Richard Clark at York Cricket Club
Yorkshire folk, given any opportunity, will tell you their county is special. That may or may not be true. If it’s not, though, there was certainly ‘something’ in the Yorkshire air on Sunday afternoon.
Whatever that ‘something’ was it carried Ben Stokes on its wings, and 30 miles or so away in York it carried Yorkshire Diamonds’ Jemima Rodrigues as well.
The prospects were as promising for the Indian youngster as they appeared to be for Stokes. Propelled out of the blocks by Danni Wyatt (42 off 20 balls), kept going by Suzie Bates (47 off 39) and Tammy Beaumont (33 off 29), and finished off by Maia Bouchier (23* off 13) and Amanda Jade Wellington (24* off 12), Southern Vipers had just amassed 184-4 off their 20 overs.
This after being inserted by Lauren Winfield, who knew that it was her side’s only hope of claiming the bonus point win essential to any lingering hopes of reaching Finals Day.
Convention has it that you need a good start in a hefty chase. What you definitely don’t need is to lose one of your openers to the second ball, Winfield skying Tash Farrant high to the inrushing Bates at cover.
Every cloud, however…
The early loss brought Rodrigues to the crease. Her first KSL campaign had begun quietly, but 178 runs in her previous four innings – for just twice out – suggested a player in form, and she set about illustrating that.
With Alyssa Healy dominating both the strike and the scoreboard, Rodrigues settled quietly. A dot, followed by a single, and then a boundary from her first three balls, and she was off and running almost without being noticed.
By the end of the fourth over she had still only faced those three balls, but now Healy was out, and Hollie Armitage was there for company. Time to step up.
A boundary in the fifth over, two more in the sixth, another in the seventh. But this was calculation and precision, rather than muscle. The partnership with Armitage would garner 90 runs from 54 balls, only eleven of them dots and three of those from Armitage’s first four balls as she played herself in. Orchestrated by Rodrigues, the pair found the gaps and pushed the ones and twos, always keeping the scoreboard moving. An object lesson in T20 batting.
Armitage fell with the score on 118. By that stage, Rodrigues had reached her half-century from 26 balls. Nine fours had been hit, every one of them off the middle of the bat.
So far, so good, but could she deal with a crisis? Bess Heath departed second ball, and the Alice Davidson-Richards in the next over. Diamonds batting order has not been noted for its durability this season but in Leigh Kasperek, Rodrigues now found an able accomplice.
Five boundaries, including her only six, came off the next two overs. Lofted effortlessly over mid-off it cleared the rope by a distance. Four overs to go, and from nowhere only 36 required.
Now it began to get a bit tricky. With Rodrigues visibly tiring in the 30-degree heat, Vipers returned to their pace bowlers in an attempt to give her the “hurry up”. It worked to a point – after a boundary off Bell’s first ball, only seven runs came from the next eight balls.
Then, the shot of the day, and probably the only one Rodrigues played that could be considered in any way unconventional – an inadvertent head-high full toss from Farrant upper-cut over the keeper for four more. Given that singles by this point were being run as if wading through treacle in boots of lead, the clarity of mind to deal with the delivery so adeptly was remarkable. It took her to 96.
More singles, and perhaps a stroke of luck? Another full toss – this time from Bell – perhaps did take her by surprise a little and was slapped/slogged high to Paige Scholfield at mid-off. Already, though, the umpire’s arm was out for the no ball and instead of walking off Rodrigues ran through to move to 99.
Bell went on to complete a hat-trick of sorts, having Kasperek “stumped” off the subsequent free hit, and then legitimately caught next ball. Rodrigues was still one short of her century and Diamonds needed 15 off ten balls as Linsey Smith strode to the middle.
Having crossed with Kasperek, Rodrigues reached her century with the simplest of pushes into the off side, calling Smith through for the single to spark a prolonged standing ovation from all corners.
The job was still there to be done, though. Four more runs were taken from the remainder of the over and Diamonds needed ten off six, with Rodrigues on strike and Bates set to bring all her experience to bear with ball in hand.
It needed at least one boundary, not least because one doubted Rodrigues’ ability now to run up and down ten times, and she found it from the second ball of the over, turning the ball behind square and beating the fielder on the rope. Not for the first time, awareness and perfect placement coming to the fore.
Still, a dot followed, and it was down to four from three. Rodrigues manoeuvred the ball to long on and looked to be settling for the single until Smith, realising the need for her partner to get back on strike, virtually implored her to come back for the second. Logic said the England spinner should have been going for the danger end, but Vipers were alert to Rodrigues’ exhaustion and threw to the keeper. I don’t know how Rodrigues got there, it’s likely she doesn’t know either, but as she sprawled head-long for the crease the one man whose opinion mattered said she did.
It would have been appropriate – romantic, even – to finish with a boundary, but a single was all she could find, so it fell to Smith to push the final ball of the match up to mid-on where a fumble allowed the run that settled the game and brought more applause, and this time cheers too.
The numbers say that Rodrigues hit 112 not out off 58 balls, with 17 fours and a six. She led her team to a four-wicket win, the highest successful chase in KSL records and the second highest chase in ANY Women’s T20 fixture.
Her score was the second-highest individual score in the KSL’s four seasons (behind Bates’s 119 for Vipers v Lightning in 2017), and at 51 balls it was the quickest of the six centuries scored in the competition (four balls faster than the previous record held by Lizelle Lee).
It was also the second highest individual score by any player in a Women’s T20 chase, behind Wyatt’s 124 for England in India 18 months ago, the only higher successful chase.
She played just ten dot balls, and not once did she play two consecutively. She scored off 30 of the last 34 balls she faced.
But numbers alone never tell a story.
She didn’t hit the ball, she persuaded, cajoled and caressed it so that it did as she wished at every turn. The way she seemed to move from 50 to 90 in particular, almost without hitting a shot in anger, yet still accumulating fours and scoring at close to two runs per ball, was akin to a conjuring trick.
Apart from the two no balls that produced the upper-cut and the ‘slap’ that saw her caught she didn’t play one shot that didn’t come straight from the coaching manual. Her driving through the off-side was magisterial, her ability to pierce the in-field and bisect the boundary-riders on either side forensic, her knack of picking up a run almost every ball uncanny, her maturity and focus when patently running on fumes admirable.
Oh, and by the way, Jemima Rodrigues is 18 years old.
Follow Richard Clark on Twitter @glassboy68
Thanks to @_hypocaust for the stats!