cognizant of the fact that I was not playing swing bowling well, my father bought a bowling machine taking a loan of Rs. 1 lakh. I practiced harder. Apart from the practice, the habit of praying to God before playing which was inculcated in me by my parents came to my rescue.
I remember reading Bible Jeremiah 29:11 which goes as follows: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Those lines struck a chord with me and I decided to bid adieu to my plans of giving up cricket. I thank God for helping me then for I would have never been able to witness the plans He had for me (sighs).
11. What do you think about Female Cricket?
I think Female Cricket is doing a phenomenal job in bringing up women’s cricket by showcasing the legends as well as the upcoming talent in the game of cricket. You people are taking a lot of support in supporting and promoting women’s cricket. Keep going!