It’s not every day that you drop Ellyse Perry from your starting XI, but sometimes the big calls pay off. 20 January, 2022 will go down as the day of the changing of the guard, for it was Tahlia McGrath – the 26-year-old all-rounder who has displaced Perry in the Australian lineup – who guided her side to a nine-wicket victory in the opening encounter of the Women’s Ashes.
This time last year, McGrath was in the international wilderness, having made just one appearance for Australia since 2017. But three months after being named player of the series in Australia’s win against India, on Thursday she cemented her status as one of the world’s premier all-rounders, with an unbeaten 91 off 49 balls and a return of three for 26 with the ball. Ellyse who?
“It was a lot of fun,” McGrath said. “Something just clicked tonight, I don’t know what it was. I was so excited for this match. It’s my first time playing Australia in my home state, having friends and family in the crowd. I enjoyed every minute of it.”
It was Sophie Ecclestone’s early dismissal of Alyssa Healy – caught by Nat Sciver at short midwicket – that brought McGrath, promoted to No 3 for the first time in international cricket, to the crease. From there, she took control. The contrast between old guard and new was readily apparent: Perry had been disregarded on the basis of her slow scoring in 20-over cricket; McGrath struck her runs at 185.7, the blueprint for aggressive batting on the front foot. Even the Australia captain, Meg Lanning, herself unbeaten at the close on 64 (44 balls), took a back seat for much of the run chase: in their century partnership, 76 of the runs were hit by McGrath.
“Batting with Meg out there was really good for me, she was telling me to keep playing to my strengths and every time I went away from that she’d remind me,” McGrath said. “It was literally just see ball, hit ball, play straight and try and hit the gaps.”
Lanning, opening in place of the injured Beth Mooney, was dropped on 24, edging a cut shot to Amy Jones behind the stumps, while McGrath had to dive to make her ground in the 11th over as Jones threw down the stumps. But otherwise the pair progressed smoothly towards their target, Lanning finally striking consecutive boundaries to see her side over the line with 18 balls to spare.
England would have been fairly confident at the halfway stage, having struck 169 for four after being put in, leaving Australia facing a record run chase. As Tammy Beaumont put it afterwards: “I would have bitten your hand off to get 170 this morning.” Danni Wyatt had shown a worrying lack of form in the build up to the series, dismissed for nought and two in the T20 warm-ups against England A last weekend, but her confidence returned at the perfect moment: she finished with a commanding 70 off 54 balls.
Jess Jonassen was first on the receiving end, welcomed back to international cricket after a nine-month absence by being slammed for consecutive sixes over the top. From there, Wyatt shared half-century partnerships with Beaumont (30 off 24) and Sciver (32 off 23), with England firmly in the driving seat. That is, until McGrath’s intervention with the ball. After earlier fluffing a caught and bowled chance, giving Beaumont a life on nine, her double-strike at the death, seeing off Sciver and Wyatt in the 17th over with two pinpoint yorkers was the moment that turned the match.
“Meg came up to me and told me to bowl full and straight,” McGrath said. “In the past I’ve not been great at executing my yorkers, so I said I’d give it my best shot. It’s a ball I’ve been practicing in the pre-season but I’m still not fully confident with, so I’m lucky they came off tonight.”