Fifteen months ago, Tahlia McGrath was yet to make her T20I debut for Australia.
The all-rounder was a replacement player in the national squad when an untimely hamstring injury for Rachael Haynes opened the door for her to debut against India in October 2021.
Just over a year later, McGrath is ranked the world’s best T20I batter and preparing to captain her country for the first time.
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Australian captain Alyssa Healy has been ruled out of the fifth T20 against India in Mumbai after injuring her right calf during Saturday’s match at Brabourne Stadium.
Speaking to reporters on Monday, McGrath confirmed she would lead the side in Healy’s absence, with Beth Mooney donning the gloves.
“If I look back 18 months ago, I was just trying to cement a spot in the 11 … now being a part of that team and contributing to some success is probably something that I’ll look back on a little bit later,” McGrath told foxsports.com.au.
“At the moment, I’m just looking at the next tour. How can we get better? How can we win?
“I’m just loving playing T20 cricket. I’ve only been doing it for just over a year, so every time I go out there and bat, it’s just enjoying playing in an Aussie shirt and trying to win games of cricket for my country.”
McGrath briefly stood in as skipper during the fourth T20 after Healy limped off the field — following the victory, teammate Ash Gardner described her captaincy as “cool, calm and collected”.
“Nothing really fazes her,” Gardner quipped.
What’s left for McGrath to accomplish in the sport? Over the past 12 months, she has captained the Adelaide Strikers to a Women’s Big Bash League triumph, clinched a
World Cup title in New Zealand, retained the Ashes undefeated on home soil and won gold in the Birmingham Commonwealth Games … while battling Covid-19.
The South Australian has been unstoppable in the 20-over format, averaging 82.50 with the bat and 13.66 with the ball after 18 matches.
Not only does she boast the highest T20I batting average in history, but her career strike rate of 146.44 is bettered only by Queensland big-hitter Grace Harris.
McGrath was crowned the world’s No. 1 women’s T20I batter last week, leapfrogging Beth Mooney on the ICC rankings — but the humble cricketer believes her talented teammate deserves to be on top.
“You can’t sort of look too much into those sort of things. In my mind, the best batter in the world is Beth Mooney. She’s putting on an absolute clinic in this tournament,” McGrath said.
“All the other accolades are nice, but not really at the forefront of my mind.
“I’m always looking for ways to manipulate the field and exploit that boundary option. At the moment it’s working for me, but T20 cricket is such a funny game. There’s a lot of lows along the way … there’s certainly going to be times where there’s little lean patches, and that’s the nature of T20 cricket, so at the moment I’ll jump on it and ride the wave.”
McGrath initially served as a finisher in Australia’s T20 side, but a vacancy opened up in the crucial No. 3 position when Meg Lanning took an indefinite break from the game.
And the 27-year-old has transitioned into a top-order batter flawlessly, scoring 40 not out and 70 not out in Australia’s first two matches against India at Dr DY Patil Sports Academy.
Mooney and McGrath combined for an unbeaten 158-run partnership in the second T20, which ended as a Super Over shootout, setting a New Australian record.
“I guess what makes my role a lot easier is I’m obviously batting with Moons or Midge at the time who keeps the scoreboard ticking, and then I’ve got the freedom to play my shots and take the game on,” McGrath said.
“It’s a really nice spot to bat, knowing that we’ve got so much firepower in our batting that I can go out there and just play my shots.
“I certainly enjoy batting with Moons. We’re both very similar characters in the sense that we’re pretty chilled, pretty relaxed and I think we’ve batted with each other enough now that she recognises straight away when I’m sort of getting a bit frustrated or a bit in my own head, and she’ll come down and just basically make sure I switch back on.
“We have different strengths, the left-right combo. We just seem to click when we bat together.”
Surprisingly, McGrath is yet to bowl in the T20 series against India despite her stellar record with the ball. The Australian starting XI is fortunate to be stacked with many bowling options, and McGrath’s seamers have not been required.
But the right-armer has been working tirelessly with assistant coach Scott Prestwidge on developing her death bowling, ensuring she’s ready when called upon.
“The fact that we’ve got so many options with the ball, there’s better match-ups to some of these Indian players,” McGrath explained.
“It’s definitely something I’ve been working on with our new bowling coach, that death bowling and that yorker-style bowling.
“I certainly enjoy my cricket a lot more when I’m bowling, so I’m going to be chipping away and working pretty hard and there might be an opportunity for me to bowl some death overs. That’s something I’m pretty keen to keep working on.”
Australia has already clinched the five-game series against India with one match to play, but McGrath acknowledges there’s plenty of room for improvement, specifically with fielding, death bowling and clearing the boundary rope.
Regardless, she believes the team is in a healthy position ahead of next year’s T20 World Cup in South Africa, despite the sudden loss of some high-profile players.
“Although the side may look slightly different at the moment, I think we’re in really good shape, and we’ve had some different players step up and contribute every time,” McGrath said.
“We’ve been starting that World Cup prep, and this series has been a perfect opportunity to see where we’re at against a really strong Indian outfit.
“We push on to South Africa and then hopefully defend that World Cup.”
The fifth and final T20 between India and Australia gets underway on Wednesday morning with the first ball scheduled for 12.20am AEDT.