There’s something about Jemi

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Shared News| January 5, 2020 10:52:23 am

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Jemimah Rodrigues (Source: Amit Chakravarty)
Give her a hockey stick to dribble or a guitar to yodel, the free-spirited Jemimah Rodrigues can play both with aplomb. But it is with the cricket bat that the Bandra girl has come into her own, scoring truckloads of runs for India and on franchise fields afar. The Indian Express jams with Jemi as the teenager talks about her father, her faith and her fast runs

Like any other Bandra girl, Jemimah Rodrigues took a liking for hockey at a very young age.

Jemimah was just in the third standard when she hit the ground, sporting a short hairdo, with a hockey stick gifted by her church’s pastor Emmanuel. And on the very first day of her training session, she caught the eye of former India coach Joachim Carvalho who has a knack for spotting young talent. Impressed with the way the wiry player held the stick and handled the ball without any prior training, Carvalho prophesied: “This boy will play for India!”

“Carvalho’s words did come true but he got the sport wrong,” father Ivan Rodrigues says.

The cricket maidans of Mumbai have always been a conveyor belt of talent for the Indian men’s team. From Sunil Gavaskar to Prithvi Shaw, all have honed their skills in clubs from cricket’s most prolific powerhouse. But now Jemimah has emerged from the quaint bylanes of the fancy suburb of Bandra known for its sizzling hockey dribbles, where cricketers usually head to buy homes after gaining considerable fame and money. Now an integral member of the India women’s squad, she will be India’s most exciting talent at the upcoming women’s T20 World Cup February through March. Jemimah, who has also starred for English countryside Yorkshire Diamonds and also played for the IPL Supernovas in the 2019 T20 Challenge, is known for her bubbly, carefree attitude that helps her gel with new teammates instantly.

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Father and coach Ivan Rodrigues has been instrumental in Jemimah’s rise. (Source: Amit Chakravarty)

Just a little over five-feet tall and carrying a sinewy frame, the 19-year-old doesn’t rely on muscles to bag her scores, it’s her sound technique and cricketing acumen that has helped her shatter records and amass quick runs. Coached by her father Ivan, ‘Jemi’, came into the limelight after she slammed 202 off just 163 balls against Saurashtra in 2017 to become only the second woman to score a double century in 50-over cricket.

“That was the turning point. For me, it was just another match. I have seen my daughter score centuries after centuries but after her double ton, my phone did not stop buzzing. Till 11 at night I kept getting calls from journalists. Everyone wanted to know who this Jemimah was. That’s when I realised people notice women’s cricket too,” says Ivan Rodrigues.

Jemimah was 16 then, but was at crossroads just a year prior to that owing to her talent with both the stick and the bat. She had already been picked for the U-17 and U-19 Maharashtra hockey sides and now needed to choose between that and cricket.

“My parents left it to me and I chose cricket because I had reached a higher level in it. It was a tough decision and I did cry when I realised I had to give up hockey because it is a sport I really loved,” Jemimah tells The Sunday Express.

Jemimah and her brothers Enoch and Eli were born in the suburbs of Bhandup and their initiation to cricket happened at a very young age. Jemimah was three when she was gifted her first bat and she soon started accompanying her brothers to an all-boys academy. The family moved to the western suburb of Bandra about 25km from Bhandup and rented a house that they own now, to avail better facilities for their daughter.

Jemimah and her father knew moving to Bandra was just the first step towards becoming a professional athlete. Jemimah had to slog it out, and she did. The youngster made sure she was faithful to her strict training regimen that meant hitting the gym even during off-seasons at 8 am every day, followed by two practice sessions. Jemimah was home this New Year for a short break but she still hit the nets with her mentor and dad to tweak certain areas.

For Jemimah, in her own words, the hard work has paid off. The second-year B. Com student has become one of the mainstays in the national side playing the anchor role. Her exploits earned her a stint with Yorkshire Diamonds in the Kia Super League where she hit 401 runs and ended up as the second-highest run-getter after Danielle Wyatt. Her 51-ball century in a game against Southern Vipers is also the fastest in the league.

Social media star

Jemimah is every advertising professional’s dream. She performs consistently on the field, can strum the guitar and sing, and is extremely camera-friendly. Her modest 24 thousand plus followers on Twitter and nearly 95k on Instagram get their timely dose of fresh entertainment, and the best part is it all comes naturally to the teenager.

“My brother Eli edits my videos on social media to make me appear cooler. For me, taking a break on social media is really important. After playing a match I cannot go home and watch more cricket on the tele. I need a break or else it will get really boring,” says the Coldplay fan.

Her bubbly nature has made her the darling of the dressing rooms all over. From shaking a leg with her ‘partner-in-crime’ and India teammate Smriti Mandhana to serenading her Yorkshire mates in the team bus with her guitar, she truly becomes the life of the party, or in her case, team.

“That’s how I am. I am talkative, bubbly and always up to some mischief. I’ll be very honest, the Indian team members have been really kind to me. I am not saying this just because it will appear in the paper. They are professional enough to keep any jealousy at bay,” she says.

Jemimah’s social media posts are so popular that she has become the unofficial media manager of the team. “A lot of people come to me and ask me to fix their captions or write something witty. I am not going to name them but I think we should start charging them from here on (laughs),” says the youngster. Jemimah certainly has the numbers to demand a good fee from her mates.

Her memes and witty replies on Twitter are worth mentioning. After a Women’s T20 Challenge game a fan tweeted to her: “ I like Jemimah. Very cute. Are you seeing anyone?” Jemimah’s short and snappy reply was: “After this match? I’m definitely seeing a bright future for Women’s Cricket!”

More recently, a four-minute clip on Instagram, starring Shikhar Dhawan and Mandhana, has garnered more than a lakh views. Despite the Rodrigues family being actively involved in enhancing Jemimah’s social media status, father Ivan is almost oblivious. “ I’m not on social media. My job is to take care of her spirituality and sports. I don’t even read all the stories written on Jemimah. If there is a good article on her, my wife forwards it or reads it out to me,” says Ivan.

‘Pray and play’

At the Rodrigues household, there is a strict “pray and play” policy. Jemimah and her brothers would be allowed to go out only after completing their daily prayers and Bible reading. It’s a routine Jemimah still follows. Each night before going to bed, she calls her parents to pray and share any spiritual revelations.

“For us, it’s Jesus first and then comes studies and sports,” explains Ivan, whose father was an obsessive cricket follower. Jemimah believes it’s her faith that has been the foundation of her success and pillar of strength in dark times. The teenager’s confidence hit rock-bottom when she was overlooked for a spot in the playing XI for the Asia Cup (June 2018). Crippling self-doubt clouded Jemimah’s mind and the generally cheerful youngster’s shoulders drooped. During a practice session, Ivan walked up to ask what was bothering his daughter.

“I generally try to hide my emotions but my mother can read my face easily and I broke down while telling her. The next day at training, Dad could see I was not feeling good. I broke down while telling him how I was feeling. My father told me something that has changed my outlook completely. He said: ‘Jesus has brought you this far and he will not give up on you,’” she says. “I’m happy that I got to taste this side of life at a very young age. It helps me keep motivated and stay focused. I know if something goes wrong, I have God to fall back on.”

Whenever Jemimah faces a hurdle on the field, answers are sought through prayers, says Ivan. During England’s visit to India Jemimah was facing a little difficulty in playing her shots. When she came back home, Ivan used the bowling machine to create a similar scenario but couldn’t find the root cause.

“Jemimah did not use her first-choice bat for the tournament as it went for repair. At the training I prayed and got a revelation. Jesus asked me to weigh the bats and then we found out that the bat she was using was 20 grams heavier. We realised because of the weight she was pulling her bat with the bottom hand, affecting her stance and making her prone to edge the balls. Once it was sorted, everything fell back into place,” explains Ivan.

Though second on the list, academics remained a high priority and Jemimah was given no leeway despite her sporting achievements. Ivan used to take special permission from the Mumbai Cricket Association to help her with her studies for two hours whenever she was part of a camp. And she’s proved to be an all-rounder off the field too.

“In her 10th she got 80%. Whenever the camp used to happen in Mumbai or nearby, we used to teach her in the evenings. Luckily, I saw her innings today and I just thanked God,” Ivan had told the paper in 2017 just after his daughter hit that record double-ton.

Playing to her strengths

Jemimah has a mature head and no qualms in admitting mistakes or improvements needed. She has changed her approach towards the shortest format drastically. During the Women’s T20 Challenge, she tried to emulate her India teammates Mandhana and Harmanpreet and go after the bowlers, which wasn’t her natural game. India head coach WV Raman noticed it and asked Jemimah to focus on timing the ball.

“I think I have made peace with the fact that I don’t have the power or muscles to hit those big shots. I am a very good timer of the ball and that’s what Raman sir told me. He asked me to just focus on timing the ball and it worked for me. My game plan is simple: rotate the strike, target areas where the fielders are up and consider any loose deliveries as a bonus. That’s the role assigned to me even in the national team where there are plenty of big hitters,” she explains.

Coming from Mumbai, where the wickets aren’t as pacy, she naturally developed a strong front foot game but she knew she had to work on her backfoot as well to survive in international cricket. But ahead of the tour of South Africa, she spent countless hours in front of the bowling machine, working on playing the short deliveries, her pull and hook shots which helped her deal with conditions more comfortably. Not to forget she had an audience with Sachin Tendulkar who helped her calm her nerves ahead of the series.

Jemimah knows it’s still early days for her. Her Hebrew name translates to ‘little dove’. The young lady, with her chirpy run-amassing though is Indian cricket’s not-so-little hope as it guns for its first global title.