Of all the clutch innings Beth Mooney
has played in T20 finals, this one was a gem.
Australia were in an uncharacteristic rut, a boundary drought lasting 20 balls since she had heaved a full Marizanne Kapp delivery through mid-on in the fifth over of their Women's T20 World Cup final against South Africa
. Then Ashleigh Gardner
, moved up to No. 3 ahead of Meg Lanning as Australia looked to exploit their formidable batting depth, pulled a Nonkululeko Mlaba short ball through deep square leg and powered another tossed up on off stump through extra cover for back-to-back fours. Gardner proceeded to unleash consecutive sixes down the ground off Nadine de Klerk and Mooney pierced the gap at cover off Ayabonga Khaka and Australia were away.
Mooney was the glue that held the Australian innings together when the Gardner-promotion masterstroke ended after she had added 29 from 21 balls. Through the fall of fellow opener Alyssa Healy for a laboured 18 and the dismissals of Grace Harris - also sent in ahead of Lanning - and Lanning herself, both for 10, Mooney forged on, as she has done so often in big games.
In her seven T20 finals appearances since 2019, including three WBBL title deciders, Mooney has only once failed to pass fifty. At the 2020 edition of the T20 World Cup, her perfectly paced 78 not out off 54 balls as Australia crushed India
was only slightly overshadowed by the belligerence of Healy's 75 off 39. She also scored half-centuries in the Commonwealth Games gold-medal match
and the final of the 2020 home tri-series
with India and England.
On this occasion, Mooney had to overcome a slow start but her response was exquisitely timed, and smart. She was scoring at a run-a-ball with four fours in the first ten overs but upped that to 49 off 28 with five fours and a six in the last ten.
South Africa's bowlers restricted Australia to 36 for 1 after six overs, their lowest powerplay score of the tournament, but halfway through their innings they were 73 for 1, their second best score at the 10-over mark for the tournament. That was largely thanks to Gardner's 27 from 16 balls at the time.
On a slow pitch, Mooney was patient, although there were moments of less-subtle brilliance too. She scooped de Klerk over short third to the boundary and immediately charged towards the next ball and struck it wide of mid-off for another four, then kept the run rate ticking over and brought up her fifty advancing to Kapp and slapping the ball to the rope beyond extra cover.
"I actually asked one of the girls who ran out if she could ask Shell [head coach Shelley Nitschke] if she wanted to retire me - because I was hitting it that bad. That didn't quite make it to Shell."
With only three fielders outside the circle after South Africa were penalised for a slow over rate, Mooney unleashed on the first ball of the final over, powering Shabnim Ismail over long-on directly onto the edge of the TV camera's viewfinder. She was put down by Laura Wolvaardt with three balls left and then Ismail dismissed Ellyse Perry and Georgia Wareham with consecutive balls but by then, Mooney had done enough to keep Australia on course for a sixth T20 World Cup title and third in a row, their 13th in all including ODI events.
It was testament to Mooney's experience in such positions that she dug in and got on with it in trying conditions - and that drinks runner Kim Garth thought better of passing on her message to coach Shelley Nitschke
when the going was tough.
"I wasn't too happy with how I was hitting them," Mooney said after the game. "I actually asked one of the girls who ran out if she could ask Shell [Shelley Nitschke] if she wanted to retire me - because I was hitting it that bad. That didn't quite make it to Shell.
"It just goes to show if you hang in there long enough and get the pace of the wicket - I probably didn't have a great plan through the middle there, stepping across and trying to hit it too square - but once I stayed a bit stiller and hit it a bit straighter, it wasn't too bad.
"I think I've gotten to a bit of a sweet spot with how I prepare and how comfortable I am with my game. I just thrive off being able to grit and fight and probably go through those tough innings that don't feel as good but perhaps get the teams over the line that I play for."
Nitschke put Mooney's track record of producing crucial performances on the big stage down to her "steely determination".
"The message to retire her never actually reached me," Nitschke said. "She's obviously highly skilled but there's just this real determination and ability to read the game. By her own admission, she probably struggled a little bit early but it was really important for us in the context of the game that she stayed there and went on to make a big score and was striking really well at the end.
"I'm not sure you can teach that but it's an amazing ability that she's got to be able to just hang in when the going's tough in tough conditions and make it up and make winning contributions."
Gardner was also pivotal with the ball, helping to contain South Africa to a paltry 22 for 1 in the powerplay and claiming the key wicket of Kapp. She was named Player of the Tournament as the joint second-highest wicket-taker
with 10 at 12.50 and an economy rate of 6.25, which included a devastating 5 for 12 against New Zealand. She also contributed 110 runs with the bat.
Mooney also heaped some praise on her. "She's matured immensely across the last few years off the field and with her own game she's probably in a sweet spot as well in terms of how comfortable and confident she is," Mooney said. "She's making some match-winning contributions very consistently for this Australian team, so I've been really impressed with what I've seen from Ash and she's going to be around for a long time, so hopefully she can continue to produce those games."
Valkerie Baynes is a general editor, women's cricket, at ESPNcricinfo