Jemimah Rodrigues could infuse new energy into India’s struggling middle order

Jemimah Rodrigues in action during WT20 Challenge © BCCI/IPL

Jemimah Rodrigues first grabbed the headlines when she scored an unbeaten 202 off 163 balls in Mumbai’s Under-19 One Day League match against Saurashtra on November 5, 2017. She became the second Indian, after Smriti Mandhana, to score a double century in Under-19 One Dayers.

It wasn’t even the first big century of the tournament for young Rodrigues and it only took three more months for her to make her India debut, albeit in the T20I format. The 17-year-old immediately made an impact, scoring 37 off 27 balls in a record chase, as India chased down 168 against hosts South Africa in the first T20I.

The teen prodigy, who lit up Mumbai school cricket, took to the shortest format like a duck to water and finished her first year with 593 runs at an average of 34.88 and a strike rate of 128.91, including an impressive T20 World Cup 2018 in West Indies.

Jemimah Rodrigues

Jemimah Rodrigues was a prolific run-getter in age group cricket.

Considering how prolific she had been in age-group cricket in the 50-over format, Rodrigues was expected to have a similar sort of success in ODIs. But four years from her debut, it seems like her career is at a crossroads in ODIs, with 394 runs from 21 innings at an average of 19.70. At the same time, the right-hander has amassed more than 1000 runs in T20Is at an impressive average  (27.05) and strike rate (110.70) despite a sophomore dip.

So, is there more to her numbers in ODIs?

Rodrigues has featured in 21 of the 44 ODIs India have played since her debut. She made her debut in the first ODI against Australia in Baroda during the ICC Women’s ODI Championship 2017-20. In contrast, she was part of the playing XI in 50 of the 60 T20Is India have played since her first game.

After scoring just a solitary run while batting at three on debut, she was replaced by Deepti Sharma in the next match. She came back in the final game and opened the batting in a stiff chase and put on a 100-run stand partnership with Mandhana. Her 42 off 41 balls was filled with a confident array of strokes and it seemed like she could play the role of a dynamic and busy batter in the fast-evolving format.

However, India chose to go with Devika Vaidya, who scored a century in the practice match, when they played the next ODI against England. Twin failures from Vaidya meant Rodrigues was back in the XI for the final game and scored only three. The same pattern repeated in the next series against Sri Lanka, where Rodrigues got an opportunity only in the final match.

Jemimah Rodrigues has played only 21 ODIs since making her debut in 2018 © Getty Images

When India toured New Zealand in 2019, Rodrigues opened the batting with Mandhana, added 190-runs for the first wicket, and remained unbeaten on 81 off 94 balls in a nine-wicket win. That innings still remains her career-best ODI score to date. That was followed by a period where she played 15 consecutive matches in the format, scoring her other two fifties and two 40s, but she also had a set of single-digit scores. The Championship cycle ended with India qualifying for the World Cup 2022 and Rodrigues finished the season with 69 in the final ODI against West Indies in North Sound in 2019.

After a successful T20 World Cup in 2020, India didn’t play any ODIs for a year and when they returned from the pandemic-induced break, India and Rodrigues went through a rough patch. She was dropped from the playing XI after three failures and didn’t start the England series as well. With Shafali Verma taking the opening slot, the struggling middle order was calling out for a batter who could play the busy game in the middle overs. Rodrigues – with her ability against spinners, looked the perfect fit.

But during this period, Rodrigues looked out of sorts and her terrible form from the South Africa series continued. However, it felt like the form and confidence issue of a player who didn’t know what her role in the side was. It never seemed like the end of the road for her in the format. It was only touted to be a matter of time before she would come back to form and consistently crack the format for she doesn’t have any visible major weakness in her game.

However, when India announced the squad for the New Zealand tour and the World Cup 2022, Rodrigues didn’t feature in the main squad or even among the travelling reserves. India’s wretched run in ODIs continued as they went down 4-1 against the hosts and had a first-round exit at the World Cup.

Harmanpreet Kaur, India’s vice-captain in ODIs, was going through a similar rough patch like that of Rodrigues, with bad form and injuries plaguing her. But she had enough credit in her kitty to make it to the World Cup squad.

After a few failures on the New Zealand tour, Kaur found her mojo and went on to have a great World Cup campaign, where she did everything right and almost took India to the semi-final with an all-round performance against South Africa in the final group match. That final-ball loss cost India a berth in the knockouts.

At the heart of Kaur’s turnaround was a stint with Melbourne Renegades, where Rodrigues was her teammate. The swashbuckling allrounder scored 406 runs at an average of 58.00 and a strike rate of 130.96 and also picked up 15 wickets to become the Player of the Tournament. Rodrigues wasn’t far behind, and was the second-highest run-getter for Renegades, with 333 runs to her name.

It isn’t new for Rodrigues to have a great run in franchise leagues, taking on the best of bowlers from all over the world. She amassed 401 runs at a mammoth strike rate of 149.62, while also averaging 57.28 from ten matches – only Danielle Wyatt scored more – in the now-defunct Women’s Cricket Super League during its final season in 2019. She reprised the same in the inaugural edition of The Hundred to turn around her form after the England tour in 2021 to end the new competition with 249 runs – just ten behind Player of the Series Dane van Niekerk – at an average of 41.50 and a strike rate of 150.90.

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Jemimah Rodrigues captains Mumbai in domestic cricket © Instagram/ Jemimah Rodrigues

It’s not like Rodrigues had failed to replicate that form in internationals, her T20I numbers are testimony to that. Post The Hundred, after not featuring in the ODI-leg, she lit up the first T20I vs. Australia with a magnificent 49 not out off 36 balls. She has had only two more knocks at the international level until now and both came in the same series in the next two T20Is.

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Post the World Cup 2022 snub, Rodrigues returned to domestic cricket and led Mumbai admirably, scoring 243 runs at an average of 60.75 at a whopping strike rate of 167.58. Only two batters scored at a faster rate among those who made a minimum of 100 runs. When she returned to the big stage in the Women’s T20 Challenge, Rodrigues once again showed what she is capable of with a match-winning 66 off 44 deliveries against Velocity. She played the ball late, hitting some of the latest of late cuts, while also taking on the bowlers down the ground.

India’s performance in ODIs in the last 12 months, where they won just six and lost 12 games, plus the manner in which they crashed out of the World Cup cries for a reboot. Jemimah Rodrigues joining Harmanpreet Kaur in the middle order could bring new energy and be at the center of India’s revival in the format; with their ability to manipulate the field, attack spin, and pace as well in the middle overs. They would do well to compliment the attacking top-order trio trio of Verma, Mandhana and Yastika Bhatia.