Ind vs Aus – women’s Test – Tahlia McGrath embraces leadership as she gears up for Test grind

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India is the place to be for Australia allrounder Tahlia McGrath. She was the interim vice-captain for the women’s T20I series in Mumbai last year and led Australia for the first time in internationals in the final game of the tour after Alyssa Healy was out injured. The pair was appointed to the roles on interim basis after Meg Lanning stepped aside for personal reasons following Australia’s gold medal win in the Commonwealth Games.

Twelve months on, McGrath is again in India with the leadership mantle firmly in place. The multi-format series – starting with a one-off Test at the Wankhede Stadium on Thursday – is the first for Healy and McGrath as full-time Australia captain and vice-captain respectively following Lanning’s retirement from international cricket earlier this year. Her India connection also strengthened this year when UP Warriorz got her at the inaugural WPL auction for INR 1.4crore – more than what Healy (INR 70 lakh) got.

In 2020, Cricket Australia began a leadership pilot program in collaboration with the Australian Cricketers Association and former Australia captain Belinda Clark’s project, The Leadership Playground. It was with a view to nurture and mentor a few female leaders in the Australian cricket setup. McGrath, who was seen as a natural leader even through her sporadic appearances for Australia earlier in her career, was among the few selected for the program.

“If you had asked me a few years ago, if I had leadership in my radar, it was not even close,” McGrath said on Tuesday after training. “I was the shy, quiet one that didn’t really have too much to say. A few coaches saw some qualities in myself that I perhaps didn’t. From there I got a few opportunities to lead sides.

“I was really lucky to have a mentor programme with Belinda Clark and got so much out of that. How my leadership has come along in the last two year is rapid progression.”

McGrath also made her captaincy debut in an ODI against Ireland after the women’s Ashes. She led Adelaide Strikers to WBBL finals in 2021, 2022 and 2023, winning the title twice in the last two seasons.

“What I offer as a leader is a really calm person,” she said. “No matter what the situation is I keep a pretty calm head and a pretty good read of the game. I am a relationships person – getting around and connecting with different people in the group and making sure everyone’s connected and making sure we are all tracking alright.

“My biggest thing at the moment is helping out Midge [Healy] wherever I can, because being captain of an international side is a massive role. Her being wicketkeeper I’ll probably help the bowlers out a fair bit just to save a bit of time. It is about throwing some ideas wherever I can and keeping the team up when we are potentially in the field for a bit. For me, it is just trying to take some of the pressure off her and be a sounding board and throw some ideas at her.”

“Test match cricket takes a lot out of you. At Trent Bridge, I have never been so mentally and physically drained after that Test match. It takes everything out of you. It is such a pinnacle and a test mentally and physically.”

Tahlia McGrath

McGrath and Healy aside, Australia’s touring party has Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner, Beth Mooney, Jess Jonassen and Annabel Sutherland – all of whom have experience leading at the domestic level, be it the Women’s National Cricket League, the 50-overs competition, or the WBBL.

“The biggest strength of this Australian side is that it is not just Midge and I that are leaders. There are so many leaders in the group, people that speak up when something needs to be said. People that take one for the team and lead that fielding [effort]. We are spoilt for choices that it doesn’t solely fall on us with so many people with leadership roles within the team.”

It was only weeks ago that McGrath led Strikers to their second consecutive WBBL title after staving off threat from Jonassen-led Brisbane Heat. She scored 304 runs in the season at a strike rate over 120 and also returned 14 wickets with her medium pace.

“I have loved the transition. T20 cricket is so hectic; when you are batting, you are trying to hit every ball for six, when you are bowling, they are trying to hit you for six every ball,” she said of adjusting to preparing for the Test in the Mumbai heat. “This has been very nice, just to take a step back, be really calm in our approach and always get down to work. It is a grind out there batting, and the bowlers have to put in the hard yards. Complete shift in mindset and preparation. Test matches don’t come around too often for us. We have been so excited to play them.”

McGrath was part of Australia’s Test win at Trent Bridge earlier this year where she chipped in with both bat and ball. She struck her second half-century in the format, an 83-ball 61 in the first innings, which is her best score in Tests. With the ball, she returned three first-innings wickets and one in the second.

“Test match cricket takes a lot out of you,” she said. “At Trent Bridge, I have never been so mentally and physically drained after that Test match. It takes everything out of you. It is such a pinnacle and a test mentally and physically. The preparations been the same – batting for long periods of time, getting in rhythm and bowling longer spells. Having more specific fielding training, so we have people under the lid, and in catching positions.”

S Sudarshanan is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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