“Winning ugly” might be a fairly new facet of Australia’s game, but given that it worked in their Commonwealth Games semi-final, they won’t be afraid to go there again when they face India for the gold medal.
Beth Mooney, who combined with Tahlia McGrath to lift the title favourites from another troubled start for the second match running, admitted New Zealand had got a little too close for comfort before Australia won their semi-final at Edgbaston by five wickets and three balls to spare.
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A key to this Australian team’s success – they are looking to add the inaugural women’s Commonwealth Games cricket title to their T20I and ODI world crowns – is their justifiable confidence that if one player or area of their game falls down, someone is there to step into the breach.
“The belief in the dressing room is probably at an unprecedented level, to be honest, just because we seem to find a way to win and win ugly,” Mooney said.
“It’s not always pretty, which perhaps in the past – probably five or six years ago – we were looking for that perfect game and trying to make it look as good as it could. We’ve sort of got an understanding now that it can look a bit ugly at times.
“Tonight wasn’t the ugliest we’ve played, but there are certainly a few things we can touch up on before tomorrow.”
On this occasion, Australia stumbled to 28 for 2 in pursuit of 145 for a place in the gold-medal match-up with India. But a 56-run partnership between Mooney and McGrath steadied the innings and kept Australia on top of the required run rate at most times.
And, while the duo didn’t kick on to the heights of their century-plus stand from a similar situation in their last group game against Pakistan, a composed innings of 19 not out from Ashleigh Gardner as the common thread in stands of 26 with Rachael Haynes and an unbroken 16 with Grace Harris, meant Australia were always in touch and ultimately able to overhaul the target.
“From my point of view, I was pretty disappointed to get out at the time I did just because the game was sort of in our hands a bit,” said Mooney. “I thought Rachael and I could get us home and hosed from that position, so that was disappointing, and probably something for me to reflect on.
“But I think at the same time, Ash and Grace showed their maturity again and got us over the line. We can’t discount New Zealand. They’re a great side and really put us onto the pump tonight, as they have done over the last few years.”
Tahlia McGrath made another significant contribution to take Australia towards victory•Getty Images
Just as Mooney and McGrath had rescued Australia against Pakistan, Gardner and Harris did the same with a 51-run stand for the sixth wicket against India, who defeated England by four runs in the other semi-final.
“Ash is showing a different side of her game, which is really exciting for this group and for Ash herself. I think she’s absolutely going to be a player for our team for a long period of time that can win games for us off her own bat,” Mooney reflected.
“I’m really excited to see that, and obviously the evolution of Grace has been pretty special. Seeing her back in the green and gold and being able to contribute like she has, and those guys will play for a long time, so for me, it’s always going to be nervous on the sideline until we get the winning runs, but today, they made it look a bit easier than it probably was.”
At the T20 World Cup in 2020, Australia lost their opening match to India and then won their final clash. At this tournament, Australia won their first group game – also against India – with an over remaining and they are ready for the challenge India will pose again.
“Semi-finals are tough,” Mooney added. “We do feel for England, it looked like a pretty tough game. But we also know the threat that India pose and we certainly didn’t take New Zealand lightly tonight either.
“They really challenged us at times and I’m sure India will bring a similar game plan tomorrow against us, so hopefully we’re ready for that and can put on a show for it.”
New Zealand were left to rue a rash of missed chances on the field against Australia. But Suzie Bates, New Zealand’s leading run-scorer and second behind Smriti Mandhana for the tournament, said all focus would now be on their bronze-medal play-off against hosts England, who beat them by seven wickets with 50 balls to spare in their last group match.
“I always believe, and that’s one thing about this team is that we always fight and, especially against Australia, we fight right to the end,” Bates said just 12 hours before the start of their next game. “We know that we’ve got to give it our best and it’s disappointing, but I’m just really proud of the game that we put up after a really disappointing effort against England.
“It just gives us confidence going into tomorrow, but tonight there’s going to be moments that are going to wake us up because there are some chances that we didn’t quite take. That’s cricket and you’ve got to be at your best against Australia.
“It is quick, but you only get one chance to win a Commonwealth Games medal, so there’s going to be no problems for motivation. We can reflect on that [game against Australia] after the tournament. Right now it’s just about getting ourselves ready for tomorrow.”