Comeback stories in sports lift spirits, and Jemimah Rodrigues' return to form in the Women's Asia Cup 2022 underlines the importance of hard work and perseverance at the highest level.
Making a comeback after a six-week injury layoff, Jemimah entered the ICC top 10 list of T20I batters post the two fifties against Sri Lanka and the UAE in Sylhet. At No. 8, she is the third Indian after Smriti Mandhana (No. 3) and Shafali Verma (No. 7) to break into the elite list.
It is hard to believe that the athletic youngster wasn't part of the ODI World Cup earlier this year. She had missed the bus after returning with scores of 1, 9, 0, 8, and 4 (off 21 balls) in five games in 2021. She was out-of-favour in the T20Is as well, despite possessing the skills to stage a turnaround.
The right-handed batter slowly started finding her feet after smashing 249 runs representing the Northern Superchargers in the women's competition of The Hundred last season. She was second in the most runs list. However, it took her a while to replicate the numbers in the India jersey.
The Comeback Trail
When her team-mates prepared for the ODI World Cup in March 2022, Jemimah played hockey in Mumbai to freshen her mind and prepare for a comeback. She even scored a hat-trick that helped Uncle's Kitchen United beat Sea View 4-2 in the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana rink hockey tournament.
Quick between the wickets, the agile Jemimah scored two crucial 30s that stood out during India's 2-1 T20I series win in Sri Lanka in June this year. It was a wave of fresh air after the full phase.
She changed gears from the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. India could not win gold as they lost the final to Australia, but Jemimah ensured silver by smacking 146 runs in five games. Her unbeaten 56 against Barbados secured India's semi-final spot, while the 44 not out off 31 balls took her team to the final.
The 22-year-old did not let the CWG loss affect her morale. She reassured her colleagues that it was a proud moment for an Indian cricket team to win a medal at the multi-sport event for the first time. "After losing, we had a team huddle," she said.
"We looked into each other's faces and said, 'we're proud of this team and the way we have fought, and you'd better keep your chin up because you have made India proud.'"
Jemimah sustained a wrist injury after being hit by a Shakera Selman (Barbados) delivery during the CWG. The batter continued her domination against England and Australia, which worsened the injury.
She returned to the National Cricket Academy in Bengaluru for rehabilitation after only two games at The Hundred this time around since the scans revealed a wrist fracture.
Jemimah didn't touch the bat for six weeks, which increased her hunger for runs. The forced-break delayed her ODI comeback too as she could not be part of the white-ball games in the tour of England.
Before the Asia Cup, her best score in T20Is was 72 against New Zealand in Auckland in November 2019. The acceleration rate improved in the recent past. And the will to bat throughout the innings fetched results despite risky shots.
Being a street-smart player, she trained on slow and low wickets in Navi Mumbai to simulate the Bangladesh conditions in India. And when she came into bat against the islanders in the Asia Cup, India had lost Smriti at 13/1; the pressure mounted once Shafali was dismissed, and the scoreboard read 23/2.
Jemimah salvaged the situation by stitching a 92-run stand with skipper Harmanpreet Kaur (33 off 30) to bring India out of the hole. She gained confidence with her cover drives off Sugandika Kumari but scored 18 runs from the sweep shots in her 53-ball 76 (4x11, 6x1). "The wicket was a bit tricky. It was on the lower side, and initially it was not turning, but after that it started turning. I would like to thank Mumbai, because the heat is the same," she told the broadcasters.
The unbeaten 75 off 45 (4x11) against the UAE strengthened her belief as she earned her fourth player of the match award in the T20I format.
She understood the importance of the game against Bangladesh, and stood unbeaten on 35 off 24 (4x4) to steer India to a competitive total of 159 for the loss of five wickets. In the end, the bowlers displayed their best show to restrict the opponent to 100/7.
Jemimah has age on her side, and she is the next Indian star after Harmanpreet, Smriti and Shafali. The only game India lost in the Asia Cup thus far is against Pakistan, where she did not perform.
Victory in the competition will complete the full circle for the cricketer who was benched throughout India's runners-up finish in the 2018 edition.
India will next face Thailand on Monday.