India opener Smriti Mandhana has scored a flawless century as Australia continue to struggle to take wickets in the only Test of the CommBank Series on the Gold Coast.
It has been just over a week since Australia were named ICC T20 Women’s World Cup champions after defeating India in the final by 85 runs in front of 86,174 fans at the MCG.
The day had several unforgettable moments. Alyssa Healy signalling her intention for her batting innings, hitting Shikha Pandey’s first delivery of the match to the boundary. Beth Mooney’s remarkable innings of 78 from 54 balls, setting a new record for the highest score in a women’s T20 World Cup final. A visibly pregnant Katy Perry entertaining the crowd before the match started, surrounded by giant lipstick-wearing cricket bats and imagery that screamed girl power.
And, of course, a wicked after party, with the Aussies celebrating with Perry on stage, showcasing their unique dance moves.
Hundreds of thousands of people watched on television and thousands remained in the stadium to be part of that moment.
Australian coach Matthew Mott watched that performance on stage from afar and it was a moment he will never forget.
“It was unbelievable. It was the cream on top of the cake at the end of it all,” says Mott.
“I don’t think I will ever be able to get those images out of my mind. My sister was up in the viewing room with me and she wanted to leave. I told her to stick around, because the team is going up and we have a few loose cannons, so this will be fun.
“Thankfully my sister stuck around.”
The loose cannons Mott is referring to in the most loving of ways are the likes of Erin Burns, Molly Strano and Sophie Molineux.
Strano turned up to the team celebration at Federation Square the next day wearing a pair of go-go boots she had been gifted by one of Perry’s back-up dancers and few will forget the footage of Molineux strutting down the dance floor to ‘Firework’.
This is truly amazing considering the run that Molineux has recently had with injury and the break she took during the WBBL to focus on her mental health.
“They were always going to go out there and they weren’t going to sheepishly tap their feet around. They were going to seize the moment,” Mott says.
“It was so awesome because it was so natural. It was them. None of that was put on, it was exactly what you would expect to see on a dance floor celebrating any sort of win.”
Genuine. It’s a word we have come to associate with this team and it’s why so many of us love them.
As a result of Cricket Australia’s genuine commitment to women’s cricket and the investment in competitions like the WBBL, local interest has soared over the last five years.
As the Aussie women have continued to dominate the world stage, they have had unprecedented support from the public. But the flipside was enormous pressure leading into the tournament.
The hosts’ campaign did not go as planned, with questions about their form following their victory in the tri-series, which saw the team lose matches to India and England. There were worries about Alyssa Healy’s form as she failed to reach double figures once in five innings.
Similar questions followed Rachael Haynes but had been asked for much longer after a WBBL season that saw her average 15.09 with a high score of 36.
Then on the eve of the tournament, Tayla Vlaeminck was ruled out with a stress fracture. Australia lost their opening match against India at the Sydney Showgrounds by 17 runs, with Poonam Yadav skittling the top order, finishing with figures of 4-19.
The next challenge was Sri Lanka and, after sitting at 3-10, the Aussie campaign looked to be on life support. Thanks to the efforts of Haynes’ 60 and Meg Lanning, who scored 41 not out, the Aussies progressed, only to lose Ellyse Perry to injury during their final pool match against New Zealand.
These roadblocks only made the eventual victory that much sweeter.
“Our tournament was nearly over halfway through that Sri Lankan game,” Mott reflects.
“We almost felt like from that point on we had to live and die by the sword. We had to play that brand of cricket that people have loved for the last two years.
“We knew we weren’t ourselves that first game, but what people need to understand is how much expectation there was.”
There was an obvious expectation that the Aussies would dominate the tournament. But most importantly, there was an expectation they would make the final and help to fill the MCG.
Incredibly though, once the Aussies made the final, there was a visible change in attitude. It was like one layer of pressure had been removed and for Mott, this was obvious in how the team played that day.
“A lot of the build-up was about filling the MCG and we did the best by our fans, to grow the sport and women’s sport,” the coach says.
“We went into the final seeing it as a celebration. We didn’t go to come second, and we would have been bitterly disappointed to lose, but you could see that we went into that game in a high and we rode it all the way home.”
So, where to from here? A new benchmark has been set but how can we ensure the momentum continues?
For cricket lovers, the fixture for the final was almost a dream. As an Aussie fan, a victory to the home team meant joy.
But as a cricket fan, a victory to India would have surely prompted additional investment in the women’s game.
But perhaps India appearing in the final was enough? For Mott, there is huge potential.
“We are worldly enough to know that when India take an interest in something there is an avalanche,” he says.
“If India begin to turn the wheel, they will dominate internationally. We have a head start in athleticism because our programs have been going for a while. But the more cricket that happens, India will be a huge force in world cricket going forward once the sleeping giant awakens.
“Surely they have seen enough in their players. There are some once-in-a-generation players in that team. The game is in good health. It is up to the administrators to work out the right balance but certainly a women’s IPL that replicates the men’s tournament has to be the goal.”
Additionally, Mott reflects on the increased scrutiny on his team.
“Now our team is being critiqued for their cricket, rather than it being just fluffy. We certainly had our moments in the tournament where we faced scrutiny,” says Mott.
“India will probably go back to India and have to face the music like we did in 2017, but what it means is that people care now. People know the players and it is so healthy for the game. They are being judged as cricketers now. With that comes good stuff, but also extra critical analysis of players.”
Another opportunity for that critical analysis was due to come straight after the World Cup, with an Aussie tour of South Africa scheduled.
That has now been postponed, given the current global situation, so it may be several months before we see the Aussie women in action again.
To keep me occupied until then, I’ll just rewatch that video of Sophie Molineux dancing with Katy Perry just one more time.