Jemimah Rodrigues’ life is far from normal.

She seems like your typical, suburban, middle-class 17-year old: takes academics just as seriously as the extracurricular, looks forward to going to church, watches movies, is often found with  her headphones on, and plays the guitar.

It’s sounds like the normal, toe-the-line kind of life most teenagers have and most parents would want their teenagers to have.

But for Rodrigues, extracurricular means leading the Mumbai senior women’s cricket team. Church is a time of thanksgiving to God for His help on the cricket field. Her favorite movies (Chak De) and anime (Hajime no Ippo) are less entertainment and more a reflection of her sporting ambitions. The headphones are silent ; meant to block out the world so she can focus and pray while on tour, without attracting strange glances from her teammates. And her guitar – always in her kit bag – is to combat boredom when on the road.

Quite out of the ordinary.

Fitting then, that Rodrigues pulled off the extraordinary – on 5th November 2017, she hammered an unbeaten 202* in a 50 overs Under-19 match. Just the second Indian woman to belt out a double century in women’s Under-19 one-day cricket.

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I shared a dressing room with Rodrigues in the 2014-15 season. It was my last, and her first season on the West Zone senior team. She was just 14. My teammates laughed when we stood next to each other; my 5’11’’ frame towering over her, then barely, 5’3’’ stature.

She struck me as a quiet and sincere cricketer, who held her own on the field – be it while fielding or with the bat. But there was little power in her strokes, that is unless the timing of the shot was perfect. So, admittedly, I was surprised when I heard of the double hundred, and the near perfect season that followed; almost like finding out my Tata Nano magically developed a fifth gear.

Jemimah Rodrigues has shown she is much more than a ‘one-score-wonder’. She has proved that she isn’t the kind of cricketer that makes a splash with gaudy scores when young, but then, just as abruptly, fades away into obscurity. And the provenance of her annus mirabilis is rooted in cricket, but also in the most human –and especially Indian— intention: To provide for one’s progeny that which one lacked oneself.

Genesis:

Rodrigues and her two older brothers – Enoch (20) and Eli (19) – were born to Ivan and Lavita Rodrigues. The couple excelled in sports in their school and college days. Lavita was the sports head of her school, and played everything from gilli danda and kabaddi to cricket, before pursuing nursing. Ivan was an avid cricketer, turned aircraft engineer, turned entrepreneur.

Ivan’s father, (Rodrigues’ grandfather) who worked as a clerk in one of Mumbai’s mills, studied till class X, while his mother, a housewife, didn’t make it past class III. Naturally then, their hope for Ivan’s future lay in what they could never pursue – education. As was common back then, they wanted their son to become either an engineer or a doctor. For his parents, that meant a secure, well paying job; a better life than they had for themselves. For Ivan, though, that meant his passion for cricket lost  the battle of priorities.

“They could do anything for that”, Ivan tells me, referring to his pursuit of an engineering or medical degree. “[But] They would not encourage me in sports. But I was crazy about cricket.”

Once he started his graduation at the Bombay Flying Club, though, Ivan could stoke the neglected embers. Now that he had proved to his parents he was on the right path, or rather the path they sought for him, he could once again pursue cricket with a passion. But with neither moral nor financial support coming from home, Ivan had to fend for himself. He began giving maths and science tuitions to make pocket money; money from which he paid for his cricket gear, travel and match arrangements.

“A friend provided me his shoes, his bat and pads. I bought wicket keeping gloves. That’s how cricket started in first year of engineering,” he recalls.

For three seasons he crafted himself – with almost no formal coaching – into a fine wicketkeeper batsman. His late start meant he never quite made it to the Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) teams, but honed his skills enough to put up a fair fight at the local leagues. The Kanga League – then a still a young league in Mumbai – was where Ivan earned his stripes.

In his fourth year, however, it quickly became apparent he could not succeed in either – academics or cricket – if he split his time pursuing both. That season he hung up his boots and pads, gave up his cricketing aspirations, immersed himself in his books and graduated as an aircraft engineer.

Ivan, the good son, fulfilled his parent’s dream. He graduated around the time India’s domestic airline sector was on the uptick – there was a demand for aircraft engineers. He landed a job
fairly quickly with Jet Airways.

But he was not entirely content.

The job kept him afloat, but, just like with his cricket, Ivan believed in self-reliance. He felt he had fulfilled his obligation to his parents – to become an engineer. He now wanted to do something for himself.

