UP Warriorz has had a rollercoaster ride in the inaugural edition of the Women’s Premier League. With four wins and four losses in eight games and a number of nail-biting finishes featuring among them, this team has seen it all.
In that context, its batting order’s most reliable anchor, Tahlia McGrath, is the epitome of calmness.
“Yeah, it’s been a very up and down season for us. We seem to love close, thrilling finishes,” McGrath told Sportstar ahead of an all-important playoff clash against Mumbai Indians.
Negotiating with nerves
“We’ve played some really good cricket and we’ve also been a little bit poor at times, but there’s a very key message from our team, and it’s to take the game on as much as possible, play with freedom,” said McGrath.
UP Warriorz finished as the third-best team in the league behind Delhi Capitals and Mumbai Indians, with Warriorz set to face MI in a playoff to decide who meets Delhi in the summit clash on Sunday.
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With this opponent too, UPW has a 50-50 record, with an eight-wicket thrashing at the hands of Harmanpreet Kaur and Co. and a close five-wicket win scribbled into the ledger. Warriorz was the side to break a dominant unbeaten run for MI, but McGrath believes Friday’s playoff will see the slate wiped clean.
“We should have probably won that first one. So, we go in full of confidence. However, whatever has happened in the league stage is irrelevant now. We are going to try and play our aggressive brand of cricket with a smile on our faces, which is what we have been doing all season, and hopefully be there in the final on Sunday,” McGrath said.
The Australian all-rounder is the world’s best T20I batter and has lived up to that reputation with 295 runs in eight games at an average of 59.00 (best given the number of games she has played, but second best to teammate Grace Harris who averages 72 after playing five games). However, the 27-year-old did not have the best start to the tournament, falling for a golden duck in the Warriorz’s opening game against Gujarat Giants.
“I won’t forget the first game when I got out in the first ball and I was praised for playing an attacking shot and trying to take the game on. It is really nice when you have the support of your teammates and your coaching staff. And yeah, I suppose we go out there with freedom and try and push the boundaries, make big scores and chase down totals,” McGrath remembered.
Australia, the most dominant side in world cricket at the moment, has a healthy representation in the Women’s Premier League at 14. The most expensive overseas player is also an Aussie - Ashleigh Gardner (who Gujarat roped in for INR 3.2 crore). The Orange Cap has oscillated between Meg Lanning and McGrath - both Aussies. The league began with three out of five franchises opting for Australian captains - Beth Mooney (Giants), Lanning (Delhi) and Alyssa Healy (Warriorz). The importance accorded to players from Down Under justifies itself when you view their performances in the tournament. On a personal level, the players also have a feeling of vindication coming from it all, given that they were one of the biggest advocates for India entering the women’s franchise cricket ecosystem.
“We have been asking for this competition for a few years now and it is certainly delivered. The fact that there are so many more franchise leagues opening up across the world is so exciting for women’s cricket. This one has been a little bit different from the Big Bash and The Hundred, because, I think, there is so much hype. There is so much exposure and there is so much passion for cricket. I have never been required for so many media interactions. We kind of feel like rockstars. Everything about this experience and India is just next level!” she added.
Balancing self-improvement and mentorship
After a blip in the first game, McGrath picked herself up with four fifty-plus scores, including an unbeaten 90 against Delhi Capitals early on in the season. However, WPL has not seen so much of McGrath’s bowling prowess, something she is not happy about.
“I do miss bowling. It is a part of my game. I love being an all-rounder. I love contributing wherever I can but. I haven’t been great with the ball this season, not just this tournament but the whole season. So I have already flagged that for when I go home. I will have a little break from cricket and then I really want to get my bowling back because it’s no fun when you just field. I have identified that I need to improve and work on,” she said.
Meanwhile, McGrath is helping her younger teammates finetune their games and calls U19 T20 World Cup winner and tournament top scorer Shweta Sehrawat her keenest colleague.
“Just yesterday, Shweta was asking me a whole bunch of questions. We were comparing photos of when I won the World Cup with Australia and when she won the U19 World Cup. She is just picking my brains about batting and I am loving that. The way she goes about her batting is completely different from the way I go about my batting, so it is really interesting chatting, sharing similarities, sharing differences and just trying to learn from each other. Initially, it was a little bit standoffish, but now the Indian girls are so comfortable coming to us and just asking whatever questions they have got. So that has been a really enjoyable part of this tournament as well,” McGrath added.
Keeping things simple
But what is the Tahlia McGrath formula to succeed?
“For me, it is about being simple, enjoying it, and not over complicating it, which is very basic, but it just works for me. I know my game pretty well. I stick to my strengths and I try not to over complicate things.”
It helps that McGrath has Healy’s calming energy around the group. As captain, Healy has had a remarkable campaign, calming down her players in tense situations and being a source of inspiration for the younger crop, even in situations where she has not fired with the bat. It is a support system she is used to in the Australian team too, and the energy is balanced there by a tactically sharp Lanning.
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“Yeah, they’re very different as personalities and they both work extremely well. Two talented cricketers with different strengths - which is why I suppose the Australian team works so well because everyone brings something different to the team. From a leadership point of view, Meg is a tactical genius. Everything runs like clockwork. Midge (Healy) is more inspirational. She knows exactly what to say to calm players down, to get the best out of players, and every time she speaks, everyone just stops and listens and sort of gets inspired by what she says. So, we are very lucky in the Australian team that the captain and vice-captain and work so well together and I think this competition is very lucky to see two great leaders and have a lot of players learn from under them as well,” she added.
The bigger picture
Healy rings in her 33rd birthday on the very day UP Warriorz sets out to stake a claim to the spot in the final and McGrath hopes the side can win it for their skipper. Meanwhile, she has not lost sight of the larger picture, of the experience of this month in India.
“A few days ago, we were on a jet boat going to some villa like you have to pinch yourself at times and go, “Wow, I am really lucky to be in this position.” The dynamics have been great. We have come together and we have really bonded as a team really quickly. Our focus for the whole tournament is just to enjoy each other’s company, embrace the experience and play with smiles on our faces. When we do that and when we are enjoying our time, we play some good cricket,” she concluded.
UP Warriorz will take on Mumbai Indians in the WPL playoff at the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai. The match begins at 7:30 PM IST.
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