Jemimah Rodrigues: On the front foot

While a month in England taught her many lessons, Jemimah Rodrigues is now gearing up for a busy season.

In the last one year, Jemimah has worked on her batting like never before.   -  Vijay Bate

Jemimah Rodrigues is your girl next door! She loves travelling on the Mumbai locals, is in love with her guitar, and is the batting mainstay of India’s women’s cricket team!

All of 19, Jemimah — Jemi to her teammates — has made her presence felt on the Indian cricketing circuit with her smart batting style. After enjoying success at the international level, she had a memorable outing for the Yorkshire Diamonds in the Kia Super League in England, where she finished second among the run-scorers with 401 runs, behind only Danielle Wyatt’s 466.

While the month in England did teach her many lessons, Jemimah is now gearing up for a busy season. In conversation with Sportstar, the opener speaks about her game, life and more...

From being a talented cricketer in Mumbai to being India’s batting mainstay... How would you describe the journey so far?

I still remember that the first bat was gifted to me by my grandfather when I was just three. It was a plastic bat and I would play with my brothers, Enoch and Eli. That’s how I started playing cricket. Then I slowly got selected for Mumbai, then for the zonals, then for India under-19 camps. Looking back, I didn’t expect that I will reach so far so soon, but everything fell into place. The right people came into my life — the coaches, the mentors, my father (Ivan) coaches me — so everything just went well. I still can’t believe that I have reached here today. I am grateful for that.

What are the areas that you have particularly worked on?

In the last one year, I have worked on my batting like I have never before. I got into the Indian team and then toured South Africa. I did well, but I realised that if I have to be the best, I need to raise the standard. I did not want to be just one of the players; I wanted to be one of the mainstays of India. If I do well, my team will also do well. That was the main focus... International cricket is more of a mental thing as well. So I worked on both these aspects. I started working on hitting sixes and my strike rate — developing some new shots, working on some particular areas. I was just a front-foot player. But in Indian cricket, you can’t just survive being a front-foot player, you need to work on your back foot as well. I then started working on bouncers, short-pitched deliveries and obviously pull shots. After every tour, it was a different experience and I also knew what I needed to work on. I used to sit with my dad and he would advise me on how to go about it. I wanted to get better!

You spoke about being a front-foot player. Is it a Mumbai thing? Because most of the players in the Mumbai cricketing circuit have this tendency...

I think it is because of the wickets we play on in Mumbai. Normally, we get low wickets and playing on the front foot is always the best thing on such wickets. One of the major reasons is that and also in women’s cricket, when you play domestic, most of the people keep bowling ahead. Every team has a plan to bowl on a good-length spot. Nobody has so much pace to bowl it short and bring it to the batswoman. That was one of the reasons why I didn’t work too much on the back foot before playing for India. Once I got into the Indian team, I realised that people study your game a lot and they bowl at the areas which are not your strength. That’s when I started working on the back foot.

You had a session with Sachin Tendulkar. What did you talk about?

I still remember my first meeting with Sachin Sir. I was thinking that there are so many people in the world who just want a glimpse of him and I was blessed to have met him at his home. Before going to South Africa, everybody would congratulate me and the second line would be: “Oh, you are going to South Africa. There will be bouncy wickets, which will benefit pacers.” I thought that instead of giving a 17-year-old girl confidence, why were they adding pressure (laughs)? Their intention was good — they wanted me to go all prepared — but somewhere it added to the pressure. Sachin Sir asked me whether I was nervous and I told him yes. It was my first time in South Africa and that too with the Indian team... He said: “It’s good that you are nervous. That means you care for your game.” That put me at so much ease because I realised it’s fine to be nervous.

He asked me what have I prepared and I told him that I was facing the bowling machine and playing on the back foot and honing my pull shots. He told me, “I loved playing in South Africa. On such wickets, the ball is going to come even more better on to your bat than the Indian wickets.” He told me it’s all about the perspective and how you deal with it. You can either think in the negative, “Oh, it’s South Africa!” or you can take it in the positive way, “Oh, I love playing in South Africa!” I really enjoyed playing in South Africa after that (laughs).

