The up and down life of Jemimah Rodrigues in 15 balls
It is easy to be Jemimah Rodrigues. 18 years old. Good at academics. Good at the guitar. Good at church. Good at cricket. Life is simple. Family. Runs. One after the other.
Her family led her to runs. She came to cricket following her brothers, who were following their father. Life thereon was simple. Score runs. Move up. Score more runs. Score a double hundred in a 50 over game. Move further up. Score a bunch of runs in the Challenger Trophy against the best in the country. Move even further up.
Into the Indian team. Easy peasy.
This is where the tough part is supposed to start: a debut tour, to South Africa of all places. This is where the bowlers get quicker, the pitches get bouncier, and the pressure gets too much for a 17-year old. This is where all you’re expected to do is spend time finding your feet. And hope you’re not found out before that.
Instead Rodrigues makes runs. She bats just three innings in the T20Is but is India’s third highest scorer in the series. She shows ability, intent and smarts. She hits over the top, she looks to turn dots into ones, she takes catches only taller athletes should be able to. She is busy. She is dangerous.
She helps India win a T20 series abroad. She makes it look easy. She is 17.
And for India’s next international, she is not an automatic pick in the XI.
Australia are an opponent that can faze the best. You’re a prodigy? We’ve got ten of them. You’re only five feet tall? We have bowlers who bounce out six footers. You’re playing at home? We have been beating you at home since since before you were born.
Rodrigues gets into the XI, the ODI XI, because Mithali Raj is unwell. She is bowled around her legs off her thigh pad for one. The next game, she sits out. She watches one opener make 67 off 53 and the other make 27 off 61. India lose the series.
The next match, the dead rubber, she’s in. Her first innings as an opener.
She makes 42 off 41 in a century opening stand in 13 overs. India have their best batting game of the series. They still lose.
But they see what can happen when they pick her as opener.
The next time India play an ODI, she isn’t in the XI.
Against England and Australia, the best two teams in the world at T20, India struggle for momentum at the top. Runs come from one end, and when they do from the other, not fast enough. Rodrigues is played at four in the first game and scores 1. The next game, she doesn’t get a chance to bat as India promote their ‘hitters’. In the third, she is finally played as an opener. She scores 50 off 41.
So naturally, the next game she is dropped down to No. 3.
And the next T20I series India play, she doesn’t get a game.
Not one game. Not against Thailand. Not against Malaysia. Not against Bangladesh, who beat India twice in the Asia Cup.
Jemimah Rodrigues’ life was simple. Make runs, move up. Except when she came into international cricket. Where it seems every time she makes runs, she is moved down, sideways, fifty degrees to the right, or just out.
She probably doesn’t understand what’s going on. After all, she is just 17.
India are in Sri Lanka, and Jemimah Rodrigues is not having a great tour. She is not having a great six months.
The new coach wants to play her but has ‘some restrictions’. There are whispers that she isn’t batting well in the nets. After being made to live in a cricketing pinball machine rigged to fail, is it really surprising?
The first chance she gets on this tour, at a spot that should have been hers since March, she gets a second ball duck in the third ODI. The incumbent openers for the T20Is are the best batter in the world at the moment and the best batter in the world of all time. There are no guarantees she will even fit into the batting order.
At this stage, if you told her she would get to play just fifteen balls in the next game, and then be retired out, I suspect she would happily take that. Gametime, any gametime, beats being on the bench.
She gets to bat at No. 3 in the first T20I, and walks in to face the third ball of the match. For all practical purposes, she is opening.
Her nerves consume five balls. Then on the sixth, comes her first boundary, lifting the left arm spinner over her head for four. It has been 174 days since she hit a boundary in international cricket. Her timing, her hand-eye coordination, her confidence, it’s different after that.
That shot is more than a shot. It is world peace in her head.
After that, she bats like a kickass writer on deadline; frenetic, absorbed, but still creative: Her opening line is the first boundary, all she needed to get started, taking her to 6 off 6. Then comes the hook: a pick up shot over mid wicket for four off the left arm seamer. 12 off 9. And finally the big reveal: three sixes in a row.
For the first, she is down on one knee and the full ball on the stumps soars over square leg, part sweep, part flick. For the second and the biggest, the ball is slightly fuller, still on the stumps. She flicks -no, dismisses- it over the same boundary, a little squarer. The third, anticipating the shorter length, she uses her size-six feet, and her straight bat lifts it over mid on. And then to break the monotony, a push in the air through point for four. 27 in the over. India are transported to 54 for 1 by the fourth.
She gets out in the sixth, 36 runs off 15 balls. Her strike rate of 240 is the highest by an Indian batter with more than 25 runs in a T20I innings.
I’m sure you see a pattern here. You’re expecting Rodrigues to not open in the next game. Perhaps you’re even expecting her to sit out of the XI. When what they need to do is give her a chance. Give her a go. Give her the opening slot.
Give her fifteen balls, damn it.
Stats input courtesy @_hypocaust