Well established as the darlings of Australian sport, Meg Lanning’s side are now the golden girls in every sense, the medals around their necks gleaming as brightly as the 50-over and T20 World Cup trophies they also possess.
Even when India took an early wicket, even when Harmanpreet Kaur and Jemimah Rodrigues had the chase seemingly in hand, even though they dropped a catch and fielded a player who had tested positive for COVID-19; it was difficult to entertain the possibility they would not find a way to win.
They just don’t know how to lose when it really matters.
The Commonwealth Games Final was superb entertainment, worthy of the packed Edgbaston stands. It was a better contest than the T20 World Cup Final that was played in front of 86,000 fans and Katy Perry at the MCG in 2019.
But, while India produced their best fielding display in recent memory, perhaps ever, there was an air of inevitability about Australia’s ultimate victory, the underlying suspicion that at one point or another someone would drag the game back their way.
But their seeming invincibility is no fluke. There is no secret sauce.
They have depth because there is investment in pathways and domestic cricket. They develop skills and athleticism through coaching and high performance programs that have grown more professional. And they know how to soak up pressure on important occasions in front of big crowds because their domestic competitions afford them those conditions.
None of this negates the individual talents of the players, their commitment and hard work, or their team ethos.
But since their World Cup Semi-Final exit at the hands of India in 2017 they have become one of, if not the most, dominant international teams sport has ever known and lived up to the maxim that investment leads to profit.
In every international women’s tournament in recent years, teams almost always finish in an order that reflects the relevant investment by their boards, particularly in regards to domestic cricket.
England were a little disappointing in their playoff match for bronze against New Zealand, seemingly deflated by missing out on a shot at gold, while South Africa seem to have gone backwards after a poor England tour, but there were no real shocks in the final placings.
India certainly started the match full of confidence, thanks in no small part to the bowling of Renuka Singh Thakur, a prodigious talent who has arguably been the breakthrough star of the tournament; incisive in the powerplay and dependable in her follow-up spells.
In her second over, Thakur’s trademark inswing was too good for Alyssa Healy, rapping her on the front pad as she attempted to flick the ball to the leg side.
It wasn’t given out and looked as though it may have gone over the top of the stumps but, with one second remaining on the countdown clock, Harmanpreet Kaur signalled for the review and Healy – they player who had sucker punched India in the 2020 final – was gone for just nine runs.
But Australia kept on coming.
Beth Mooney, whose momentous 61 off 41 was both anchoring and aggressive, and Meg Lanning (36 off 26) added 74 for the second wicket before Lanning was removed by the first of several brilliant fielding efforts by India.
Mooney drove a Radha Yadav ball back at the bowler who flicked it between her legs and onto the stumps at the non-striker’s end, leaving a diving Meg Lanning short of the crease.
In the next over, Yadav was at it again, diving full stretch to take an absolute screamer of a catch to dismiss Tahlia McGrath, who was playing after testing positive to COVID-19 on the morning of the match, for just two runs.
Still, Australia kept on coming.
Mooney was joined by Ash Gardner (25 off 15), whose nonchalant striking was best displayed by an enormous six casually lofted straight down the ground.
It took another feat of fielding magic to end their partnership; Mooney skewed a Sneh Rana delivery over mid-on but Deepti Sharma, running backwards and almost losing her balance, stuck out her right hand and watched the ball all the way and gripped it tightly as she tumbled to the ground.
It was inspiring stuff but, even as the wickets fell and the runs slowed, the vast experience of Rachael Haynes was there to whip 18 runs off 10 balls and set India a target of 162 for victory.
Then it was Australia’s bowlers who kept on coming.
Smriti Mandhana (6 off 7) had been in scintillating form throughout the tournament, the elegant left-hander ensuring sprightly starts to India’s innings.
But Darcie Brown set her up beautifully, drawing her outside off stump and then bowling Mandhana around her legs and flattening leg stump for good measure.
Shafali Verma (11 off 7) was aggressive from the outset but miscued as she tried to heave Gardner and skied the ball to McGrath at mid-on, causing bizarre scenes as McGrath gestured for her teammates to keep their distance and stood apart as they celebrated nearby.
But Kaur (65 off 43) and the irrepressible Jemimah Rodrigues quickly took control of the chase. Kaur, in particular, looked to be playing a similarly ominous innings to the one she played to almost single-handedly knock Australia out of the 2017 World Cup.
But Australia… you know the rest.
After a 96-run stand Rodrigues (33 off 33) was the first to go, clean bowled by Megan Schutt, and Pooja Vastrakar holed out to Mooney in the deep off Gardner in the following over.
Gardner made it two in two with the wicket of Kaur, who attempted a scoop only for the ball to balloon off her helmet and Healy completed the catch.
Once Sharma (13 off 8) was trapped lbw by Schutt, the wheels were barely clinging to the axles, India losing three batters to runouts as they desperately tried to reduce the margin.
Two wickets in the final over, bowled by the ever-reliable Jess Jonassen, left India nine runs short and all out with three balls remaining.
They had come close, they had pushed Australia hard, and this young side will surely lift trophies in the future.
But after cruising at 2 for 118, India couldn’t stop the Australian’s coming – coming for inevitable gold – as they lost 8 wickets for 34 runs.
Australia the invincible juggernaut, the Terminator that will not stop, the Transformer that instantly produces a new weapon whenever an enemy strikes a blow.
It may not last forever, and India may be the team that eventually ends their glorious run.
But Lanning’s side holds every prize in the women’s game and her players have returned all the interest that could be expected on Cricket Australia’s investment.