On a day when Jemimah Rodrigues notched up her highest score in international cricket, scoring 57 off 40 in the 3rd T20I, it is worth looking back at how she almost didn’t make this tour. And the story she shared of the teammate who helped her out.
In August, Rodrigues had a grand total of 11 runs in the Challenger Trophy, the selection tournament that would help India shortlist a pool of players for the WT20. After being benched for every game of the Asia Cup, she needed runs in the Challenger to make a statement. But with scores of 10, 0, 0, and 1, even her inclusion in the 15 was uncertain.
To their credit, the selectors showed faith in her and kept her in the squad. Now remained the small matter of putting that trough behind her and finding the form she has shown so often in international games. “I felt in form, but there was a bit of up and down, which was a technical issue in my grip,” she said after the third T20I. Small changes have butterfly-effect impacts on athletes, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. A squash ball helped Adam Gilchrist score a 149 in a World Cup final. And Abhinav Bindra lost the 2004 Olympic final because of loose flooring. A batter’s grip is the conduit that makes the wood an extension of the arm; a slight shift can mean energy -and runs- not flowing at all.
This is where a fresh perspective helps, for that which creeps in slowly is invisible to those who look every day. That is where Smriti Mandhana came in.
“Smriti had come from England (from the Kia Super League),” said Rodrigues. “She asked me what happened in Challengers; Pehle aise kabhi hua nahi ki mai itne baar zero pe out hui (Me getting out on zero so frequently hasn’t happened before). Then she asked me to show her my grip.” While Rodrigues believed her problems had provenance in her bottom hand, Mandhana observed a slight change in her top hand. “Then we saw the videos, and it was my top hand that had gone towards my stomach. Smriti she said she understood what happened because the same problem happens to her!” grins Rodrigues.
The two are only three years apart in age and know each other well right from their Under-16 days. Mandhana was the first wicket that Rodrigues took in senior inter-state cricket, and was her captain the first time she represented West Zone. And when Rodrigues made the Indian team, Mandhana was her first roommate, and the pair have shared rooms on a number of tours so far. “As roommates, we have watched each other’s videos quite a lot,” said Mandhana. “We have seen each other’s good batting and bad batting. So I kind of noticed that she’s trying to do something different.”
Once the bug was identified, the next step was building a patch for it in the nets. And there new coach Ramesh Powar ensured Rodrigues had ample opportunities. “Initially in the nets, I wasn’t getting that fluency”, she said. “But then he (Powar) backed me a lot. Sometimes he would give me one hour of batting. Nobody gets one hour of batting!” Powar told her that only by putting in the work in the nets would she be able to find runs in the middle.
“I think that’s the best part of this team, trying to help each other out,” said Mandhana. “We don’t talk cricket that much, we have a lot of fun with the other younger players in the team, it’s amazing to be around them, laughing about the most stupid things.” But if they’re sharing a room, Mandhana and Rodrigues will often watch interviews of their favourite athletes and celebrities. “Pretty much anyone; once we were watching an interview of Anushka Sharma. Another time it was Paul Pogba,” says Mandhana. Once the lights are off, there might be some time for reflection before sleep takes them. “We speak about what she has learned throughout the day or what I have learned. It can really be anything!” she adds.
They aren’t rooming together this time (each player has a room to herself), but I suspect they will go out for dinner tonight. And Rodrigues will be paying Mandhana’s bill.
Watch Smriti Mandhana’s interview with Snehal Pradhan: