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Tahlia McGrath switches focus to World Cup after season she 'never would have imagined'

The allrounder has returned to international cricket a dominant force with bat and ball

Andrew McGlashan
Andrew McGlashan
A little under a year ago, Tahlia McGrath was part of Australia's tour of New Zealand and did not get a game. Now, she returns for the ODI World Cup as an integral part of the team after a breakout home season that saw her win Player of the Series awards against India and England.
It has been a remarkable return to the side for McGrath. She had played just once for Australia between October 2017 and September 2021 - an ODI against New Zealand in 2020 where 29 off 11 balls gave a glimpse of the cricketer she was becoming.
Over the course of this season, she has yet to earn a T20I average after three match-winning, unbeaten innings, she has scored a maiden Test half-century, and, most significantly with what is approaching across the Tasman, was a regular contributor with bat and ball in the ODIs including a superb 74 against India in Mackay when Australia had been 52 for 4 chasing 275.
"Looking back, it was probably the innings that started my whole summer," McGrath reflected as she spoke to ESPNcricinfo ahead of the World Cup. "When I walked out to the crease I was strangely relaxed and just went about my business from ball one. Being able to go out there and play the way that I know that I've been capable of playing, that had a flow-on effect to my overall confidence for the rest of the whole Big Bash and Ashes. At the time, I probably didn't realise the significance that it had on the rest of my season, but it was very important in the way that things played out."
For McGrath, her goal at the start of the season was to secure a regular place back in the XI. Yet, by the latter part of the summer, her success in the T20I side played no small part in Ellyse Perry being sidelined in that format and there was little doubt she was among the best XI in ODIs.
"It's been a crazy season," she said. "Loved every second of it and it's been really nice to play some good cricket as a team and individually as well. I'm always someone that likes to set myself goals and my biggest motivator at the start of the season was making my way back into the teams.
"What happened from there has well and truly exceeded my expectations, I never would have imagined what has happened."
"This [World Cup] is a tournament that I flagged probably about two years ago that I was really wanting to be a part of. I think it's my best format. I haven't been part of a World Cup before, have been so close quite a few times, so this is one I've had in by diary for a while"
Tahlia McGrath
In many ways, McGrath is a prime example of what makes Australian cricket so strong. She had her first taste of international cricket in 2016 and, though she made 47 on Test debut against England, it was a relatively short-lived stay which then followed a battle with back injuries that led to her having to rebuild her bowling.
But there was a setup in place to help her and a strong domestic structure where she was able to grow her game while keeping her connected to the national scene around Australia A.
"We're really lucky in Australia, with the domestic setup we have, the fact that we can train all year round and play in competitions like the Big Bash," she said. "I was lucky enough to be part of the NPS [national performance squad] and travel to a few countries with the 'A' team. Even when you're not playing in the Australian team, you can chip away at your game and get some really valuable experience.
"I think that's part of why there's so much depth in Australian cricket and we saw that in the Ashes. When we looked at the players in the Aussie A side, you think 'wow, there is serious talent there' and it certainly keeps you on your toes."
McGrath has returned with her skills enhanced, but also a refreshed mental approach to the game, which includes extensive use of a sports phycologist and a move into leadership roles at the domestic level.
"The initial call-up to the Australian side came out of blue, and if I look back now, I think I just lacked that self confidence, that self-belief," she said. "That was probably a contributing factor to the fact that it was a bit of a brief stint initially, and a few unlucky injuries and things along the way. I've certainly come a long way in terms of my overall self-belief, that's for sure.
"I found it hard if I had a bad game to sort of park that and move aside, so I have certainly grown a lot over the last four or five years, that's for sure. Once you've had a taste of [international cricket] it's the place I wanted to be. I gave it everything to get back and the hard work is starting to pay off."
She believes the forays into leadership - which has seen her form a close relationship with former Australia captain Belinda Clark - has aided her own game, but it was not a path she would not have envisaged taking.
"I would have never seen myself as a leader and it was never something that I thought about," she said. "Then a few opportunities popped up through some [South Australia] Scorpions stuff and Australia A. Caught me by surprise, and I found enjoyment from it, especially leading the [Adelaide] Strikers last year was an experienced I absolutely loved.
"I think it has probably had a positive effect on my cricketing ability as well… that's had the flow-on effect to my on-field performance with my overall confidence, getting me outside of my comfort zone and just believing that I belong to this level.
"This [World Cup] is a tournament that I flagged probably about two years ago that I was really wanting to be a part of. I think it's my best format. I haven't been part of a World Cup before, have been so close quite a few times, so this is one I've had in by diary for a while."

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo