On the evening of November 1, the opening day of the Women’s Under-19 inter-state one-day competition, when Jemimah Rodrigues called home, her father told her: “Well played, but you missed the bus.”
Rodrigues, Mumbai’s 17-year-old captain and opener, had made 178 off 148 balls against Gujarat. Ivan, her father who also coaches the youngster at her school, felt she should have got to 200.
On Sunday (November 5), though, Rodrigues was firmly in the driver’s seat and motoring ahead. She remained not out on 202 off 163 balls as Mumbai posted 347 for 2 before trouncing Saurashtra by 285 runs for their second win of the competition. Her knock included 21 boundaries.
“I was targeting 200,” Rodrigues tells Wisden India of that Gujarat game. “There were some three overs left and I still needed 20-22 runs, so I was going for that. My coach also said go for it, but in that process, I lost my wicket (in the 47th over).
“Dad said, you played well, but if you had been not out and scored 200, it would have been better.”
In their daily evening calls, father and daughter discuss her game plan. Advice is peppered by verses from the Bible which, she says, give her strength and peace of mind. Ahead of Sunday’s game, she needed an extra boost. In Mumbai’s second game, against a strong Baroda bowling attack, she had got out for 17, playing “a wrong shot”, and the team had lost by 33 runs.
“I was very discouraged. I knew if I stayed there, my team would have won. I was batting well, but I played a shot I never usually would have played. I was sad, but my dad encouraged me. He said it happens, and I should learn from my mistakes.
“So my target (on Sunday) was to play for 50 overs and be not out.” While she doesn’t set scoring targets for herself, she counts her boundaries as a way to build her innings. “By the grace of Jesus Christ, I got to my double-century.”
She celebrated Mumbai’s second win from three games in the league stage with some cake and a movie outing to Golmaal Again.
Rodrigues, who made her Under-19 debut aged 12 and a half, has made a habit of scoring big runs. In the 2016-17 season of the one-day tournament, she top-scored with 665 runs in ten matches, including two centuries and five half-centuries, and picked up 15 wickets with her offspin as she led Mumbai to the title. In fact, in the Super League stage, she averaged 376 from six matches. In the final against Uttar Pradesh, she was unbeaten on 87. Adding to her delight about lifting the title was that the trophy was presented to her by MS Dhoni.
She also led West Zone to the Under-23 inter-zonal one-day title in its second edition. Breaking into the senior team, she impressed with 152 runs in two innings in the Elite Division – and might have had more if Mumbai’s matches hadn’t been affected by rain.
The teenager has also already featured in hockey nationals, and has played basketball and football at school as well. While hockey has taken a backseat simply because she doesn’t have the time to attend selections, her success has meant that cricket – which she began playing with her two older brothers when she was just four – is the sport she’s focusing on. All this, while being able to score around a commendable 80% in class 10 and play the guitar for fun.
Sanjay Gaitonde, Mumbai’s former Under-19 coach, describes her as a “hard-working, very talented and complete player”.
While the slightly-built Rodrigues is able to maintain a healthy strike-rate, her strength is her technique rather than power, he explains. “The difference between Mumbai players and others is that Mumbai players play with skill, other players play with power. You can see this throughout Indian cricket. She’s a skilful player. They can perform at any level,” he declares.
Ivan, a former wicketkeeper-batsman who has played in the Kanga League and who coaches his daughter and a few schoolmates at St Joseph’s Convent School in Bandra, adds: “We have been practising big-hitting, but you won’t see her hitting sixes. She cannot afford to do so, as she has to protect her wicket.”
Rohit Sharma, a fellow Mumbai player, is one of Rodrigues’s idols – along with, of course, Mithali Raj.
Rodrigues’s goal – and those who’ve worked with her are convinced she will reach it – is to break into the India side. As one of the participants in an NCA camp for fringe players recently, she is definitely on the selectors’ radar and has age on her side.
For now, her challenge is to consistently perform against stronger attacks and prove herself at the senior level. If she needs any inspiration, she need look no further than the previous youngster to score 200 in the Under-19 tournament. Back in 2013, Smriti Mandhana had made an unbeaten 224 against Gujarat. Rodrigues is in good company.