Playing it smart: Jemimah, Deepti show it is not always about power

Published on Aug 04, 2022 04:18 PM IST
  • The duo shared an unbeaten 70-run partnership, which rescued India from a vulnerable 92 for 4, taking them to the safety of 162 after being asked to bat first
India's Smriti Mandhana (R) and Jemimah Rodrigues (L)(REUTERS) PREMIUM
India's Smriti Mandhana (R) and Jemimah Rodrigues (L)(REUTERS)
BySnehal Pradhan

Wide eyes tracking the trajectory. Disbelieving lips, that quickly turned from :O to :D. A ball that sailed not just over the rope, but into the stands of a proper-sized stadium. It was six on any ground. But it was not just any six.

Because for Deepti Sharma, the batter who hit it, it was only the second six of her six-year T20I career, and the first she’s hit since 2018-19.

“I was a bit shocked”, she said after the game, and she looked it too. That six was part of an unbeaten 70-run partnership Deepti shared with Jemimah Rodrigues, which rescued India from a vulnerable 92 for 4, taking them to the safety of 162 after being asked to bat first. “I had actually played it for a boundary to be honest, but it went for six. I was quite shocked, I said to Jemi, because that’s the first time I’ve hit it in the stands.”

On another day, the team might have come in for heavy criticism over not sending in finishers Pooja Vastrakar and Sneh Rana. Rodrigues’ spot, even in T20Is, faces pressure from the likes of Sabbineni Meghana. Deepti has long underperformed with the bat, with a T20I SR of 86.7 in 2021. Despite having the strongest throwing arm in the Indian team, that power never seemed to translate into her batting.

But for the second time in the last two months, these two have shown that they can provide the afterburners that the T20 format needs. In the first T20I India played in Sri Lanka in June, they combined to score 32* off the last 18 balls, taking 20 runs off the last over. In that game, Deepti (17 off 8) showed off the hard work she’s been putting into her ball-watching skills, and refining her bat swing with Bengal coach Charandeep Singh. There, she accessed the off-side and straight boundaries, her weaker side. At Edgbaston, both players simply stuck to their areas of strength: Deepti scoring all her boundaries through midwicket, and Rodrigues scoring all her boundaries through timing.

“I have understood my game better,” said Rodrigues, reflecting on her night. “I am not a power hitter, I am a placer. I can get the singles, doubles well. I know how to manoeuvre the field, that is my strength. My game is not flashy but without playing a flashy game also I end up with a good strike rate. I realised that I don’t have to be someone else, I can be a Jemimah Rodrigues. The team has given me a role and the dynamics suit our team. We have a Shefali, Smriti, Harman, so I just want to play the best role I can for the team.”

Significantly, while the Commonwealth Games only accommodates a squad of 15 players and five support staff, the BCCI has made separate hotel accommodations for three additional support staff to travel to Birmingham, including throwdown specialist Kranti. Rodrigues acknowledged the value of having some feeding endless balls to the players as they practised their range hitting. “A bowler can’t keep bowling ball after ball, we need them fresh for the match. Having side arm bowlers gives us more space to figure out our routines and do what suits us, that gives us a lot of confidence.”

Rodrigues batted at the more familiar No. 3 spot today, after having been given a new role at No. 5 since the T20I series against Sri Lanka. At one point, she was batting on 21 off 28 as wickets fell around her and she rebuilt. She eventually finished on 56 off 46. “Ramesh sir told me after the last game that ‘be ready for No. 3’. And honestly, when I was preparing in the nets, I was preparing for both, No.3 and No.5. I love No.3, this is my position, and I was glad I got to play there and could contribute to the team’s plan.”

The pair’s efforts papered over some glaring questions for India. Can this momentum be reproduced against sterner, smarter opposition? Why was Taniya Bhatia, who hasn’t played a T20I since March 2020, given a game in a knockout match, leaving India a batter short? Where and how does India actually want Rodrigues to bat? And was leaving Richa Ghosh at home a mistake? Those are questions for another day. For now, India are in the semis, a win away from a medal. And Rodrigues shared that they plan to celebrate with athletes who already have a few of those. “We are planning to meet the other athletes in the village and have a nice dinner with the hockey team and badminton team. We all are super excited.”

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