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Analysis

McGrath's all-round Ashes T20I heroics prove Perry is no longer peerless

Ellyse Perry, arguably the best-ever women's allrounder, may at long last have a worthy successor

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
20-Jan-2022
Tahlia McGrath struck with a double-wicket over, Australia Women vs England Women, Women's Ashes, 1st T20I, Adelaide Oval, January 20, 2022

Tahlia McGrath struck with a double-wicket over  •  Getty Images

Was there a changing of the guard in Australia's T20I side at Adelaide Oval? On the night Ellyse Perry was dropped - no longer considered a first-choice inclusion in the format - Tahlia McGrath produced one of the great all-round displays to help the hosts ace a 170-run chase in the Ashes opener.
She became the first player in women's T20Is to score more than 75 and take three wickets in match. Her double-wicket over to remove Nat Sciver and Danni Wyatt with a pair of yorkers was a momentum-shift that she was able to pick up with the bat, having been promoted to No. 3 due to the reshuffle caused by Beth Mooney's injury.
"I had no idea where I was going to bat," McGrath said after her heroics in the opening T20I. "At the team meeting yesterday, [I] saw my name listed at three and had to double-check. It was my night tonight.
"In the past I've not been great at executing my yorkers, so I was like 'I'll give it my best shot'. It's a ball I've been practising over pre-season - still not a ball I'm fully confident with, so [I'm] pretty lucky they came off tonight."
McGrath has yet to earn an average in T20Is after unbeaten scores of 42 and 44 against India earlier this season which capped a Player-of-the-Series performance as she regained a regular spot in international cricket for the first time since 2017.
However, after her match-winning efforts which left England's shellshocked attack without any answers, having seemingly been given a decent total to defend, McGrath insisted she was not sure she would be lining up in the first match of the Ashes - although it's difficult to believe, even with Australia's depth, that she would have been overlooked.
"When you look at the players sitting on the sidelines, it's such a quality side," she said. "I wasn't even sure if I was going to get the nod tonight to play. So when you get your opportunity you've got to make the most of it, because there are plenty waiting in line more than capable."
"Something just clicked tonight, not sure what it was, if I can't put my finger on it I'd like to replicate it but was just so excited for this match. The first time playing for Australia in my home state, having friends and family in the crowd, just really enjoyed every minute of it. Maybe that contributed to it, but pretty special."
Whether the baton has definitively been passed in the pace-bowling batting-allrounder role with Perry watching on from the dugout remains to be seen. But while the move not to pick Perry had been flagged ahead of the match, this felt like a significant night for the Australian team as they lived up to their talk of role-specific selection in T20Is by recalling Grace Harris as a middle-order specialist.
Since her T20I debut in February 2008, Perry had played 126 of Australia's 144 matches, with the majority of those missed being through injury. However, her batting strike rate - down at 91.32 in this season's WBBL - has become ill-suited to the position available in the line-up, particularly when added to her limited role with the ball since the severe hamstring injury at the 2020 T20 World Cup.
Australia could also have gone for a more like-for-like replacement for Mooney - Georgia Redmayne or Elyse Villani would have been incredibly deserving - but in Meg Lanning they knew they had a ready-made opening batter, at least for the short term.
"We flagged it with Ellyse a few weeks ago that you know there was going to be some pressure on some spots there," head coach Matthew Mott told Channel Seven. "I think all our research shows, and particularly the trends in the men's game, is the ability of the five, six and seven really score quickly and get a very high strike rate.
"So once she wasn't considered in the top order, it became a different conversation and that's why someone like Grace has come in…so yeah, tough conversations to have, but she's handled it extremely well and she's going to play a huge part in the rest of the series."
For now Perry remains a first-choice pick in the ODI side - where she can be an anchor at No. 4 in a side that likes to go hard in the powerplay - and her Test match credentials are almost without peer. But Australia won't be able to leave McGrath out of those teams, either.

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo