When 21-year-old Tahlia McGrath was presented her ODI cap, no. 131, on a sunny day at the International Sports Stadium in Coffs Harbour in 2016, Alex Blackwell reminded her of her early days with South Australia.
“I vividly remember this tall young kid running in with her hair out and bowling with a nice fringe,” Blackwell said. “You have changed a lot in a short amount of time, not only your hairstyle but how much you have adapted as a cricketer. You have taken your opportunities and become a world-class player who is ready to go out and represent her country.”
High praise from someone who finished her international career with 251 caps over 14 years.
After an underwhelming beginning during which she showed glimpses of potential and a series of unfortunate injuries, McGrath quickly learnt that being a “world-class player” is sometimes not enough to become a consistent member of Australia’s squad; one had to become irreplaceable.
Over the course of the 2021 Australian summer, McGrath did just that, building on the promise she showed early on. Her performances through the series against India mean she has now pretty much made herself indispensable.
But how did she reach this point?
Women’s CricZone looks at three innings through the course of her 13-match international career that underline how she grabbed every opportunity that came her way to rightfully claim her position in the playing XI for Australia.
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November 2017: 47 vs England at the North Sydney Oval
When McGrath came in to bat at the picturesque North Sydney Oval during the first-ever pink-ball Test, Australia were trailing England in the first innings by only ten runs. Ellyse Perry had already celebrated her maiden international century alongside her best mate Alyssa Healy. Yet, the seventh wicket partnership was crucial because it would determine whether Australia were going to be able to stick to their “bat once, bat big” policy. Perry needed someone to hold up the other end.
McGrath offered up a chance, chasing her very first ball in Test match cricket only for England captain Heather Knight to drop a relatively easy catch at extra-cover. Two balls later she flicked Georgia Elwiss for a four to open her account in the longest format. Over the course of the next 35.4 overs, the right-hander played the role of the second fiddle to perfection, scoring a patient 47 off 131 balls.
Although she missed out on her maiden half-century by just three runs, McGrath put up a partnership of 103 runs with Perry. By the time she was caught by Natalie Sciver off Elwiss, Australia's lead was 93. England were tired, wrung out, and clearly missing a beat in the field.
Australia’s batting dominance was sealed, and McGrath played an important part in it.
ACT II: ODI innings
October 2020: 29* vs New Zealand at the Allan Border Field
Three years after that patient knock in the Test, and a couple of years away from the setup, McGrath finally got her opportunity in the green and the gold. In October, Australia were one win away from equalling the record set by Ricky Ponting's team – 21 consecutive ODI wins.
The allrounder replaced injured captain Meg Lanning in the XI and was slotted at No. 7 as Australia promoted their newest superstar Annabel Sutherland to No.3, to take over Lanning's batting spot.
With only 15 balls remaining in the innings, McGrath went ballistic. Her former Adelaide Strikers’ captain Sophie Devine got a taste of her own medicine when McGrath hit two fours off her penultimate over. Rosemary Mair, who was New Zealand’s best bowler through the series, watched helplessly when Australia's No.7 tonked 19 runs off the final over.
Even in the absence of their biggest superstars in Lanning and Ellyse Perry, Australia registered their highest ever ODI total against New Zealand. McGrath's contribution was not revolutionary in the scheme of things, but it gave the innings the impetus it required at the back end. She made the right noises when the opportunity came her way. With that knock, the 24-year-old put her hand up for the bigger role that she was about to get.
Also Read: Tahlia McGrath, bowlers shine as Australia sneak home to multi-format series win
ACT 3: T20I innings
October 2021: 42* vs India at the Carrara Oval
After strolling to victory in the first ODI of the multi-format series against India, Australia were consistently challenged through the remainder of the matches. India turned the tables after a final ball loss in the second ODI to end the hosts’ 26-match ODI winning streak. The rain-interrupted pink-ball Test only reflected how well-equipped India were against a side that was rarely put under the pressure in the last couple of years. After a washout in the first T20I, India were one victory away from equalling the points tally. Momentum was on their side. Australia were swimming against the tide.
When McGrath started her innings in the second T20I, Australia had already lost four wickets in their chase of 119. Two of those players, Healy and Lanning, have three T20I hundreds amongst them and the other two, Ellyse Perry and Ashleigh Gardner, were players of the final in two separate T20 World Cups. India’s bowler had their tails up – they really believed they could win.
At 46 for four in 9.1 overs, Australia still needed almost seven runs per over. The task wasn’t too difficult. She had done this before. Spurred on by a reassuring word from Beth Mooney, McGrath went to work.
After an early lifeline from Richa Ghosh and the subsequent loss of Mooney, she clobbered Harmanpreet Kaur through cover and slogged Rajeshwari Gayakwad behind square-leg to keep Australia in the game. Two back-to-back fours off her blade in the penultimate over, but sealed the series for Australia. She had done what she couldn’t in the second ODI – see the team home.
In an international career that has so far lasted over 1700 days, McGrath has had the opportunity to take part in precisely 19 days of competitive cricket. Her chances have been limited, but when they have come, she’s taken them with both hands. While the likes of Mooney, Gardner, and even Rachael Haynes were an active part of the national setup before they became important, almost irreplaceable, members of the Australian squad, McGrath has had to take an alternative path.
The allrounder flourished in a strong domestic system, churning out important performances for South Australia, Adelaide Strikers, and Australia A during her time away from the national side. By sheer weight of performance, she forced her way back into a unit teeming with talent. And when given a full series to make her mark, she came away with a Player of the Series award and has made herself irreplaceable.