Australia’s all-conquering women’s cricket team continued their dominance of the sport after edging out India in the Commonwealth Games final at Edgbaston, but not before Covid-19 has served up a dose of drama.
Meg Lanning’s side secured a nine-run win to claim the first Commonwealth gold awarded to women in a tight match in which India threatened to pull off a remarkable run chase right to the death.
The history-making victory came amid high drama though, with Australia confirming midway through their innings that all-rounder Tahlia McGrath had tested positive to Covid-19 on the morning of the match.
If the final had been held in Australia, McGrath would not have been able to play but the Commonwealth Games rules are more relaxed to match the laws of the host nation.
After checking with bodies including the International Cricket Council and the Commonwealth Games Foundation – resulting in a 12-minute delay to the toss – she was allowed to take her place, with precautions. Wearing a mask, she sat isolated from her teammates during the batting innings and in a surreal moment after taking a catch in the third over, she waved her teammates away as they ran to celebrate.
“We were all happy to play, she was happy to play,” fast bowler Megan Schutt said after the game. “She feels absolutely fine so I think the positive result was a bit of a shock to her, but that’s Covid isn’t it – we’re all going to live through it.”
When the final wicket was confirmed by the third umpire, McGrath went from standing outside the team huddle to jumping into it. And when she received her medal on the podium, she was, in stark contrast to her teammates, masked.
“We didn’t want to get in trouble, we felt bad for Tahlia at the end there,” Schutt said. “Obviously when you’re part of a game that’s so thrilling like that, that’s all you want to do [is celebrate] and at the end screw it, if we get Covid, so be it.”
While India maintained a diplomatic line, it is believed they were not as supportive of the decision. “Before the toss we got to know … that was something which was not in our control and whatever the decision the Commonwealth had, we had to follow it,” skipper Harmanpreet Kaur said.
Opener Beth Mooney – who starred with the bat making 61 off 41 balls – said: “It’s a real shame that in elite sport you get publicly shamed for having Covid when over here probably 90% of the people in this room have it right now.
“No-one’s testing, no-one’s doing anything. It’s just a real shame she couldn’t celebrate with us, but at the same time I think the right decision was made in terms of letting her play. Hopefully people aren’t too upset about it”.
Australia had been on top until reeled in late in their innings. Indian captain Harmanpreet Kaur then batted brilliantly when scoring 65 from 43 balls. But when she was caught by record-breaking wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy off the bowling of Ash Gardner in the 16th over, the momentum swung back towards the Australians.
“Once she [Kaur] flicked the switch there and started bombing us for fours and sixes we knew we were in trouble … her wicket, that was the absolute turning point,” Schutt said. India came down to needing 11 off the final over, but Jess Jonassen needed only three balls to finish off the tail.
“It means a lot more than a I thought it did before these Commonwealth Games,” Schutt said.
Australia could have made things easier for themselves had they gone on with what was looking like being a big total. Mooney and skipper Meg Lanning (36 off 26) put on 74 for the second wicket, and at 109-3 with seven overs to go, 180-plus was in the offing.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report