Jemimah Rodrigues is one of the most attractive young cricketers to watch right now. Her shots are powerful and elegant, and her energy both on and off the field is infectious. It is very easy to be a fan of the teenager, who made her international debut last year but has already established herself as a key component of the Indian batting line-up. There are certain days, however, when she leaves everyone frustrated like in the second Twenty20 International against England in Guwahati.
Put into bat, Harleen Deol and Smriti Mandhana put on an opening stand of 24 in 2.3 overs before the Indian captain was caught behind. The base was set for India to post a big total in an attempt to level the series. With the middle-order fragile, which is common knowledge now, the onus was on Rodrigues to take charge. She is the second best T20 batter after Mandhana in the side, and she had to pace herself in such a way that she batted deep into the innings.
It’s a role she had played well in the second T20I against New Zealand less than a month back. Having come into bat in the third over, she put on 63 runs with Mandhana. There was a collapse after Mandhana got out in the tenth over, but Rodrigues showed maturity in holding one end. Having hit one six and three fours till Mandhana was at the crease, she curbed her natural instincts after that. She maintained a strike rate above 100 without having to hit a single boundary from the tenth to 16th over. She finally opened up in the 19th over when she took 14 runs off Amelia Kerr’s first four balls before falling against the run of play. Her 53-ball 72 gave India 135 to defend. New Zealand eventually won on the last ball of the match. Had India fielded well, Rodrigues’ innings could have been a match-winning one.
She had to play a similar role against England, but she got edgy after playing five consecutive dot balls. It cluttered her mind and she heaved at a straight ball bowled on good length on off stump from Katherine Brunt and was bowled. Had she been beaten in her defence or would have got caught trying to pierce the in-field then there was room for sympathy, but here the selection of shot was very disappointing. Of course having made 0, 0 and 2 in her last three innings, she must have been eager to break the shackles but that is no excuse at this level. There was no intent to rotate the strike. It was a clear case of the mind and body not being in sync.
“Our batters are not going out there and selecting the areas in terms of which balls to hit. I think another major difference between other teams and our team is running between the wickets,” Mandhana said at the post-match press conference. “We either play a dot ball or (hit) boundary. We don’t take a lot of singles. Definitely we will be looking to work on reducing the dot ball percentage, taking more singles and rotating the strike.”
The margins are so small in women’s cricket that there is always scope for a batter to take time instead of playing aggressive strokes from the start. England chased down 112 with just five balls to spare to win the series. It is left to imagination how different the script could have been had Rodrigues not felt suffocated and played a longer innings than a 7-ball 2.
It could be argued that Rodrigues was trying to impose herself on England by playing her natural game. But what exactly is natural game? In Rahul Dravid’s words, there is no such concept.
“I don’t know the meaning of playing your natural game all the time. You have to play according to the situation of the game. That’s what the great players have done over the years. They read the situation, they play according to the wicket and the conditions, and that’s how people I have admired and I have watched over the years played,” Dravid was quoted saying at a press conference during India’s tour of New Zealand in 2009 when he was still a player.
“There cannot be only one way of playing the game. The great and the good players are those who can adapt and play according to the situation.” The former India captain has maintained a similar line of thinking even as a coach.
Overnight rain in Guwahati automatically brought moisture into play and also gave the bowlers slight advantage at the start. Someone with as much talent as Rodrigues should have been able to read the situation and planned her innings. With India already having got a decent start, that shot was completely unnecessary. Instead she could have waited for Brunt’s over to finish considering the bowler has been in top form and waited for the spinners to come in. Her presence would have allowed other batters to also not complicate matters.
Rodrigues need not look further than Danielle Wyatt to grasp a lesson on innings construction. Having made a brisk 35 as an opener in the first T20I, she changed her approach completely in the second game where the target was 112. She finished with an unbeaten 64 off 55 balls, but more importantly ensured that England did not collapse after being 56 for 4 at one stage. She did hit the bad ball for boundaries early in her innings, but when the situation demanded she was ready to grind it out knowing that things could get difficult for a new batter.
It was a knock of complete contrast from her 64-ball 124 against India in a T20I in Mumbai last year. England were chasing 199 in that game and the situation demanded her to keep the accelerator mode on.
As Dravid said, “Great and the good players are those who can adapt and play according to the situation.” Rodrigues has to learn fast to be consistent if she has to keep making her dream of winning matches for the country true.