Mumbai: You just can’t help but see the similarities and get excited. Bandra, youngest off-spring of an academician, child prodigy and a Mumbai cricketer, with a lot of promise and a part of discussions in cricketing circles even before playing for India, and up against one of the top Indian bowlers of all time. What Kapil Dev was to a young Sachin Tendulkar in the Mumbai nets is perhaps what Jhulan Goswami was to Jemimah Rodrigues during a practice match at Wankhede. One great testing how well-equipped the possible future great is.
While Tendulkar fulfilled the early promise to become one of the greatest batsmen to have ever graced the game, Jemimah, if she keeps her head, has it to play a longer innings in international cricket. The 17-year-old and Coldplay-loving cricketer, who is also an able hockey player, once represented Mumbai Under-17’s hockey team.
After her return from India's tour of South Africa, the young and rising star spoke on various topics, from her meeting with Sachin Tendulkar, her ambition to represent India in two sports, her learnings from the South Africa tour and playing alongside Mithali Raj and Harmanpreet Kaur, the pressure of expectations and more.
Here are the excerpts:
Q) Child prodigy from Bandra, starting to get recognition at an early age and then entry into the Indian team; have the comparisons with Sachin Tendulkar started?
I don’t know about comparisons or something. But to play for India was my dream and that’s why I started playing cricket, that one day I will play for India. Looking back or even now, I can’t exactly believe that I am playing for India. But yes, everything happened.
Q) You also played competitive hockey. So, how easy or difficult was it to pick cricket over hockey? You have a chance to be India’s Ellyse Perry - the Australian who plays two sports, cricket and football, at the top level
I actually want to play both, cricket and hockey, for the country. But since the cricket schedule so hectic now that hardly for 2-3 days I am at home and then I am going for another tournament. So, there’s hardly any time for hockey. It (the decision to pick cricket over hockey) happened two years ago. My dad (who is also her cricket coach) told me to make a decision about whatever I want to play and go for it. It was very difficult, but then, since I reached a higher level in cricket than in hockey, I chose cricket.
Q) What were your learnings from the South Africa tour and how will you use them for the upcoming Australia series?
The South African tour has given me a lot of confidence. Especially going out there and scoring runs in my debut series gives a lot of confidence. The target for me for the Australia series is to do well and contribute as much as possible for my team.
Q) You were the youngest Indian woman to score a First Class double hundred, made the Under-19 debut at 12 and a half, at 12, you were in Mumbai’s senior team. Similarly, with your hockey when you were picked for Maharashtra side when and now India cricket team debut even before you are 18. How does it feel to be the youngest in every team that you have played for?
Well, I have never really thought about that. I think it’s a good experience to be with the seniors and compete with them. This may go out of the question, but I am still sharing it. I remember, I was once playing in the senior-zonals, India’s best players play the tournament. I went back to my hotel room and called up my dad and said when they are hitting the ball, the experienced players and the players who were so much bigger than me, the ball is travelling so much. But when I am hitting the ball, it is not.
So, I told my dad that I want to join a gym because I can’t give that excuse that I am too small because if I want to play cricket at the highest level then I can’t give that excuse and say that I don’t have the strength. So, I said I want to work harder and join the gym, so my fitness levels are up to their standard or may be higher.
Q) The scoring rate in women’s limited-overs cricket is not always too high. But some of your innings, be it that 163-ball 202* or 148-ball 178 versus Gujarat during Inter-State women's Under-19 one-day tournament last year, you score at a brisk pace. So, how's gymming helping you with the big shots?
At times, what happens is, as a batsman, because of tiredness you lose your wicket. That happened last year (with me). I had the technique, but did not have that strength and that much fitness. I used to score fifties or even hundreds at times, but I could not carry forth that. But after working on my fitness this year, I think, you can see the results. I was able to play a long innings, I was not getting tired that easily and was able to play full 50 overs. Training under my personal gym trainer Venancio D’Souza has definitely helped.
Q) How has playing other sports – be it hockey, football and basketball – helped you in some aspects of cricket?
In hockey, under Helen Mary, during our camp in Pune, which also had India players, the warm-ups only used to be 20 rounds of the ground at a good pace. Then, they used to have 150 sprints. And all of this has been just a warm-up. We have a lot of running to do in hockey. So, I think it has helped me a lot in cricket; it helped me to build stamina. Hockey has even helped me with my footwork as well.
Q) Your dad is your coach and you trained with your brothers as well. So, how much of a help it is to constantly have someone with whom you can discuss the game and improve? Also, how big a role your mother has played?
Today, whatever I am is because of the God. Without my mom and dad’s support, I would not have reached where I am today because, at times, it was not easy. My dad has worked a lot of my batting. Right from childhood, he comes to almost all of my matches. My friends, at times, used to make fun of me, at times. I used to tell him Dada, why do you come for my match and say don’t come to all of my matches. He used to say that I come to see in which areas I have to work on your game so you can improve your batting and after that I have never told him not to come for my match. So, his mind is constantly working; like how Jemimah can improve. He is always someone who guides me. Without his love and support, I would not reach where I’m today.
Q) You recently played alongside Mithali Raj, one of the best to have ever played the game, and who once was a child prodigy. How was that experience? What did you learn from her in South Africa?
When I went to bat, half of my pressure was off because India’s best batsman was batting in front of me. That itself gives you a lot of boost. She is very positive while batting. It’s fun to bat with her and we had a good time while batting. We just discussed what we need to do? Do we need to go after this bowler? Sometimes, she will guide me, saying against this bowler we will just take singles and rotate the striker and attack from the other end. Those were the conversations that we had during batting. It’s really fun to bat with her. She is my role model and of course, it was a good learning experience for me.
Q) Even India’s T20 skipper Harmanpreet Kaur also backed you a lot. How does it feel when a senior played like Harman is throwing her weight behind you, saying, Jemimah will do the job for the team?
As a captain in T20, Harmanpreet Kaur backed me a lot. It makes a difference. As a youngster, I know my captain is behind me with whatever is going to happen, she is always there for me. You have the freedom to go out there and perform and bat the way you bat normally. In the last match, she sacrificed her place and sent me one-down. While batting, I used to bat after her. The moment I was promoted, I wanted to do well because she has sacrificed her slot and trusted me. Even our coaches, Tushar Arothe and Biju George (trusted me). They have so much trust in me and send me out. I did not even play ODIs, but they showed so much trust in me. It helps you to do well.
Q) Before you went to South Africa, you met Sachin Tendulkar. Did he tell you anything in particular about how to play there?
He gave me tips. He called me to his house. Sachin sir asked whether I was nervous. I said, yes. This is my first international tour and we will be going to South Africa. So, he said, if you are nervous it means you care about your performance and that’s good. That gave me so much confidence and he motivated me so much. Normally, people say you should not be nervous and all that. But I feel every person goes through that nervousness. But the way he said it, it motivated me.
He asked me whether I have prepared for this tour. I said, yes. Everyone is saying that the wickets are going to be pacer-friendly, there’s going to be a lot of swing and the ball is going to come faster on the bat. So, he told me, it is all about the perspective. You can either go out there with a negative mindset or go with a positive mindset. He said that he enjoyed batting in South Africa because if the ball is going to skid, it is going to come nicely on my bat and how much I have seen your game, you are more of a timer and so I think, you are going to enjoy batting there is South Africa. He boosted me. Because till now, whoever I had met, they said, haan, South Africa main aise wickets rahenge (It is South Africa and the wickets are going to be bouncy and all). They put a lot of negativity in me. But he is so positive.
Q) Does the pressure of expectations at such an early age, at times daunting? Does it get to you any time?
I think there’s pressure. Because since I am doing well, people are looking up to me and many more people are following me. But at this moment, I just want to focus on doing well and not focus on the media and all this attention because my part is to play good cricket. Media and all, they will follow. This is what I am trying to do. This is a little difficult to handle all this, but I am learning how to handle this and how to get better. The main thing is I am here to play cricket and enjoy my game and that’s most important.