There’s one more thing I would like to add here. I met him before the IPL (Indian Premier League) this year and I asked him a question. We both made our debut at a similar age. I asked him that when he debuted for India, all the spotlight was on him, so how did he deal with that. I still struggle with expectations, where everyone is looking at me wondering what I will do. So I asked him how he dealt with that? He told me, “It’s a message you sent to your brain. When you look at people around you who are demanding (performances) from you, that’s where you will grow this thing where you will not be able to do well.” He told me about a World Cup where a similar discussion happened in the dressing room where they realised that one billion people are not sitting over your head but they are backing you to do well. So, when you know this kind of force is behind you, you will always go out confidently. That’s what he said. That made a lot of difference.

You are very active on social media. How challenging has it been to maintain a balance between cricket and your personal life?

I think it is about maintaining a balance in life. Social media is one of the things you should enjoy in life. I try to be my normal self on social media. For me, it is about keeping it entertaining and be simple. Even in the Indian team, I am not someone who is very serious. I love having fun and mixing around with everybody. Whenever I post something on social media, I take help from my brothers. It’s good to have fun and also play cricket.

Harmanpreet Kaur (left) and Smriti Mandhana have played a very important role in establishing her as a cricketer, says Jemimah.   -  V. V. Krishnan

How have Harmanpreet Kaur and Smriti Mandhana helped you in your journey?

Both of them have played a very important role in establishing me as a cricketer. I still remember that Sri Lanka tour last year. Before that, I had no scores in the Challenger Trophy. Still I was selected for the Sri Lanka tour. In the last ODI (One-Day International), I got an opportunity but I was dismissed for zero. Before the first T20I (Twenty20 International), I was very low on confidence, so Harry di (Harmanpreet) came up to me and said: “Jemi, I just want you to go out there and play your game. Don’t worry, you will get all the matches.” To get that security and that confidence from the captain and the coach gave me a boost. I could go out and play my game and not worry about being in the team or not. Before that, I was on and off playing — I did not play the Asia Cup — so getting that backing from my captain was a big thing. I could break out and play my game. Smriti herself is such an inspiration. What I like about her is that she is focused not just about her success, she takes care of everybody in the team, especially me. She has guided me always and has always brought out the best in me. During the IPL, I was playing against her team and got out because of a bad shot. The catch was dropped but I was run out. So, after the game, Smriti told me, “Why did you have to play that shot? Why did you have to give that chance? You were batting so well…” She told me that you don’t need to be a Harmanpreet Kaur or a Smriti Mandhana. You be a Jemimah Rodrigues.

I was at that stage where Harry di and Smriti were going bang, bang. So I also wanted to go bang, bang. But that was not my strength. My strength is what I can do. In the next match, I did my best and did not emulate anyone else. I played an uppish shot later in the innings. I played in my comfort zone and I definitely consider Smriti as my inspiration, who also plays the role of a mentor.

Ever since W. V. Raman took charge as coach, India’s batting department seems to have improved. What has he brought to the table?

Raman Sir is someone who understands the players really well. I feel that’s the most important thing that a good coach should have. Raman Sir has impacted my game a lot. I still remember I was not batting well in the nets before the first game in the IPL. I was missing my timing so Raman Sir took me aside and told me, “See Jemi, you are at this stage right now where the whole media and everyone is focusing on you and saying that she is a dominating player, attacking player.” But he said that you don’t have to think about all that... If you just look to time the ball, you will automatically get your runs. As I told you earlier, I was going ‘bang bang’ and hitting the ball too hard. So, Sir said that you just need to look to time the ball and middle the ball well. Since you are an attacking player, it’s important for you to hit the middle of the bat, because if you don’t, then you start thinking and that’s true because if I don’t time the ball well, then it plays on your mind. So he said next round just go out and do that, so I just kept it simple and started timing the ball. He said: “If you just play this much, I am telling you will become a champion.”

That is the impact he had. He understands a player very well and even in New Zealand he told me not to worry about all that, just go out there and look to have a good impact and play a proper cricketing shot. He gives you space. He is chilled out.

He is also known for his “taunts” — something or the other he keeps saying in a good way. In the IPL, after this conversation, he told me, “Unless Maharashtra state board is giving you a special award for batting with a strike rate of 200, then I would not mind you batting like that.” It’s fun being with Raman Sir.

This year turned out to be quite eventful for you. After the New Zealand series, you fared well in the Women’s T20 Challenge and also made it to the Kia Super League for Yorkshire Diamonds, which was extremely successful. How do you think these experiences will help you in the longer run?

Travelling and staying alone for the first time was a whole new experience, and Smriti even messaged me saying, “Please reach UK safely and don’t go somewhere else, don’t catch another flight.” (Laughs)So I was like thanks, this was the last thing I needed to know because I was going all alone for the first time. Over there, it was a new bunch of people, new environment, and I am not someone who can sit quietly. I am always up to some mischief or the other. I talk a lot. But in the UK, it so happened that I was not talking at all. I was not afraid or scared, it was just a new experience. I would hardly talk to anyone. When we played or went for dinner or if they asked questions, I used to reply. I would not talk much. For some reason initially, I was not able to gel with them.

It reflected in your performance initially... Maybe... I am not sure about that. I used to sit quietly. I am very comfortable around the Indian team, but here it was a whole new thing. For instance, you had to do your laundry on your own, cook your own food. Even when you go for practice, the coach wouldn’t tell you much. It was up to you to plan your practice session.

Jemimah hits a four for Yorkshire Diamonds against Lancashire Thunder in the Kia Super League in England in August. Travelling and staying alone for the first time was a whole new experience, she says   -  Getty Images

 

How did you manage stepping out of your comfort zone? What areas did you focus on?

To be honest, it was difficult. I won’t lie about it because we are so used to being pampered in India. We get to stay in hotels. But over there, it’s completely different. It took a few days for me to adjust. I missed Indian food a lot. What I really missed a lot was that in India, I would always get a plan by any coach pointing out things that we needed to practise. But here there was no one to tell you whether you are doing it right or wrong. In the initial matches, I wasn’t even scoring. And because I was an overseas player, they didn’t tell me anything, because some people take it in the right way and some don’t. So they didn’t know whether they should speak or not. But I was happy that this gave me a chance to learn on my own and I could bounce back. I don’t want to be dependent on other people for my game and performance.

Did you call up your seniors for advice?

I had spoken to Smriti and Veda (Krishnamurthy) to ask how it was for them. Smriti had called to check on me. She knew what kind of a person I am, so she called me a few times. Once when she called, I told her that I’m hearing my own voice after ages (laughs). I told her that I think I will end up speaking to the pillows and to the wall. I hadn’t heard my voice for so long. I had also spoken to Veda because she has a similar personality.

She loves having people around and is a fun-loving person. So she admitted that it is difficult, but it will get better over time.

How was it playing in England? What have you picked up from the tour?

I loved batting in England because you won’t get those wickets in India. Those wickets! (Chuckles.) There was one match in Surrey where the wicket was a bit difficult, but other than that, I don’t remember any other wicket being challenging or difficult. I really enjoyed batting. And more than anything else, what I will take from this experience is the confidence that I got. Even I didn’t know I could do so well on foreign soil and playing with the world’s best cricketers.

Initially, I used to go at No. 4 to bat, but actually I am one-down batter and an opener. But I was happy I was getting to bat lower down the order because I wouldn’t get this experience in India. When I’m batting one-down, I get at least some time, 10 to 15 overs, to get myself going, take singles and build an innings.

Jemimah says seeing the Women’s Ashes makes her wonder when she and her teammates will get to don the white for India.   -  Prashant Waydande

 

What are your thoughts about playing South Africa?

Playing against South Africa is special for me because I made my debut for India against it. It brings back a few memories for me. Mainly, I am not trying to do anything different. I am trying to keep things simple like I did in the KSL and things worked for me well. So I want to continue that same thing even in the South African series.

Cricketers from Australia and England feel that Indian players should focus a little on the longer format of the game. As a young cricketer aspiring to excel in all the formats, do you think you need to play more matches, especially in the longer formats?

We would definitely want to play Test matches. Seeing the Women’s Ashes makes me wonder when will we get to wear those white clothes for India.

We have always grown up seeing Test cricket as the main thing. I believe even now Test cricket is still alive. And so many people long to play Test cricket. Hopefully, it will come soon for us, too. The number of matches we play definitely needs to improve.

But this year, looking at our cricketing schedule, I think we have got a good number of matches to prepare for the T20 World Cup. We are playing South Africa, the West Indies, then we have a tri-series against Australia and England. This year we are happy we have a packed schedule and that we are getting good practice matches against quality teams.