Phoebe Litchfield, Jemimah Rodrigues and the art of sweeping international cricket off its feet

From hockey to their textbook sweeps, Sportstar takes a look at what brings India’s Jemimah Rodrigues and Australia’s Phoebe Litchfield together and what sets them apart.

Published : Jan 04, 2024 12:20 IST - 10 MINS READ

Australia’s Phoebe Litchfield (left) and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues (right).
Australia’s Phoebe Litchfield (left) and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues (right). | Photo Credit: AP and Getty Images

Australia’s Phoebe Litchfield (left) and India’s Jemimah Rodrigues (right). | Photo Credit: AP and Getty Images

Phoebe Litchfield and Jemimah Rodrigues have a lot in common. They are both technically gifted batters. Both players have a background in hockey. They have a mean sweep in their shot arsenal, are both gun fielders and have even shared the dressing room in The Hundred, playing for Northern Superchargers.

This past month, however, they found themselves on opposite sides of a 3-0 win for Australia in the ODI series against India at the Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. Both players finished the year at the top of the run getters list for their respective nations and redefined the meaning of resilience in their own specific ways for their sides during the course of the three-match series.

Phoebe Litchfield and Jemimah Rodrigues have been teammates at the Northern Superchargers.
Phoebe Litchfield and Jemimah Rodrigues have been teammates at the Northern Superchargers. | Photo Credit: Northern Superchargers/IG

Phoebe Litchfield and Jemimah Rodrigues have been teammates at the Northern Superchargers. | Photo Credit: Northern Superchargers/IG

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 Ray of sunshine

At 20, Litchfield is the breath of fresh air a side going through the motions of transition will welcome with open arms. There is a childish curiosity to her, in the way she views challenges and triumphs, but there is also an acute awareness of the responsibilities that come along with breaking into a side as cruelly competitive as Australia.

Besides her name of course, her quirky Tik Tok dance videos and scrappy street smarts on the cricket field remind you of a certain Phoebe Buffay from the immensely popular sitcom F.R.I.E.N.D.S, but the young star from Orange looks almost offended when you ask her if that’s where her parents got their naming inspiration from.

“Oh god no. I don’t think my parents named me after Phoebe Buffay because she’s not very bright, I think,” Litchfield quipped, referring to the character’s comic naivety on the show. Litchfield was likely just a year old when the last episode of the show aired and is yet to catch an episode.

That’s understandable when you see how stacked her calendar has been, with games for Australia, New South Wales, Sydney Thunder and the Northern Superchargers. This year, she will also don the colours of the Gujarat Giants in the second season of the Women’s Premier League.

ALSO READ: IND v AUS Women’s ODIs: Test queens get harsh white-ball reality check

In elite company

One can see so much of Lanning, perhaps not exactly in batting technique, but in sheer consistency in runscoring. She finished the series with 260 runs which included scores of 78, 63 and 119, becoming the first woman to hit three 50-plus scores in a three-game ODI series against India in India. She even went past the legendary Aussie skipper to score the most runs by an Australian woman in a three-match ODI series, with her 260, piping Lanning’s haul of 246 against New Zealand back in 2016. While her century came in the first fixture of 2024, her steady run with the bat meant she went past Lanning for most runs scored in ODIs by an Australian in a calendar year - 485 to Lanning’s 484. Her muted ‘okay, it’s done, let’s get on with it’ vibe on reaching her century also brought back memories of peak Lanning.

The century also makes the southpaw only the second Australian woman to get to three figures at the iconic Wankhede Stadium, the first being Lanning who scored 112 against New Zealand during the 2013 World Cup at the same venue. She’s also the youngest Australian woman to hit six fifties in the format, with the other two she went past being Lanning and the legendary Belinda Clark.

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“What an unbelievable talent we’ve unearthed. She has two centuries to her name already and it’s some scary statistics for the future, no doubt. She is also our self proclaimed best fielder in the Australian team and she proved why tonight. For me, it was amazing to be at the other end and watch the next generation do their thing,” a chuffed Healy said, with this potentially being among the bigger positives than the series victory in the larger scheme of things.

Team’s heartbeat

Jemimah’s journey with the Indian side has seen its fair share of highs and lows. In 2023, India played five ODIs and Jemimah was the only assured presence in the batting order for the country with 255 runs at an average of 63.75. Jemimah has a few years over Litchfield, despite being just 23, and is at a stage in her life as a national player where others look up to her for her work ethic and temperament.

Jemimah’s no-nonsense acceptance of the team’s shortcomings in the ODIs, along with being necessary for a side that hides behind ‘process’ and ‘positives’, was refreshingly honest.

“I just can’t say it was a bad day because a bad day can’t keep on coming again and again. But again I’m telling you, we promise you that we are going to work hard on this aspect,” she said after India’s 190-run thrashing at the hands of the Aussies.

In late 2022, Jemimah revealed how she broke down in front of her parents when selectors looked past her for the ODI World Cup in New Zealand.

“Cricket is something I love, and playing the World Cup is a dream, and I couldn’t do both,” she had said then.

“These thoughts come to your head. Is it the end of the world for me? These were real thoughts. Now I can brush them aside, but back then, they were very real,” she added.

Jemimah found a way to deal with those intrusive thoughts with the bat. In 2023, she amassed 840 runs to be India’s top scorer in international cricket and shone with the bat and on the field not just in the India blues, but also in franchise cricket. She also made a memorable Test debut against England where she scored a 99-ball 68 runs including 11 boundaries. She followed it up with a 121-ball 73 against Australia.

However, the innings that might just make it to her career highlight reel as one among her best knocks is the fighting 77-ball 82 to save an Indian innings which was reeling at 57/3 in the 13th over.

Jemimah’s struggle through that innings is perfect LinkedIn-inspirational-post fodder. She conquered extreme physical discomfort and the searing Mumbai heat to frustrate the Aussies.

“A lot of people don’t know but I had a fever the previous night. The next morning I was feeling much better but there was a lot of weakness and that day for some reason, Mumbai was extremely hot. But I knew Smriti (Mandhana) was not well and she was not playing. We were already a player down and I couldn’t afford to miss this game. The maximum that could happen was that I’d faint,” Jemimah recollected.

“During that innings, because it was extremely hot, I was coughing a lot. I went out and puked and that helped me feel much better and lighter. I would rate that innings high, personally,” she said, in hindsight.

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With her malleability in the batting order, Jemimah often risks losing solidity to the responsibility of being an efficient floater in the batting order. However, Jemimah – who head coach Amol Muzumdar called the heartbeat of the team – believes nothing defines her more than being a team player.

“I am comfortable batting anywhere from one to 11. You saw how Richa got going, being aggressive at the start and once settled in, she took the game away. Once the field is spread, I am very good at manipulating gaps, running between the wickets and building partnerships,” Jemimah explained.

The youngster’s change in fortunes aren’t a product of luck. It boils down to sheer hard work, something Muzumdar acknowledged during the ODI series.

“The conversations with Jemimah have always been around conditions, shot selection for the surface. At D.Y. Patil Stadium, she practised her shots against spin of Sophie Ecclestone’s kind. She’s very particular about her batting and that has impressed me the most. She’s very studious and pays a lot of attention to cricket. That comes through in how much she enjoys the game,” Muzumdar said, highlighting how crucial she is to the Indian set up.

Same yet different

In Litchfield, Australia has someone young and freshly inducted into the champion side who they hope can carry forward that brand of effortless excellence the team has become known for. In Jemimah, India has a youngster, wise beyond her age, who has stepped forward and taken ownership of the good and bad in a team with promise.

With ambition on one side and wisdom on the other, the future of international cricket is in safe hands.

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