Even after his job at Jet Airways, Ivan’s demeanour and ability as a teacher made him a popular figure among students who needed help with their math and science. Having first dabbled in it for the sake of cricket, Ivan wondered if he could make a career from giving tuitions.

Deciding he had enough to live a comfortable life, and leaving the rest to God – Ivan is a devout Christian – he quit his job after just eight months with Jet Airways, and set up his own coaching academy, teaching maths and science to students of classes VIII to XII. After Lavita became his wife, she too set aside her plans of becoming a nurse, and joined the business, adding biology to the bouquet of subjects.

Exodus:

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes” said Mark Twain.

True to human nature, Ivan played the rhyming tune; this time, however, on a different note. Like his parents did for him, he gave his three children that which he never pursued: sport.

Jemimah Rodrigues, born in 2000, followed her two older brothers on to the cricket field. The trio would wake up at five a.m. and travel 25 km from Bhandup to an academy in Bandra. Nudged and supported by the pastor of their church, Bro. Manuel Mergulhao – who saw the toll the daily 50-km commute took on the family – the Rodrigues family eventually shifted to Bandra, taking the children closer to the academies there. Uprooting their 13-year old business and leaving a two-storey house behind, the family of five moved into a 180 square-foot apartment – about the size of a one-car garage – all for the sake of cricket.

But fate and the family’s integrity drove them away from that very academy. “We were going to one academy there,” Rodrigues recalls. “They [the academy] approached my parents, about my brother. It was about something illegal, dad wasn’t happy with that”, she says, speaking of a time when the spectre of age-fudging was more corporeal in Mumbai. It left a bad taste in the mouth for the Rodrigues’ family. “We decided to leave, looking for another academy to join. That’s when Mom said, ‘Ivan you know so much cricket, why don’t you teach them?’”

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Sports suited Rodrigues, despite her short stature. She played hockey for the state junior sides, and, at the age of eight, she attended her first Mumbai Cricket Association (MCA) selection. Holding onto her father’s hand as he carried her kit bag, the sight of such a small child at the trials drew more than a few giggles. That turned quickly into admiration, as Rodrigues – medium pace bowler – with just her second ball at the trials, castled a much older player. That was her first step into the MCA system.

As her brothers moved on beyond cricket, Rodrigues got Ivan’s full attention. Her five a.m. sessions continued, and she attended school in the afternoons.  In the evenings, she and Ivan spent “at least 15 minutes”, -sometimes under streetlights – honing her batting. They would often practice in the small public garden that sits outside Mount Mary Church, and when the ball wouldn’t bounce high enough off the dirt there, they shifted to the footpath.

Rodrigues even trained with the boys at the academies whenever possible. Expectedly, it wasn’t easy; often she was the only girl at practice. “The boys I practiced with never spoke to me badly, it’s just that they never spoke to me much at all!,” she says. “They used to not mix around with me. I used to be in one corner. If any of the boys came and spoke to me, the rest used to start teasing him.”

That made training at the academies not just tough, but boring for young Rodrigues. It was then that she started learning about altering her mindset: she wasn’t there to make friends. “That never made me think I didn’t want to go. My main focus was cricket.”

Home, too, was no place for respite from practice. Their small home had just enough space for them to practice cover drives. To compensate for Rodrigues’ small frame, special attention was given to the speed at which her bat came down. “I was really small, and didn’t have strength in my arms. So we started improving my cover drive, which would not even cross the 30 yard circle.”

Barely a teenager, she didn’t always enjoy this rigorous quotidian training. “But after playing the (first) tournament for Mumbai Under-19, it started coming from the inside that I have to practice more”, she said. “My dad didn’t have to force me.”

It was also around this time that her father instilled in her the habit of maintaining a diary, in which match analysis and goals are recorded; right next to the lines of scripture she pens down in times of prayer and deep thought; a habit she harbours till date.

Rodrigues was lucky to be in Mumbai, one of the few associations to start an Under-16 program, despite there being no official Under-16 program under the BCCI at the time. Elsewhere, she would have struggled to get to bat in the Under-19 nets; in Mumbai the younger lot had the luxury of a net entirely to themselves.  The MCA coaches would arrange for the girls to play matches against boys’ teams, since the Under-16 girls didn’t have a tournament to play in.

