BIRMINGHAM, England — Star batter Tahlia McGrath tested positive for COVID-19 but was still allowed to play as Australia won the first Commonwealth Games gold medal awarded in women’s cricket, beating India by nine runs in a thrilling final in Birmingham on Sunday.
The top-ranked cricket team was pushed to the brink by India, which was led superbly by captain Harmanpreet Kaur, but claimed seven wickets in the last five overs for victory.
There was drama midway through Australia’s innings when the team confirmed McGrath had tested positive for the coronavirus before the game.
Had the match been played in Australia, McGrath could not have played. But the Commonwealth Games rules are more relaxed to match the laws of host nation England.
Ahead of the game McGrath received clearance to play from the International Cricket Council and also the Commonwealth Games Foundation, but had only a minimal impact with the bat.
“McGrath presented to team management with mild symptoms on Sunday and subsequently returned the positive test. She was named in the starting XI at the toss and the International Cricket Council (ICC) approved her participation in the final,” a statement from Commonwealth Games Australia said.
“In consultation with the CGF and the ICC, CGA and Cricket Australia, medical staff have implemented a range of comprehensive protocols which will be observed throughout the game and for post-match activity, to minimize the risk of transmission to all players and officials. “
There was a strange moment early in India’s innings as it chased Australia’s total of 161-8.
After taking an important catch in the third over, McGrath had to wave her teammates away from her as they were gathering to celebrate the moment.
With Harmanpreet at the crease, India appeared to have a strong chance of reaching Australia’s target.
But when she lost her wicket for 65, scored from just 43 balls, the momentum swung the way of the eventual gold medalists. Australia bowled India out for 152 with three balls remaining.
Australian fast bowler Megan Schutt, who claimed two wickets, said removing the Indian skipper was a pivotal moment in the final.
She also said the Australian team knew about McGrath’s positive test and were all happy to play alongside her.
“She feels absolutely fine, so I think the positive result was an absolute shock to her. That is COVID, isn’t it? We knew the protocols when we came in here and obviously it paid off for us,” Schutt said. “Probably the strangest part of all was not being able to celebrate with her.”
Also Sunday, and only a week after the England women’s soccer team won the European Championship, its women’s hockey team created some history of its own at the Commonwealth Games.
It was a case of seventh time lucky for England, which beat Australia 2-1 in the final at the University of Birmingham to win its first-ever gold.
In the six previous editions where women’s hockey has been played in the Games, England had claimed either silver or bronze medals.
But against an Australian team that had claimed four gold medals in previous Commonwealth Games, the hosts controlled the match, scoring two early goals.
The crowd was already singing “Hockey’s coming home,” changing a popular chant usually associated with soccer, when Australia scored its only goal with 19 seconds remaining.
England player Lily Owsley said an aggressive game plan was the key to England’s success.
“Australia is so good. They’ve just won a bronze medal at the World Cup, so we had to give them that respect,” she said.
“We knew we had to come out fighting, as with a team that good, that direct, you have to fight fire with fire. Our coach said, ‘You’ve got to take the first swing and then you’ve just got to keep swinging.’ That’s what we did.”
New Zealand’s Aaron Gate continued a phenomenal Commonwealth Games when claiming a fourth gold medal, displaying his remarkable versatility to win the men’s road race.
The 31-year-old Gate also won the individual and team pursuits in London, as well as the points race, and he is the first New Zealand cyclist to claim four gold medals in a Games.
“That’s a special thing, making history. It gives a challenge to other Kiwis to go for that record in years to come,” he said.
“It is honestly going to take a while to sink in. Three felt great and I was super happy with that.
“I came here today to help the team and if the opportunity arose to go for a fourth one, I just had to grab it with both hands. It feels absolutely phenomenal.”
Australia has a decisive lead over England on the medal table heading into the final day of competition on Monday.
Earlier Sunday, Australia’s double world champion javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber again played the waiting game to perfection at the Commonwealth Games. After adding the 2022 world championship title in Oregon in July to her success in Doha in 2019, Barber traveled to England favored to claim her first Commonwealth gold medal.
But on the eve of the opening ceremony on July 28, she tested positive for COVID-19, putting her into isolation and casting doubt over her participation.
It was not until Thursday that the 30-year-old received clearance to compete in the event, but she said the days spent in isolation recovering from the illness did not detract from her belief.
“Mentally, I coped. I wasn’t going to let it affect my performance today,” Barber said.
Seeking to complete the full set of Games’ medals after winning a bronze in Glasgow in 2014 and a silver on the Gold Coast four years ago, Barber saved her best throw for last.
She trailed her teammate Mackenzie Little, who threw a personal best of 64.27 metres, into the last round. But Barber responded with an effort of 64.43 meters to clinch the gold medal.
Australia became the first nation to reach 1,000 gold medals in the Commonwealth Games when the Australian Diamonds defeated Jamaica 55-51 in the netball final.
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