Tahlia McGrath: Australia’s ace in a star-studded pack
Eight matches, four innings, 247 runs at an average of 247 and a strike rate of 156.32. Eight matches, nine overs, four wickets at an average of 16.75. Tahlia McGrath first played for Australia as a promising 21-year old in 2016 but it is in her second coming, where she made her T20I debut in 2021, that she has been the best in the world.
Yes, that’s how good you need to be to keep Ellyse Perry out of the side. But Perry or no Perry, McGrath has now made an irrefutable claim to be the first name on the team sheet. Since her T20I debut in October 2021, only Chamari Athapaththu has scored more runs among players from Full Member countries.
McGrath’s average of 247 is the best ever for any player who batted in a T20 international, while her strike rate of 156.32 is the best for any player who has scored at least 125 runs in the format.
When told about those numbers, pat comes McGrath’s reply, “There you go, not bad!”
McGrath has very good Test and ODI numbers too in her fledgling career but T20 is the format where she can currently lay a claim to being the best in the world. She has, afterall, been Player of the Match each of the four times she has batted in the format.
She puts her success in the format down to role clarity and being fearless. “The thing about the T20 format is that there is a lot of freedom. I have been given the license to play my shots and I know that if doesn’t come off, the talent that follows me is enormous,’ McGrath said after her match-winning effort against Ireland.
Her debut game was a washout where she only bowled one over and got carted for 14 runs by the fearless Richa Ghosh. It didn’t take long for her to make an impact thought. At that time, Perry was a key part of the starting XI and McGrath only walked in at no. 6 in her second T20I. Chasing 119, Australia had slumped to 46 for four when McGrath joined Beth Mooney in the middle. Mooney fell soon after McGrath remained unbeaten on 42 and helped the team to a crucial win, while scoring more than a third of the team’s runs.
Australia slumped to 73 for four again in the final T20I and it was Mooney and McGrath who took them out of strife. McGrath blasted 44* of 31 to completely change the momentum of the innings and walked away with the Player of the Series award after doing the star turn in another win for her team.
By the time Australia played their next T20I against England earlier this year in January in the Ashes, McGrath had displaced Perry from the T20I team as the side’s main pace bowling batting allrounder. England were swiftly out of the blocks and cruising at more than 8.5 runs per over when McGrath poleaxed the set Danielle Wyatt and Natatie Sciver, England’s two most dangerous batters in the format, with two perfect yorkers. She then accounted for Amy Jones too to be the standout bowler on a flat pitch.
With Mooney missing from the team owing to a fractured jaw and Perry dropped from the team for the first time in ages, McGrath was bumped up to no.3 and she responded in style by notching a 144-run partnership with captain Meg Lanning. McGrath needed just 49 balls to smash 91* and remained unbeaten yet again as Australia thrashed England by nine wickets despite chasing 170.
She then played a key role in Australia’s run to the 2022 World Cup title, average more than 30 with the bat at a strike rate of 90+ in her role as the finisher, including a couple of her trademark repair jobs. She put on 101 runs with Perry after New Zealand had reduced Australia to 113 for four and also notched 93-run partnership with Lanning after Australia were in spot of bother at 105 for 3 against South Africa in a chase of 272.
Her latest rescue/player of the match act came on Thursday against Ireland. The hosts had bossed the power play and reduced Australia to 31 for 2. That brought McGrath to the crease and reunited her with Lanning.
It was all one way traffic from there as the duo put on 135 runs for the third wicket, Australia’s best ever partnership for that wicket in T20Is, with McGrath smashing 70 off just 45 deliveries, the only blemish being the fact that she was dismissed for the first time in the format with just four balls remaining in the innings.
It was partnership that changed the course of the match according to Ireland skipper Laura Delany. “I thought Georgina came in and bowled really well and we did well in the power play. We struggled to take wickets and they had a really good partnership, which we found hard to break.
I think we struggled to score boundaries in the middle period and that proved to be the difference,” she said.
The conditions were in favour of the bowlers early on, which prompted Delany to take the gamble of bowling first even against a power-packed team like Australia. McGrath said the going was far from straightforward early on.
“I had to adjust early. They were bowling quite a tight line and there was a bit of shape. I had to get the pace of the wicket and all their bowlers were new to me, so I had to learn on the fly and just build some confidence and momentum and take it from there,” McGrath said.
The fact that she was batting with Lanning, who was already on 18 off 10 balls and looking in regal touch when McGrath walked to the crease, made things easier.
“It was good fun batting with Meg and getting some time in the middle. I had gotten some really good hitouts in Ireland but nice to get out and score some runs.
I love batting with Meg and if there’s one shot that I could steal off anyone, it would be that flick off that legs. It’s always so calm when you’re at the crease with her and she just makes things happen and the scoreboard is always ticking,” McGrath said when asked about her prolific partnership record with her captain so far.
Lanning and McGrath have batted together five times in international cricket across formats and have four 100+ and one 50+ partnership, with the lowest being 93. McGrath said that Lanning’s ability to score quickly and her calm aura at the crease always helps other batters out.
“She’s very good at making me play straight and play to my strengths, especially early on in my innings. She can also recognise when I’m getting a bit frustrated and calm me down.”
McGrath got a rank long hop on the first delivery she faced against Ireland and she hit it away to the cover boundary with ease. She also benefitted from a couple of reprieves on 39 and 68 and even pulled off multiple audacious-looking reverse sweeps, getting three of her 11 fours from the shot.
“I have been working on the reverse and thought it was the perfect opportunity, so gave it a go. I was lucky it came off today, it might not come off all the time but it came off today,” she said.
Australia will finish the series on top of the table if they beat Pakistan on Saturday but McGrath is just grateful to get the opportunity to play regularly for the best team in the world.
“I just love playing for Australia, no matter where I’m batting or where I’m playing. The fact that I’m getting to play in a Commonwealth Games is very very cool and not something that I thought I’d be doing. I’m loving my cricket at the moment and hopefully I’ll have a gold medal soon,” she said.
If Australia are to win that gold, you would suspect that McGrath would hold the key yet again, as she often has over the last 10 months.