She also benefited from Mumbai’s robust girls-school cricket program. Sensing a chance to have his daughter play more and get her name out there, Ivan convinced the principal of her school to start a team, where he coached pro bono; this also ensured Rodrigues could train even during school hours.

The persistence paid off: Rodrigues earned her first call-up to the Mumbai senior side at the tender age of 14.

Numbers:

Rodrigues had a lean 2015-16 season as both an Under-19 player and on the senior cricket team. “I had just done the India [Under-19] camp, many people had expectations from me, but I wasn’t scoring that big”, she says. She would get messages from officials after games asking her why she wasn’t scoring runs, and this compounded the pressure she felt. Through such times, her practice and prayer as a devout Christian not only helped her stay positive, but she also received some timely advice on her technique from one of India’s greats.

Anju Jain was a coach at the Zonal Cricket Academy camp Rodrigues attended in the summer of 2016. The former India captain and wicketkeeper suggested a few minor changes to Rodrigues’ grip. “I felt her backlift was a bit too high, and worked a bit on her bottom hand,” recalls Jain.

Jain also backed Rodrigues’ elevation to captaincy in practice games at the end of the camp; this despite there being far more experienced players to choose from. While some other coaches were concerned that captaincy might affect her batting, Jain believed Rodrigues had the acumen for the job. “I found Jemimah suitable, the way she carries the team, the rapport she has with them,” recalls Jain. “She is very quick to read a batter and even fielding changes, and reads and assesses her own game too.”

Both interventions helped Rodrigues break out of her rut. She scored 96 in a game where her team was chasing a 200 plus score. “It was that one match, and those small changes in technique that gave me confidence,” says Rodrigues. “After those matches, my performance was good.”

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Good is an understatement.

In the 2016-17 season, Rodrigues averaged an incredible 376 in the Super League stage of the Under-19 competition; unbeaten in five of the six matches she played. This was also the first season she was leading the Mumbai Under-19 side. The one game she was dismissed – a duck against Uttar Pradesh – was the only game her team lost. Rodrigues got another shot at Uttar Pradesh in the final. This time she made no mistake, scoring a sublime 87* – her seventh half-century of the season – to help them chase down a target of 187, and take home the title.

She aggregated 665 runs in the competition, and – now a competent off-spinner – topped the wicket charts in the Super League phase, claiming 16 wickets. The rise also gave her the reputation every competitive cricketer craves: hers was the wicket opponents needed to get if they wanted to stay in the game.

Since her school days, Rodrigues has been the player on whom the team relied; the one player whose performance determined the outcome of the game. “I don’t take it as a pressure as such, I take it as a responsibility,” Rodrigues says. “I know I have to stay there; if I do well our team is going to do well, and I’ve started enjoying doing that. So I know the more I enjoy it, the less pressure there is, the better I do.”

This prepared her well for pressure she faced playing the bigger leagues. It also honed her leadership skills, helping her – barely 16 – to lead the Mumbai Under-19 team to the title in her first year as captain.

But more than her batting and captaincy, it was her discipline off the field that impressed those watching. When Jain met Rodrigues again in March of this year, she was coaching the opponent team. “After the match, there were bhajis and pakodas as snacks,” Jain remembers. “Jemimah took one look at them, went to the waiter and asked for bread butter and chai. She didn’t eat any pakodas. She was still following the diets given during the off-season camps.”

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Rodrigues’ 2017-18 so far is the kind of season that blinds you, makes you lose sight of what came before it. So exceptional a season that a new onlooker could be forgiven for being oblivious to all that Rodrigues had achieved before.

Her 178 in the first game of the season made her two centuries in the previous season seem like child’s play. Then, clearly not done with her onslaught, two games later, she created history; the hard fought 178 was banished to a recess in memory – Rodrigues now had a double hundred to her name.

“In the previous match I was going for the 200. In that process I lost my wicket. The next match my target wasn’t 200, but to bat 50 overs.”

In the Super League stage, Rodrigues added another digit to her usual string of binary scores; she now preferred to deal in three figures. Her tally of scores – 107, 75, 100, 128, 153, and 26 – were complemented by her bowling. The most notable performance was a match-winning 4-28 – Mumbai were defending just 110 – coming in a win against arch rivals Maharashtra in front of a vociferous hostile home crowd.

The 26-runs innings – her only real “failure” in the tournament – came in the final against Andhra Pradesh, who clinched the championship at home in Guntur; denying Rodrigues the achievement of winning back to back titles as captain and capping a near perfect season.

Rodrigues still finished with an unprecedented 1,013 runs in the competition, becoming the first to cross the 1,000 run mark at the Under-19 nationals. To put that number into perspective, the second highest scorer – at just 472 – had little more than a third  of Rodrigues’ tally.

Revelation:

In 2013, Smriti Mandhana became the first female to score a double hundred in a 50-over domestic game and the youngest Indian to score a century in a World Cup. She is also one of the first two Indian players to secure a Women’s Big Bash League contract.

Mandhana is also Rodrigues’ first senior level wicket.

Aged 14, and bowling with the new ball, she had Mandhana caught and bowled in her first over.

“At that time I didn’t know also who is Smriti Mandhana.”

This time around, along with Mandhana, a lot more people know who Jemimah Rodrigues is. The India vs England final in the 2017 Women’s World Cup generated 19.53 million TV impressions, the most for a women’s sporting event in India. With no international matches since then, the news of Rodrigues’ double ton was lapped up by a newborn fanbase; magnified in a way that Mandhana’s double hundred never was.   

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Long before the Indian team inspired the country others with their spirited 2017 World Cup campaign, they had inspired Rodrigues – a diligent learner and admirer.

“Last year when I was in the senior [inter] zonals, I realised that there is a lot of difference between myself and the India players,” Rodrigues recalls. “I said if I want to play for India, I can’t give the excuse that I’m young,” Rodrigues remembers telling herself. “My fitness level should be as high as them. So then I called up my dad that day only saying I want to join a gym.”

At sixteen, she had grown barely a couple of inches in the previous two years; the difference in physique between her and the other players representing the country was immense. The strength she added before this season has helped her bat for longer periods without fatigue affecting her scoring rate, and the numbers reflect that. In 2017-18, she batted 31 overs more than she did in 2016-17, and scored at more than a run a ball, improving on her previous season’s strike rate of 80.

Rodrigues is also aware that, skill aside, the double hundred was a direct result of her improved fitness level. “It has helped me a lot in this season to bat the full 50 overs,” says Rodrigues. “Otherwise because of tiredness, you tend to lose your wicket.”

A stronger body has also made her a better fielder. While it doesn’t show up on the scorecards, her abilities have been noticed. “She was among the top two fielders in the camp,” says Biju George, the fielding coach to the Indian team, who worked with Rodrigues at an India ‘A’ camp this October. “She has a great attitude, good hands, good reflexes, a good throw. And she is one fielder who is not afraid to dive to the ball.”

The emergence of her bowling, and a higher standard of fielding thanks to improved fitness, has made Rodrigues a more well-rounded cricketer.

There have been calls to have her on the plane when India tour South Africa in February. Fittingly she added some weight to those arguments in her favor by – in her maiden India ‘A’ series – racking up an unbeaten 56* against Bangladesh ‘A’ in the third One-dayer, and a 63 runs off just 42 balls in the second T20.

To top it all, she was elevated to the captaincy of the Mumbai senior team earlier this month.

“One of my teammates messaged me saying, “Congratulations, captain. I was like, What? Seriously?!

Walking out for her first toss opposite Mithali Raj, she was well aware that leading the senior team will not be as straightforward as leading the Under-19s. “I will be handling some people who are twice my age. So one should know how to handle players,” a calm Rodrigues says. Her strategy is ready: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it that makes a difference.”

An entire senior domestic season lies between now and February; and bowling attacks at the international level are not as benign as the Under-19 ones. To break into an Indian side that has just finished second in the world, Rodrigues will have to find a way to turn her form a deeper purple over the New Year.

“She is ready for the next level”, says Jain, when asked if Rodrigues could make the step up. George was more cautious, but no less optimistic “I can’t say about when, but she will play for a long time for India”. With potential like this, it’s easy to forget how young Rodrigues is; her age only comes across in her interaction with her family. Like when she has to get her mother to cajole her father into taking them for a movie that doesn’t involve sports.

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Articles have a beginning, a middle and an end. But how can you end an article on a talent who, for starters, has redefined what constitutes a good season, and what age a captain should be. There can only be an eagerness to see where the ark of her career rests once the waters of time have receded, and her share in the game is done. Then, we will talk about an end.

This, right now, is a beginning.