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Beth Mooney’s journey of self-improvement reaps huge rewards

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“We skipped uni for Beth Mooney,” read a placard at one of Australia’s group games at the T20 World Cup. From a squad that boasts superstars in the likes of Ellyse Perry, Meg Lanning, and Alyssa Healy, not often does Mooney, the left-handed opener for Australia, occupy front of mind. That placard, though, remains testament to Mooney’s appearance to the fore of Australia’s batting contingent, not least her stature as the No. 3-ranked batter in women’s T20Is.

Australia’s second-highest T20I run-scorer since 2018, Mooney has been the lynchpin in their batting in their run to the T20 World Cup final, too. Her tally of 181 runs from five games at an average of over 45 is the most in the line-up.

“If I knew I’d try to sell it, I think,” Mooney said about her form, after her crucial 28 in a second-fiddle act to captain Lanning helped secure a five-run victory in the semi-final against South Africa on Thursday. “I’m not sure what it is. I think, it’s a clear mind, being really calm and, for me, batting is a happy place. I don’t really think about anything else, except for what is going on in the game out there, and my mind is pretty clear.”

Heading into the World Cup, that clarity also shone through in the tri-series final at Melbourne’s Junction Oval last month. Anchoring the hosts’ innings with an unbeaten 71, Mooney helped consign India, the opponents she’s set to front up against in the World Cup final, to an 11-run defeat.

Prior to the tri-series, where she finished with the most runs for Australia, Mooney, who plays for Queensland in the Women’s National Cricket League and the Brisbane Heat in the Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), starred in Heat’s successive title triumphs in the 2018-2019 and 2019-20 seasons.

Much of where Mooney finds herself today, in the middle of a purple patch and on the cusp of winning a second straight T20 World Cup, is down to something of a course-correction that happened three years ago. Twenty-three at the time, she had approached Australia head coach Matthew Mott, expressing her desire to play in the 2017-18 County Championship in the UK. Mott, however, held the mirror up to Mooney, explaining she needed to get fitter, so fatigue didn’t come in the way of her batting through a T20 innings or digging in longer in the 50-over game.

As someone who describes herself as “a bit dogged and obstinate”, Mooney began transforming herself from being a slow runner to being among the top five quickest sprinters in the Australian national squad.

“We know now in the Australian set-up, if you want to stay in the team you’ve got to keep evolving, keep getting better,” Mooney told ESPNcricinfo. “The opportunities are increasing and you also have young kids coming in, so there’s a bit more pressure on us as well.

“One thing I pride myself on is I want to be better than what I was every time I walk out – better as a batter, fielder, player, human – whatever it might be. If you are not trying to be better than your friends and family and your team-mates, then there’s not much point in showing up every day.”

Part of Mooney’s realisation of the need to evolve was also a result of Australia’s back-to-back botched title defences that led to a wide-ranging self-appraisal within the team, coaching staff, and the management.

“Those couple of years where we lost the T20 World Cup in India and then one-day World Cup in the UK…they had an impact on me, on pretty much all,” Mooney recalled. “There was a lot of talk about other teams sort of catching up to us. There was a big change in the environment we had in the Australian team to come out in the World Cup in the Caribbean [in 2018] – foreign conditions, halfway across the world from Australia – to show the world what we are made of.

“From the changeroom in Calcutta [Kolkata] where we lost to West Indies to Derby where India beat us in the semi-final, and then [winning] the 2018 title…that was a pretty proud experience, to be part of the group that turned the ship around.”

According to Mooney, a part of her growth in the recent years is down to the captains she’s played under. One of them, Lanning, said Mooney, is “a great leader” whom she finds “particularly easy” to bat with “because when you walk out there and feel like trying something new out there, she’ll back you 100%.”

The biggest impact on her career by a captain, however, Mooney admitted, has come from Queensland and Heat captain, Kirby Short, who retired from all forms of cricket last month.

“It’s hard to look past her,” Mooney said. “Her leadership at the Brisbane Heat has been great and we have been friends as well, so to have someone like her whom we can bounce ideas off… it’s a real privilege.

“I would like to continue to having an impact on getting more girls in the game and creating a sort of platform for people to be able to speak out, be brave about particular things”

“She gets the vulnerable side of me – the side that sort of panics a little bit under pressure. She won’t articulate as much perhaps, but gets pretty much every version of me. It’s great to have a captain who has the belief in you to perform. She’s had a huge influence probably on the success of my career and also the impact of game as well.”

Lanning, under whom Mooney made her international debut four years ago, underlined “there’s no fuss” about her in-form opener. “She [Mooney] has been amazing…,” Lanning said after the semi-final. “In T20 cricket, it’s hard to be consistent, especially as an opener when you’re taking the game on, which is what she’s doing. You’re right. She goes about her business very quietly. There’s no fuss. She’s a very important part of our side…”

Mooney’s first decisive step towards playing for Australia had taken the form of her decision to quit a teaching degree at university six years ago in favour of playing full-time competitive cricket. Now four years into international cricket, she has a world title and 86 limited-overs games against her name, two Ashes Test caps, a CA contract, and appearances in overseas domestic T20 leagues like the now-defunct Kia Super League in the UK and the fledging Women’s T20 Challenge competition in India.

“I love my cricket, love being part of the different dressing rooms and love how far the teams I play for have come. These two-three things are a great combination for any cricketer striving to be better,” adding she’s “an honest, straightforward human” who, when not playing cricket, loves “finding good coffee, cycling, reading books, and hanging out with “my people” in her downtime.

“I love working hard, working on my game, but yeah, I am someone, if you see me on the street, and you got a dog. I am really sorry, I am going to walk up to you and interrupt whatever you’re doing, so I can pat your dog.”

Mooney’s goals for the immediate future remain aligned with extending her transformation and inspiring young girls through her game.

“For me, it’s about striving to be better continually and contribute to the success of whatever shirt I wear,” Mooney said, adding she wants to “be the best batter in the world” someday and, maybe keep wicket for Australia. “And I would like to continue to having an impact on getting more girls in the game and creating a sort of platform for people to be able to speak out, be brave about particular things.”

Five years down the line, where does she see herself?

“The great thing about cricket is you meet a few wonderful people along the way, and I have come across some already and I hope five years down from now I am still friends with them. That, along with ticking those cricket checkboxes off, would be great.”

Lifting the T20 World Cup at the MCG on Sunday firmly remains one of them.

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