Shortlisted for the first round of our Emerging Sports Writers Program, Cat Jones shares her reflection of the 2020 T20 World Cup, one year on.
For this sports nut, 2020 has thrown up many challenges. Not being able to play sport, or watch sport in a stadium for the majority of the year has meant I’ve turned to other forms to get my sport fix. I’ve rediscovered my love of basketball, watched more netball than I ever have before and have lost myself in books, blogs and podcasts. It’s also meant I’ve had the time to consider why sport really engages me. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so why sport? And why cricket in particular?
There are many sporting moments that I could consider my ‘favourite’, which Gemma Bastiani and Alison Smirnoff have already discussed in this series. Cathy Freeman’s epic 400m win in the 2000 Olympics gave me the best birthday present I could wish for, and this Aussie Rules loving Melbournian cried when she saw the number of people that attended the 2019 AFLW Grand Final in Adelaide.
So, after those, what would it be?
In a year like no other, it had to be an event like no other. And so here is my moment: the Australian Women’s Cricket team winning the T20 World Cup final at the MCG, in front of a very large, very vocal crowd.
The path to the final for the Australian team was definitely not an easy one. They had the expectations of the cricketing world on them—home team, standout performances in all formats and a side of exceptional talent. In the group stage, they faltered. India beat them in the first match. In the second, it went down to the wire against Sri Lanka. A comprehensive win over Bangladesh steadied the ship. In the last, Australia beat New Zealand, but Ellyse Perry sustained a very bad hamstring injury. It was not the road to the finals that everyone predicted.
While the on-field results were keeping everyone entertained, and the Thai team winning everyone over with their enthusiasm, another story was brewing. The organisers, the media and the MCG were driving the attempt to create history with the most people in attendance at a women’s sporting event. I was lucky enough to be working at the Australian Sports Museum at the time, on the cricket gallery no-less, and the atmosphere at the ground was electric. Could we, Melbourne—the home of sport—do it?
Rain affected semi-finals meant that India and Australia would face off in the final on the 8th of March, and I could not have been happier. Indian cricket fans are known to come out and support cricket in all formats in droves, so it would mean that the stadium would be close to full. And if the record wasn’t broken, it wouldn’t matter as an almost-full MCG is incredible to be part of.
Meg Lanning wins the toss and elects to bat first. Alyssa Healy started the Australian innings off with a lofted four in what would be a blistering innings of 75 runs, with the ever-consistent Beth Mooney ending up on 78*. The 184-run total gave the crowd plenty of highlights, including lots of boundaries and an excellent stumping by the Indian keeper Bhatia. The Indian women had their work cut out for them, but cricket finals can do funny things to confidence and the Aussies would have to work hard if they were to lift the trophy.
Between the innings, the crowd around me was abuzz. There were definitely people in my vicinity who had never been to an international women’s cricket match before, and I wouldn’t be surprised if some had never watched a women’s game. When one patron commented on his surprise at the fire-power of Alyssa Healy, I couldn’t help myself and responded ‘I hear her husband isn’t bad at cricket either’. His nod and reply of ‘touché’ showed his acceptance that this Healy innings was nothing new and perhaps he should be watching more women’s cricket.
On to the Indian innings. When Schutt had Verma caught behind very early on, the scoreboard flashed with young boys and girls delighted at the wicket. To see girls and boys this excited is something that was memorable—they will grow up having both Australian teams as their heroes. In the end, it was really only Sharma that provided some resistance to the Australian fielding machine. The Aussies proved that catches really do win matches. Everyone was on the edge of their seat towards the end of the innings, knowing that the Aussies were so close to the title. And when Ash Gardner took that last catch, I cried and the crowd roared. I cried because the crowd was so passionately behind women’s cricket. I cried because Mel Jones and Lisa Sthalekar were emotional. I cried because the Aussies were so, so excited. And I cried because I knew I was lucky to be in that crowd.
But the crowd size—the largest for a women’s sporting event in Australia and for a women’s cricket match globally—or even the result is not only what makes this T20 World Cup final my favourite sporting moment. It is the fact that this was the last live sporting event that many would see before we in Melbourne headed into restrictions and then complete lockdown. I’ve held on to the feeling of being in that crowd when watching other events on the television. It’s been the marker for ‘what was’ and ‘what is’. Discussions of the game with friends usually include the line ‘can you believe we were there?’ and it’s not in relation to the result.
In a year like no other, the Australian women winning the T20 World Cup at the MCG brings back feelings of excitement and of hope. Thinking about it still gives me goosebumps. It will be a moment that I will talk about in the future as something that defines 2020. It will be a moment of ‘where were you when…’ for me and so many other sports fans.