Jemimah Rodrigues has seen more ups and downs in the last couple of years of her cricket career than a rollercoaster. She was benched during the first ODI in England last year and the T20I series that followed, before missing the ODIs against Australia and returning for the T20Is Down Under. Despite impressive outings in The Women's Hundred as well as the Women's Big Bash, the 21-year-old missed the flight to the Women's World Cup in New Zealand earlier this year.
She continued to work hard away from the spotlight and it showed as she amassed 243 runs in six matches of the Senior Women's T20 Trophy at an average of 60.75 and a strike rate of 167.58 while captaining Mumbai to the quarter-finals. She then followed it up with attention-grabbing performances in the Women's T20 Challenge.
Playing her first international match since October 2021, Rodrigues contributed a crucial knock of 36 not out off just 27 balls against Sri Lanka in the first T20I in Dambulla to help India start their tour with a win.
"My height is the same but mental thing has changed a lot. In the last few years, from the last Sri Lanka tour, the journey hasn't been very smooth and there have been a lot of ups and downs," Rodrigues said after her Player-of-the-Match performance.
"I also had the opportunity in the last few months to talk with cricketers like Rohit Sharma and Rishabh Pant and others. They actually told that these moments define you and prepare you for something greater that's coming. If you look at it [in a] negative way it is not going to help. But these are the moments that define you as a cricketer. I was blessed to speak to them and some of our team-mates.
"I have become calmer in this time and have understood the value of having good relationships… my family who have been there. The last few months have helped me understand even my game better. This is the cricketer's life - nobody's life is smooth and what I am learning is to get better every time."
Her entry on Thursday was sandwiched between the dismissals of set batters Shafali Verma and Harmanpreet Kaur on a slow pitch that was not conducive to strokeplay. The ball was not coming on to the bat and the spinners, led by the experienced Inoka Ranaweera, were making merry in stifling the batters.
But Rodrigues wasted little time and got going off the fifth ball she faced, dabbing it past the wicketkeeper against Ranaweera. The confidence was back.
"I am back in the Indian team after 4-5 months. I was very pumped up today and wanted to give my best," she said. "Anytime you wear the India jersey you are naturally pumped up and this is something that always works for me. I love to be aggressive.
"After getting the late-cut first boundary, I felt much more confident because I was a bit nervous coming back in after a long time. That boundary got me going."
The steer past the keeper aside, Rodrigues used the sweep shot - both conventional and slog - to good effect against the spin to score freely, playing just eight dot balls during her stay. She played the sweep on seven occasions and scored 14 runs with the shot.
Rodrigues, who averages over 75 and has a strike rate in excess of 150 in T20Is in Sri Lanka, credited the conditions in Mumbai - where she comes from - for her success in the island nation.
"These are very similar tracks to [the ones] back in Mumbai," she said. "In Mumbai, you get the turning tracks, slow tracks, and I am a good sweeper of the ball because of that. So being in Mumbai has helped me tackle these conditions and adjust my game to these conditions."
India scored 53 off the last five overs of their innings and that was all thanks to the unconquered 32-run stand between Rodrigues and Deepti Sharma, which included a 20-run final over. Apart from four boundaries, the partnership involved a lot of chuckles and cheering as the momentum shifted from Sri Lanka towards India.
"Deepti coming in and hitting those three consecutive boundaries removed all the pressure," she said about the allrounder's eight-ball 17, "because firstly it wasn't an easy wicket to bat especially for a new batter coming in and getting those boundaries was where the momentum changed and our bowlers got a target to bowl freely.
"The chuckles were about 'Shot Deepti! Let's go!' whenever she hit. And [when I ended] it off with a six, Deepti started cheering for me and the roles changed, but it was fun."