“My dreams have come true. I have been working for years to reach this stage,” a 17-year old Jemimah Rodrigues had told CricketCountry upon her selection in the India Women ODI and T20I squad for South Africa tour. Amidst the Mithali Rajs and Harmanpreet Kaurs, Jemimah managed to hog the limelight for showing maturity beyond her age.

Though she did not get to play the ODIs, she made complete use of opportunities she received in the T20Is as India completed a 3-1 scoreline. Mithali and Smriti Mandhana took the top two spots amongst highest run-getters, young Jemimah was placed third after the conclusion of the series. She compiled 87 runs at 29 and at a strike rate of 122.53.

From domestic to international debut…

Jemimah took every right step to ensure her ticket to South Africa. At the age of 17, Jemimah played at national level not only in cricket but hockey as well. Holding a cricket bat since the age of four, Jemimah has racked up enough numbers to earn her spot in every tournament and series.

Good form never left by her side. At mere age of 17, she was appointed captain of the Mumbai-U19 team when the 2017-18 season began. She was off the mark in the one-day competition by smacking 178 against Gujarat in the opening tie. She followed it with a double-century against Saurashtra, becoming the second Indian women to achieve this feat in an U-19 tournament after Mandhana.

She has been unstoppable since. She grabbed her spot in the India A squad against Bangladesh and her consistent form landed her in the Challengers Trophy as well.

However, the next step was the India squad. And to her surprise, her dreams did turn into reality.

However, it became too much to digest for the 17-year old Jemimah: “This was the reason I started playing cricket. That one day I will play for India. When I was standing with the team, wearing the India jersey, singing the national anthem, I could not believe that I was living my dream,” she told CricketCountry.

As cool as cucumber…

In the first T20I, India openers Mithali and Mandhana were off to blazing start. While Mandhana exploded with barrage of boundaries, Mithali kept calm and played second fiddle. However, South Africa got the breakthrough and Moseline Daniels dismissed Mandhana for a 15-ball 28.

Harmanpreet, too, made her way back to the hut the very next ball. And everyone who were watching the match thought the onus would fall on Mithali. But in came Jemimah and left Mithali as a mere spectator. Jemimah was off the mark in her second delivery with a boundary to long-on off Ayabonga Khaka.

From thereon, she took the centre stage with four fours and a six. Her quickfire 27-ball 37 knock saw India home in 18.5 overs.

The second such instance was the deciding T20I on Saturday. Mandhana was gone early on for 13. It was over to Mithali and Jemimah’s 98-run stand that revived the Indian innings. Jemimah’s 34-ball 44 coupled with Harmanpreet’s 17-ball 27 powered India to a challenging total of 166.

Any debutant would sense pressure when two experienced players are dismissed early on in the innings. But in case of Jemimah, she was just being herself, “Initially when I got by debut cap, I was nervous. When my time came to bat, I knew my team needed me to rise up to the occasion. So my thought process was that I just had to play my natural game and see how my team could win.”

Also, Jemimah had the Mithali power at the other end to boost her confidence. Jemimah in the first T20I added 69 runs for fourth wicket with Mithali and in the final T20I they put up a 98-run stand. “I was batting with India’s most experienced batswoman. When we had lost back to back wickets, our strategy was to build a partnership and keep the scoreboard ticking without losing any more wickets,” revealed Jemimah.

That stunning catch…

We have seen in several T20 men’s matches how two players dodge the ball between the boundary ropes to complete breathtaking catches. The advent of T20s has furthermore improved fielding standards.

What Jemimah did at the deep midwicket left Sachin Tendulkar stunned! What seemed like would head for a six, saw a lanky Jemimah fly to grab an otherworldly catch. Marizanne Kapp’s presence could have seen South Africa level the series against India. However, Jemimah changed the script by an out of the blue catch.

This was how Tendulkar reacted to it.

And how did Jemimah react: “I was feeling like crying. That time I felt like, ‘okay, I have done well.’

On the other side of the story that catch was not as easy it seemed for us: “We have been working on fielding since day one. During practice sessions, I remember having swollen hands, but we could not give that excuse. We had to continue. Biju Sir (fielding coach) and Tushar Sir had made it a point everyday without fail to give us fielding practice. And we have been practicing boundary line catches too. So the hard work has paid off. Special thanks to them,” Jemimah added.

Meeting the master himself…

Before heading for the South Africa tour, Jemimah was privileged to meet Tendulkar at his residence in Bandra for one hour. Jemimah had even mentioned how his pep talk boosted her confidence.

Jemimah, however, revealed what the master’s exact advice was that led to her success in the South Africa tour: “He asked me, ‘are you nervous?’ I was actually. He said, ‘that is because you care about your performance, which is good.’ He told me that there will be pace and bounce, which means the ball, is going to come nicely on the bat. He always enjoyed playing on such wickets. He told me enjoy the game and be well versed with the conditions.”

Road ahead

Jemimah had no respite upon her return. She headed to Rajkot for an U-23 tournament where she scored a 78-ball 73 against Maharashtra on Tuesday. While she was playing for Mumbai, BCCI included her in the ODI squad for Australia tour as well.

All that Jemimah hopes now is to continue the momentum in ODIs as well, if she makes it to the XI.