Jemimah Rodrigues makes the right noises on her debut in The Hundred

Jemimah Rodrigues © Getty Images

In Tamil music composer Santhosh Narayanan’s latest Neeye Oli (You’re the light) there comes an English rap lyric inspired from the American boxer and activist Muhammad Ali – ‘learned to float like a butterfly, sting like a killer bee’.

Ali often used the expression to describe his style of boxing in the ring throughout his illustrious career. On a bright Saturday (July 24) afternoon, Jemimah Rodrigues emulated Muhammad Ali to deliver a knockout for the Northern Superchargers against Welsh Fire on her debut in The Hundred.

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Chasing a par-total at Leeds, Rodrigues saw her opening partner and the Northern Superchargers skipper Lauren Winfield-Hill get out on the very first ball of the innings. To make things worse, the Indian batter was involved in a mix-up, leading to the run out of South African star Laura Wolvaardt. Piepa Cleary then cleaned up Hollie Armitage, and soon, Bess Heath fell after smashing three consecutive boundaries. Amidst all the chaos, Rodrigues was batting on five runs off three balls at the other end. The Superchargers were tottering at 19 for four.

Determined to revive the innings, Rodrigues took the attack to Fire allrounder Hayley Matthews, sweeping her to the square-leg boundary before following it up with a square cut behind point. Meanwhile, Cleary delivered a maiden set to Alice Davidson-Richards. At the end of the power play, Superchargers were struggling at 24 for four, needing 107 runs from 75 balls. 

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When Bryony Smith came back to bowl, Rodrigues jumped out of the crease and launched her over mid-off for her first six. Then, anticipating a shorter length, she rocked back and pulled the next delivery to square-leg, where she got a boundary thanks to a misfield from Matthews. Rodrigues, then, drilled Georgia Hennessy through cover, lofted Matthews over mid-off and followed it up with a deft touch to send the off-spinner to the third-man boundary. 

Her best shot came against leg-spinner Nicole Harvey. She leant on her front foot, smothered the spin, and with surgical precision, placed the ball between short-cover and cover-point fielders. Both of them chased the ball to the boundary, but Rodrigues’ impeccable timing had the final say. What followed was an exquisite extra-cover drive to reach her half-century in 26 balls. 

From there on, there was nothing but carnage – a loft over mid-off, a cut between point and gully, another late-cut to third-man (this time off a seamer with Sarah Taylor standing up to the stumps), a sweep in front of midwicket, a flick and a nutmeg on either side of the square-leg fielder, and a couple of more boundaries through long-off. 

She raced her way to 92 runs from just 43 balls, helping the Superchargers chase the 131-run target with 15 balls to spare. Rodrigues made 70.22 per cent of the team total, and 82 per cent of the 112-run stand she put on with Davidson-Richards. 

Timing, precision and placement were the characteristics of her innings. It was a knockout, but not from just one punch. She stung like a bee, one shot at a time, delivering 18 of those – 17 fours and a six. For a large part of the first three-quarters of the innings, Fire would have been hoping to make a comeback, despite Rodrigues’ masterclass. But Rodrigues knew what she was doing, and she finished her debut innings as the leading run-scorer of the tournament so far.

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The original Tamil version of ‘Neeye Oli’ comes as a motivational song in director Pa Ranjith’s latest movie, Sarpatta Parambarai, which talks about the redemption and empowerment of a Dalit man’s journey through boxing; the obstacles he had to overcome to succeed.

The struggles are completely different and cannot be compared in terms of magnitude. Yet, in many ways, the innings against Fire was redemption for Rodrigues. She lost her place in the ODI XI after a string of low scores against South Africa in March, did not play the only Test against England. When she got to play the last two ODIs against England, her scores read 8 and 4. Having performed well against South Africa, Harleen Deol took her place in the T20I series. 

Going into the tournament, Rodrigues would have been under immense pressure to do well and prove her mettle. After all, she had finished her only season of the now-defunct Women’s Cricket Super League as the second-leading run-scorer in 2019. However, two years is a very long period. And her mental state now would have been very different from what it was back then, which was evident from her post-match chat.

“It was a good innings, a very much need one for me, personally,” said Rodrigues after the match. “It wasn’t an easy time for me, (having) not (had enough) opportunities. When I got (one), I did not make the most of it when I was playing for India.”

“Out there, I just tried to keep it simple. I think whoever is the calmest wins. I knew I had to take responsibility for Laura, getting her run out. It was just a matter of keeping calm and sticking to the basics and keeping the game-plan simple.”

It did work out well for her on this occasion for Rodrigues, who would want to use competition to make her way back into the reckoning for Team India. Whether she will, is a topic of discussion for a different day. 

For the moment, it feels like it was her redemption. It was indeed good to see her back.