India were down to 58/3 at the halfway mark in the first T20I against Sri Lanka in Dambulla on Thursday. Jemimah Rodrigues had just walked into bat at No 5, two spots lower than where she used to bat for Indian in the past, with Harmanpreet Kaur at the other end. In the first ball of the eleventh over, she saw her skipper get trapped on the pads by Inoka Ranaweera.
If her comeback into the Indian team after the World Cup snub and playing a very different role wasn’t enough pressure, her team was also reeling at 58/4. With several young batters waiting in the wings, it was an opportunity she could not miss out on.
Two balls after Harmanpreet’s dismissal, the left-arm spinner tossed one up, turning it away from Jemimah. But the 21-year-old was ready. She rocked on her backfoot, waited till the last moment to dab it in the gap between slip and gully fielder, securing her first boundary. As she marked her bat at the non-striker’s end as a formality, a fist pump followed. Not to anyone else, but to herself. And that settled her nerves and gave the confidence she needed.
Over the next five overs, Jemimah got to face just eight balls, making as many runs, and watched Richa Ghosh get out at the other end. After 15.3 overs, India were down to 90/5. But as Pooja Vastrakar started picking up boundaries, the right-hander did her part rotating the strike and an odd boundary off her trademark sweep.
In the last three overs, with Deepti Sharma (8-ball 17), she put the foot down and accelerated, finishing with a six down the ground off the last ball of the innings. With an unbeaten 27-ball 36, she took India to 138/6. As India eventually beat the hosts by 34 runs, the 21-year-old also bagged the player of the match award.
“I think I am back in the Indian team after four-five months or maybe more than that. So, I was very pumped up today,” Jemimah said after the match. “Anytime you wear this India jersey, I think you are naturally pumped up. This is something that always works for me. After getting that late cut, first boundary, I just felt much more confident. Because I was a bit nervous coming back after a long time but you know getting that boundary that just got me going. So, yeah this actually means a lot to me.”
In her time away from the Indian team, she had the chance to interact with India men’s captain Rohit Sharma, who himself missed out on the 2011 World Cup squad, and wicketkeeper Rishabh Pant. And it had a massive impact on her.
“Just hearing them speak, they actually told me that these moments actually define you and prepare you for something greater that's coming. So, you know, normally we look at these negative situations like, 'Oh, I got dropped'. If we look at it negatively, it's not going to help. But these are the moments that are actually going to define you as a cricketer. So, I was kind of blessed to get to speak to them and also speak to a few of our teammates and stuff like that. So that has helped me a lot.”
“I think I've become calmer throughout this time. I've understood the value of having good relationships, like my family who have been there. You know, you get to know who are actually for you throughout this time and who are not. And also, I think this last few months has helped me understand my game even better. So, I think that is one of the biggest things I take that you know, I understood my game much better.”
For Jemimah, her preparations for the series and her comeback began about a month after she was dropped from the squad for the World Cup. She started training in the Mumbai maidans in February, and since then has added gear or two to her batting as well. In the Senior Women’s T20 League, she smashed 243 runs in six innings at a strike rate of 167.58.“To be honest, it's (preparations) still continuing because there’s the Commonwealth Games and T20 World Cup and the Asia Cup coming ahead,” she said.
“A lot of effort and a lot of hard work has gone in which actually nobody knows but it’s good to see that, you know, when you spend the hours over there on the field, in the gym and you come out here and getting the results like even in the domestic, IPL and coming here, I think it feels great.”
And in her own words, this is just the beginning and there is much more to come.