A baby’s giant steps

All of 18, the girl from Bandra has turned into one of the reliable batswomen of the Indian women’s cricket team. Her style of play has left the experts in awe and Jemimah has emerged as one of the top talents in the country.

Published : Jan 20, 2019 18:21 IST

Jemimah Rodrigues with her pet dog, Theodore.
Jemimah Rodrigues with her pet dog, Theodore.

Jemimah Rodrigues with her pet dog, Theodore.

It’s a cool December evening and the Our Lady of Health School ground in Sahar, in the suburbs of Mumbai, is all decked up for a wedding ceremony. It’s nearly 7.30 p.m. and the guests are walking in to wish the couple ahead of their new beginning. There is music, fun and frolic.

A few minutes later, the Rodrigues family arrives at the venue and people who were busy talking among themselves, all this while, suddenly turn their heads to wave at a young girl, who has accompanied her parents, Ivan and Lavita Rodrigues.

To them, the young girl is ‘Baby’, ‘Fibbs’ or ‘Jemi’. But then, the world knows her by a different name — Jemimah Rodrigues!

All of 18, the girl from Bandra has turned into one of the reliable batswomen of the Indian women’s cricket team. Her style of play has left the experts in awe and Jemimah has emerged as one of the top talents in the country.

If she is serious on the field, she is a friendly, fun-loving girl off the pitch. And that is evident as she hits the dance floor along with her brothers, Enoch and Eli. They dance to some popular songs and make sure they have fun throughout the evening. The friends and family walk up to her to exchange pleasantries and then there are requests for selfies. Jemimah happily obliges all of them and then slowly heads back to have fun with her brothers.

After all, she is in the city for just a couple of days before flying out to Bengaluru to join the Mumbai team for the senior Nationals.

For her, this is what life has been for the last few years. “After a long time, she is at least here till the Christmas eve. Ever since she started playing cricket, she would mostly be out on tours or stay out of home,” Eli, Jemimah’s elder brother, says.

Ever since childhood, Jemimah has been ‘best friends’ with her two brothers. Much before shifting to Bandra, the family stayed in the faraway suburbs of Bhandup. In those days, eldest brother Enoch would bring both Eli and Jemimah to school. “We were encouraged to travel alone, so all three of us would travel together and Enoch being the eldest, would ensure that Fibbs (as Eli fondly calls her) and I were fine,” Eli says.

That’s one of the reasons why even today, Jemimah loves using public transport. “Whenever she is in town, we mostly travel by autorickshaw or the local train. She is used to it,” Eli says.

The 18-year-old could often be seen at train stations, walking with her kit bag. “Even a few months back, when she and I were travelling by train, someone walked up to her and asked if she was Jemimah Rodrigues, the cricketer. And after she said that she indeed was Jemimah, that gentleman could not believe that it was her. He took an autograph and selfies with her. That’s when we realised our sister is being noticed,” Eli laughs. Even now, the Rodrigues family has ensured that things are kept simple.

Ivan and Lavita primarily run coaching classes in Bandra, but they have always made it a point to give preference to sports. Having played cricket, Ivan influenced all his three children to play the sport. While Enoch and Eli could play cricket till junior level, Jemimah — the youngest of them all — was spoilt for choice as she excelled in cricket, hockey as well as basketball.

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As a student at the St. Joseph’s Convent School in Bandra, she initially started playing hockey. “The Pastor of our church, Brother Manuel, is very interested about sports and he would give Jemimah all the sporting gears. It was he, who gave her the hockey stick and that’s how it all started,” Ivan says.

Her first hockey coach, Sebastian Noronha, still remembers how a young Jemimah showed promise at an early age. “She was in second (or third) standard when she took up hockey. There was immense potential in her and she was extremely hard working. Even her parents motivated her to take up sports seriously and she would do everything to perform,” Noronha says.

The first time he saw Jemimah at the St. Joseph’s ground, Noronha was not too sure how ‘such a little girl’ would be able to cope with relatively senior players. “But she was very passionate about the game. She was also very punctual at the practice sessions,” Noronha says.

Even Jemimah agrees that hockey was her first love. “I loved both cricket and hockey and still love both. It’s just that both the games were clashing, so I had to make a tough decision between the two. Since I had reached a higher stage in cricket than hockey, I chose cricket,” Jemimah says. Then, she adds with a smile: “I would love to represent India in both cricket as well as hockey.”

She also agrees that hockey has helped her remain athletic. “One of the major things that hockey has given me is (that it) helped (improve) my fitness (level),” she says.

Jemimah, who was the chief guest at the Sanjay Sathaye Memorial Cup held in Tilak School, Parle, Mumbai, obliges young autograph hunters.

If hockey came naturally to her, Jemimah was also passionate about basketball. There was a time when most of her teachers and family friends thought that Baby (as she is called at home) would either pursue hockey or basketball.

To everyone’s surprise, cricket took the front seat.

Jemimah started following her brothers to a cricket ground in the neighbourhood under the watchful eyes of Ivan, who also coaches the girls’ cricket team at his daughter’s school.

“Maybe, after two hours of fielding, she would get 10 minutes of batting. This is how it developed. The main aim was to train the boys, but she also picked up the sport soon,” Ivan says. When Ivan started training the girls’ team of the school, the then principal had told him that the ‘girls will not go outside the school premises to train’ and the coaching was given mostly for free.

The school team went to the finals of an inter-school tourney in the very first year but eventually lost the match.

When she was nine, Ivan took Jemimah to the MIG Club in Bandra along with her two brothers. The club coach, Prashant Shetty, remembers how Jemimah would play alongside boys. “She was nine, when Ivan and Lavita brought her to the academy. They asked us to take a look at the little girl. She started practising with the boys, and slowly developed her skills,” Shetty says.

Interestingly, around the same time, Prithvi Shaw and Arjun Tendulkar, too joined the club and Jemimah soon became friends with them. “She always had the skills, and she was a very hard-working cricketer and a quick learner. Playing with boys was challenging but she managed it,” Shetty explains.

Once she started performing better than boys her age, it didn’t take time for the Mumbai women’s coaches and selectors to spot her. When she was 12-and-a-half, she was first selected in the Mumbai U-19 girls’ team. At the same time, she was also on the verge of breaking into the U-17 hockey team.

Even as she featured in the Maharashtra State hockey team at the U-17 and U-19 level, Jemimah took cricket more seriously. Things changed when she was handed the captaincy of the State’s U-19 cricket team in 2016.

The aggressive opening batter continued her surge, with two innings at the fag end of 2017 in the U-19 zonal tournament in Aurangabad — 178 against Gujarat followed by a 202 versus Saurashtra — catapulting her into the India A set-up. She impressed one and all in the big league and made her international debut during India’s tour to South Africa earlier this year.

Despite a hectic schedule and tours round the year, Jemimah has never neglected her studies. Even now, when she is on tour, Jemimah — a commerce student at the Rizvi College, Bandra — carries her books with her to study whenever she can manage time.

In school days, even though she could not attend regular classes, her alma mater, the St. Joseph’s Convent School, ensured that she received all the help. She also remembers how the then principal, Sister Blanche, and the vice-principal, Sister Lalita (who is now the school principal) made sure that she could play all the tournaments.

Ask Sister Blanche and she smiles. “When I saw her interest in cricket, I felt that she will have a bright future in the sport. And one day, she walked up to me and asked if we could help her in playing cricket. She promised to take studies seriously but wanted leaves for matches so we accommodated her accordingly,” Sister Blanche says.

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She also remembers one incident when the school wrote to the Maharashtra State Board of Secondary and Higher Secondary Education, requesting them to conduct one of her practical examinations for Class X, on a later date.

“The examination was clashing with a game and that’s why we requested the Board to conduct the exams on a different date and they agreed,” Sister Blanche says.

And Jemimah, too, did not let her teachers down. In class X, she scored 80 per cent.

Just like her family, Jemimah too is a devout Christian, who makes it a point to visit the church despite her busy schedule. And she believes that reading the Holy Bible has given her enough strength and confidence. “There was a time, when I was going through a rough patch and that’s when Dadda (that’s how she refers to her dad) and mum encouraged me to read some scriptures from the Bible,” she says. And ever since, she has made it a habit to read the Bible regularly. She does not believe in superstitions. “I read the Bible and I pray. I pack my bag the previous day (of the game) so that I can pray and head towards the ground for the practice or the match,” she says.

This has helped her immensely.

While she is cheerful otherwise, Jemimah was nervous when she made it to the national team for the first time.

“The first day, I was nervous. I was supposed to meet Mithali (Raj) and Jhulan (Goswami), but gradually I gelled well with them,” she narrates.

A big fan of Rohit Sharma, she also idolises Smriti Mandhana’s batting style. Over the months, she has developed a good rapport with all the senior women’s players.

Before the South Africa tour in 2018, many people warned her of the bouncy tracks in the Protealand — which mostly help the pacers.

But then, her fears dissipated after she caught up with Sachin Tendulkar. “Sachin called me to his home and made me feel comfortable. He told me that the wickets in South Africa will be bouncy, but it’s all in the mind. He said, the ball comes nicely on to the bat.” Tendulkar also advised her to go with a positive mindset. “There are two things, to think positive or negative. I believe, it is important to go on a positive note,” the batswoman says.

A big fan of Rohit Sharma, Jemimah also idolises Smriti Mandhana’s batting style. Over the months, she has developed a good rapport with all the senior women’s players.

From being a promising talent to one of India’s top batswomen — Jemimah has seen it all early in life. And keeping her talent in mind, sports marketing firm, Baseline Ventures, has signed up a multi-year deal with her.

But what made the company zero in on such a young talent?

“We always have eyes and years open in terms of selecting new talents. The whole purpose was also to get into the cricketing sport. On one side, we have Ravindra Jadeja, who we manage exclusively, and then we wanted to balance it with the upcoming talents. That’s how we got Prithvi (Shaw), Smriti (Mandhana) and then we did research and found Jemimah to be the best candidate. It is an all-round selection. She is smart, she talks good, all that works in brand endorsement,” Vipin Nair, co-founder of Baseline Ventures, says.

If aggressive batting style defines Jemimah on the field, she is soft-spoken off it. When she is not playing cricket, you would find her strumming the guitar and composing a few songs or may be, watching her favourite TV series, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’. And when she is at home in Mumbai, brothers Enoch and Eli would ensure that the ‘little sister’ is well fed with her favourite waffles and juices. And if you are lucky enough, you might just bump into her at the Band Stand in Bandra.

Well, that’s Jemimah Rodrigues for you!

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