It might just be official, Australia are invincible.
Even when they seemed cursed, the all-conquering Australian Women’s cricket team added the first Commonwealth Games gold medal for their sport to the T20I and ODI World Cups already in their collection with a pulsating nine-run win against India at Edgbaston on Sunday.
ss Jonassen haJes a foot-tap with Tahlia McGrath, who was cleared to play despite testing positive, after a catch to dismiss Shafali Verma•Getty Images
In an inauspicious start for title favourites Australia, allrounder Tahlia McGrath woke with mild symptoms of Covid-19 and subsequently tested positive. After negotiations between Commonwealth Games Australia, Cricket Australia, the Commonwealth Games Federation and the ICC, McGrath was allowed to play under the Games’ policy of treating such matters on a case-by-case basis.
McGrath had been one of the players of the tournament with 128 runs at an average of 42.66 and strike-rate of 148.83 putting her ninth on the run-scorers’ list, while she was the second-highest wicket-taker with eight scalps at 12.12 and an economy rate of 6.92.
She didn’t have the best day on the field on Sunday though, making just 2, and conceding 24 off her two wicketless overs.
But one of the more bizarre sights of the day – if it could get any more unusual than seeing a player sitting all alone in an entire section of the stand wearing a face mask while waiting to bat – came when McGrath took a steepling catch to dismiss Shafali Verma, who had skied Ashleigh Gardner to midwicket.
Australia were elated given that Gardner had seen Shafali dropped by Megan Schutt in the covers four balls earlier, but they couldn’t show McGrath their full appreciation as they initially ran towards her on instinct. They heeded her warning to “stay away” as she held her hands out, smiling. Jess Jonassen, whose arrival in Ireland for Australia’s warm-up matches ahead of the Games was delayed by a bout of Covid, bumped wrists and boots with McGrath, but that’s as close as anyone got until victory was sealed.
At that moment, McGrath stood outside the team huddle as they awaited India’s review to confirm Yastika Bhatia’s lbw dismissal and, as the others embraced and jumped up and down in celebration, she remained outside the group with her arms aloft before the circle opened and she jumped into an embrace with team-mates.
Schutt described the moment: “We didn’t want to get in trouble. I think we felt bad for Tahlia at the end there,” she said.
“That was probably the strangest part of it all, just not being able to celebrate with her. Obviously, when you’re part of a game that’s so thrilling like that, that’s all you want to do. At the end, you know, screw it, if we get Covid so be it.
“In Australia, it probably wouldn’t be the case but the fact Tahlia got to go out there, take a crucial catch and be part of a thrilling win is very special.”
The sides didn’t shake hands at the close, instead filing past each other a metre or so apart with raised hands, and McGrath wore a mask on the podium as Australia received their gold medals after a close contest in which they, almost predictably, came out on top.
India were sublime in the field and claimed 36 for 5 in the last five overs to restrict the target to 162 with Renuka Singh, the tournament’s leading wicket-taker, and Sneh Rana taking two each.
“One of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, by far. The way we scrapped at the end there – that definitely wasn’t our best game. We didn’t field the best, we didn’t bowl the best, and we scrapped with the bat, but we fight, that’s what we do.”
Megan Schutt describing Australia’s performance.
Beth Mooney and Meg Lanning combined for a second-wicket partnership worth 74 after Alyssa Healy fell lbw to Renuka in the third over, extending a lean patch with the bat in which Healy hasn’t passed 23 in eight innings since her match-winning 170 in the ODI World Cup final in April.
Mooney notched up 61 off 41 balls, her second half-century of the tournament. But this time Mooney batted largely without McGrath, with whom she had shared century and half-century partnerships in Australia’s two previous matches.
After helping New Zealand beat England in the bronze-medal playoff earlier in the day with an unbeaten half-century, which also made her the leading run-scorer at the time, New Zealand captain Sophie Devine joked that one of the Australians would probably make a big score to overtake her. Sure enough, Mooney’s knock took her two runs clear of Devine to end the tournament on top with 179 runs.
India’s pursuit progressed well via a half-century to Harmanpreet Kaur and 33 from Jemimah Rodrigues. But when Australia took 3 for 3 in nine balls via Schutt and Gardner, the latter removing Pooja Vastrakar and Harmanpreet with successive balls, India needed 41 off the last four overs.
Ashleigh Gardner claimed the big wicket of Harmanpreet Kaur • Getty Images
The wickets continued to fall as Australia kept the pressure on and Jess Jonassen, the wily left-arm spinner entrusted with bowling the final over, combined with Alana King to run out Meghna Singh and then trapped Yastika to ensure victory with three balls to spare.
“That was absolutely crazy,” Schutt said. “One of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, by far. The way we scrapped at the end there – that definitely wasn’t our best game. We didn’t field the best, we didn’t bowl the best, and we scrapped with the bat, but we fight, that’s what we do.
“It ebbed and flowed like we knew it would and it was absolutely thrilling. We just kept pushing and that’s the way we play cricket and for that to go our way is amazing.”
And therein lies Australia’s secret to success. They keep fighting no matter what is thrown at them and they always seem to have someone who can step up.
Mooney said it was important for the side to continue “evolving”.
“The adjustments we make and the adaptability we have within the group is critical to our success, having an environment where it’s okay to fail and for things to look a little bit ugly,” she said. “Certainly a great performance tonight and one to remember for a long time.”
Jonassen described the win as “absolutely huge”.
“I’ve been blessed enough to be part of some winning World Cup teams but to win the first gold medal for women’s cricket in the Commonwealth Games, we’re only ever going to do that once and I’m proud to be part of that,” she said.
“For that final over, my heart was absolutely through the roof. I was pretty nervous, I’m not going to lie, but I just looked down the other end and saw Alyssa Healy behind the stumps there and she was just putting her arms out and putting her shoulders up getting me to take a deep breath. Ultimately, that’s what helped me.”
It was unfortunate that such a high-quality match fell under the spectre of Covid, but there is no surer sign of the times and this match may have marked the evolution of a sport as much as the evolution of a team.
Thuppahi's Blog · This web site presents the interventions of MICHAEL ROBERTS in the public realm with reference to Sri Lankan political affairs. It will embrace the politics of cricket as well. ROBERTS was educated at St. Aloysius College in Galle and the universities of Peradeniya and Oxford. He taught History at Peradeniya University and Anthropology at Adelaide university. He is now retired and lives in Adelaide.