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Jemimah Rodrigues: Pressure of boys cricket on Mumbai maidans fuelled World Cup heroics

Batter went out of comfort zone in bid to overcome 50-over World Cup axing

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Jemimah Rodrigues saw India over the line with her unbeaten half-century  •  Getty Images

Jemimah Rodrigues saw India over the line with her unbeaten half-century  •  Getty Images

From "one of the lowest phases" of her life following her omission from the 50-over World Cup, to a tension-easing half-century as India began the 20-over version with victory against Pakistan, Jemimah Rodrigues likes how life is going right now, but says she owes her turnaround to some turners on Mumbai's maidans.
Rodrigues' unbroken fourth-wicket stand of 58 with Richa Ghosh handed India a seven-wicket victory after their opponents set them 150 to win.
They got there with just one over to spare and afterwards Rodrigues, who scored a 38-ball 53 not out, said that playing alongside 14-year-old boys in Mumbai after being dropped from last year's squad exposed her to the sort of pressure needed to help pull off India's highest successful run-chase at a Women's T20 World Cup.
"I'd taken a break when I went back to my coach Prashant Shetty and my dad," Rodrigues recalled. "We worked out our plan. In a week I had to play two games, more match time, the rest I would practise and Sunday was my day off. At the same time I was putting myself in challenging situations.
"I was not playing on flat wickets, I was playing on turning wickets. In Mumbai I went to Azad Maidan during that time and I was playing matches against the boys. In the morning, there's so much dew, this huge ground, many pitches, nobody covers the ground - you can put your finger inside the pitch. In those conditions I had to play under-19 boys.
"Second-innings it's a drastic change, it's turning square and good quality bowlers. In the first game of the tournament I scored some 45-odd runs and that gives you a lot of confidence, that is like scoring 80 on a flat track. So putting myself in such situations actually helped me, getting out of my comfort zone. It was the toughest part.
"I played with under-14 boys. Imagine the kind of pressure, me being an India player playing with under-14 boys, if I lose my wicket, 'kya hai ye' [what is she even]. It's like that - those are the thoughts in my head. That was a lot of pressure but I had to fight through those thoughts.
"But I believe all these little things just build up and make you the player you are, and I am grateful for everything that happened. You give me an option to go back and change things. I wouldn't change anything. I like how my life is going."
Rodrigues was left out of the squad for the 50-over tournament in New Zealand after failing to reach double figures in five ODI innings in 2021, making her last appearance in the format in July of that year. In T20Is during that time, her highest score was 49 not out from five games, although she enjoyed a resurgence last year, averaging 38.58 from 20 matches.
But it took a lot of hard work and plenty of support from family, friends, team-mates and Shetty to help her navigate the toughest times.
"Honestly, many times I had nothing to tell myself," Rodrigues said. "There were so many times I'd given up, I didn't have the strength to carry [on].
"I changed the way I practise. I changed the way I plan my innings. I understood my game better. I understood the value of good relationships at that time and at the same time it felt like that was that was one of the lowest phases of my life but it turned out to be the reason why I could come here today.
"It was exactly this time last year when I was home and I wasn't in a good headspace because I was dropped from the 50-over World Cup. That was the toughest time for me. If it was not for my family and my parents and my brothers and there's so many people I couldn't name them because we'll sit here until 12 o'clock at night. There were so many people who helped me throughout this time."
Rodrigues struck three fours in what turned out to be the final over to seal victory at Newlands on Sunday, in a match played before a good-natured crowd whose enthusiastic cheering belied its modest size - recorded during India's innings at 3,578.
"When I came out today, I don't have to prove to anyone anything," she said. "A lot of time it happens that you're making a comeback in the World Cup and you want to prove a lot or this or that. I've done that in the past and it won't work for me. So I was like 'I don't have to prove to anyone anything', I've done well and that's why I'm here, I've performed and that's why I'm back in the team. So I was very confident with that and when I was batting out there I just thought of how I could help India to win."
Missing injured opener Smriti Mandhana, India slipped to 65 for 2 then lost captain Harmanpreet Kaur for just 16. But Ghosh, who was part of India's Under-19 team which delivered the country's first World Cup in Women's cricket, struck a composed 31 not out off 20 balls to help Rodrigues deliver the win.
India are intent on translating the success of their teenagers into a senior title having finished runners-up to Australia in the T20 final three years ago and, more recently, at the Commonwealth Games where they lost by just nine runs. In the latter, Rodrigues shared a 96-run stand with Harmanpreet to put India within reach of the gold medal and she indicated there was a sense of unfinished business about this side.
"It's never a closed chapter," she said. "The Commonwealth was still very fresh… we had a good partnership but I lost my wicket at a very wrong time. That still haunts me. I believe it still haunts our team because for our bowling attack to restrict that team to 165 (161 for 8) on that day against a full-blooded Australian side, I think credit goes to them.
"It's all learning. If not now, but it's surely and definitely going to happen in the future and we are prepared for that. Maybe that's what's going to prepare our team for something bigger and greater that's in store for us in the future."

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo