ICC Women's T20 World Cup 2020
Inside the unknown world of Beth Mooney
Australia's highest-ranked T20 batter is steeling herself to overcome significant pressures and stresses – both public and personal – in order to lead her country to glory at the World Cup
Beth Mooney pushes through the glass door and walks across the room with a confidence bred from familiarity. The hipsterish coffee house up the road from Allan Border Field in Albion is a regular haunt. She orders a flat white, sits on a stool, and rests her forearms on a long timber-top table. Mooney is dressed for work: matching bottle green Cricket Australia polo and shorts, plus runners. She looks fresh, and super fit. Australia's T20 World Cup squad is in Brisbane for a couple of nights and that alone puts a smile on her face, not least because it means two things: last night, she slept in her own bed; and this morning, she took her four-year-old border collie, Ruby, for a walk. It is only 7.30am but Mooney has already been up for a couple of hours, savouring the company of her loyal companion and soaking in the surrounds of the city that this country girl calls home.
"It's one of the simple pleasures in life. I don't take my phone with me. I don't take music. I'm just spending time with the dog, and being out in nature," she says.
"It's nice to have another soul around who gets it but doesn't have to say anything. Just company for days where you're probably not feeling your best … especially during high-pressure, stressful and tough personal situations."
There has been a lot of pressure and stress lately. The looming World Cup is the most significant event of her career to date. Australia's defence of the trophy on home soil has been out there on the horizon for 15 months, drawing irrevocably closer every time Mooney dares to lift her gaze. It has been impossible for her not to think about. The marketing and the media and the meet-and-greets and the multitude of engagements. All of it is noise she could do without. She can literally feel the heaviness, as the expectation of not only reaching the final, but filling the MCG with 100,000 fans, grows with each passing day.
"Everyone just keeps asking us about the final," she says. "We keep saying, 'We've actually got to win a lot of games before we get there, and we're in the toughest pool, so …'
"I reckon T20 as well now, the best team doesn't always win … one person can win you the game.
"That's what makes me really nervous.
"It's just, what will be, will be."
Mooney is taking some comfort from the fact she has moved into the form of her career. She is a run machine at the moment. A banker at the top of Australia's batting order. Crucially, she is just starting to believe it, too.
But she has also been distracted. A serious family issue which, for now, has reached a sort of stalemate, has been constantly playing on her mind. She knows what this World Cup means to those closest to her, so one on hand, the timing sucks. On the other, well, it doesn't.
"One thing I love about cricket, and this is probably the reason I play actually, is my mind is clear when I'm out there," she explains.
"I'm not thinking God, is Ruby OK with where she's been left? or What's Mum thinking?
"All I'm thinking about is the situation of the game, the bowler who's bowling the ball, and helping my mate out at the other end.
"I actually think the World Cup has come at a good time because I know it's going to give me a nice break from my brain."
Mooney has just bought a house in the northern Brisbane suburb of Virginia, about a 10-minute drive from Queensland Cricket headquarters. Six years ago, she quit her teaching degree and went all-in on cricket.
"I had to, to be honest," she says now. "I was doing Uni, I was a checkout chick at Woolworths, and I was training silly hours.
"I'd wake up at 5.30am, come and wicketkeep with (former Queensland and Australia rep) Jodie Fields, do gym, go to work, go to Uni, then come back to training.
"I'd get home at nine or ten o'clock at night and then do it all again.
"And at one point I reckon there was $10 in my account, so there was a level of having to make a decision for my well-being, too.
"I thought, You know what, I'm only going to get one crack at this.
"You only get to do it for a particular amount of time, and I'd hate to be 30 years old and be like, 'What if I'd actually done it?'
"If I'd finished my teaching (degree), taken a step back from cricket and ended up being a domestic player that stopped playing when she was 22 or 23, I would have regretted it."
It was a brave decision. There were no guarantees and certainly not the groundswell of interest, nor the same financial rewards, in women's cricket that exist today. In the years since, Mooney has ridden a revolution, benefiting from the professionalisation of the women's game in myriad ways.
As Mooney sips her flat white and deals in matters regarding both cricket and her life beyond, she offers flashes of both entrenched insecurity and emphatic self-belief. Each is a telling aspect of her character. When she compares herself to her younger sister, Gabrielle, who is an occupational therapist, she is the "dumb athlete" of the family. Within the Australian T20 side, she considers herself lucky to be opening the batting in a list full of "world-class players, and I don't think I'm one of those".
She laughs as she makes each comment but there seems more than flippancy at play; Mooney undersells – or undervalues – her own capabilities. Fortunately, it is something she is starting to acknowledge. Like the rest of us, she is a work in progress, and encouragingly, the steps being taken are deliberate.
"Sometimes we forget that working on being the best version of ourselves is actually quite difficult," she says. "I've been trying to do that for the last 18 months.
"There are a few people who will probably say I need a lot more work, but at the moment, as long as I'm the best version of myself for the people around me (that's OK) – and the best version for me, too; I'm sometimes not the kindest human to myself so I've probably got to look after myself a bit more."
Mooney, who with her family moved to Queensland's Hervey Bay from Shepparton in Victoria as a 10-year-old, has at times used self-doubt as a motivator. Three years ago, she told Australia coach Matthew Mott she wanted to play in that year's County Championship in the UK. Mott and his support staff were reluctant.
"We said, 'Well, until you get to the minimum level where we think (your lack of fitness isn't) compromising your skills, we're going to ask you to stay back'," Mott remembers.
"At the time it was costing her in her cricket. She didn't have the capability to bat through 20 overs in a T20, or bat for long periods in 50-over cricket. Fatigue was affecting her decision-making.
"But she was not overly happy."
Mooney is a straight-shooter. She did not react well to the news initially and some of that came down to a lack of self-belief.
"I'd been told for a long time by different people, different coaches, 'You're never going to be a runner. You're never going to be able to run the 2km time trials as quick as 'Pez' (Ellyse Perry). You're never going to be able to do this'," she reflects.
"Once you keep hearing that, you start believing it.
"There was this line in the sand. Motty could see the potential in me and maybe also that I wasn't working hard enough in areas that were going to help my game, and that was off the field.
"Everyone knew I hit 5,000 balls a week and I'd catch a thousand, but I didn't realise at the time that I probably wasn't pushing myself physically hard enough.
"We had some tough conversations, and looking back, they were probably a catalyst for a lot of things for me."
Critically, Mooney had also been told her fitness was the only thing holding her back. Get that right, they said, and a long international career was hers for the taking.
"I had this fixation on, I want to play cricket for Australia, and I want to be one of the best players for Australia," she says. "I just kept thinking, I have to do this one thing."
So Mooney responded the only way she knew how. At the beginning of the player leave period, she bought a road bike and proceeded to cycle 50km a day, six days a week, for as long as it took.
"I thought, I'll show you guys – I don't need your help, I'll do it all on my own," she says. "And I probably didn't do it in the healthiest way … It was probably a bit excessive, but once I decided it was something I wanted, I was like, You know what, I'll show you.
"I wanted to prove myself wrong, too, instead of just accepting, You're never going to be this, you're never going to be that."
She returned fitter and faster. More athletic. Suddenly, through sheer bloody-mindedness and hard work, Mooney had transformed herself into a runner. Where once her 2km time had edged towards 10 minutes, she made her way through the pack to become the fourth-fastest in the national squad and clocking a personal best of 8:10 – five seconds ahead of the required benchmark.
"She's highly determined," Mott grins, "and she likes proving people wrong as well."
The impact on her game has been stark. In the three WBBL seasons since, Mooney's return of 1,694 runs at an average of 49.82 is second only to Perry. In this year's final, she controlled the Brisbane Heat run chase with a measured 56no from 45 balls to see her side home in the 19th over. And just last week, in the final of the tri-series against India, she was still there in the 20th, having made what proved to be a match-winning 71no.
Mooney was Australia's standout batter in that tournament, and she is now the team's leading run-scorer in T20 Internationals since the beginning of last year. That has been reflected in her rise in the ICC T20I batting rankings which, when updated last Friday, had her listed at No.3, the highest of any Australian.
She knows she can be better though. That's the thing with Beth Mooney. In a batting group brimming with superstar talent, it is the likes of Perry, Ash Gardner, Meg Lanning and Alyssa Healy who boast the biggest profiles. Mooney prefers it that way. But that doesn't mean she isn't ambitious. It might seem a little incongruous, but lurking beneath the insecurities and the self-doubt is a fierce determination to be the best there is.
"I'm a bit reserved," she says. "I don't really seek being the face of something, or the person that everyone talks about … we've got people (in the team) who are good at that stuff, and I'm probably not great at it, so I'm pretty happy flying under the radar.
"I've never been good at talking about myself, or being the centre of attention – I'll try and avoid that as much as possible – but one of my goals is to be the best batter in the world."
Mooney knows her direct manner is not for everyone. She expects high standards at training and says there have been times with Queensland and at the Brisbane Heat when that has caused angst.
"I don't think anyone is entitled to be rude or blunt but at the same time my personality is just that I want to be the best player I can be, so if I don't feel like people are doing that, I will call a spade a spade," she says.
"People get pretty offended with things I say or interpret them the wrong way. I'm a pretty blunt, honest human, because I expect the same in return, and that probably doesn't sit well with a few people.
"It's a bit of a reality check for different people I guess."
From an Australian perspective, head coach Mott is at ease with Mooney's personality within the group. He holds her fitness journey up as a shining example to young players on the rise, and values her honesty.
"She doesn't muck around," he says. "Some people appreciate that and for other people, they're not as comfortable with it.
"The good thing about Beth though is I think she's quite aware of that, and she probably doesn't give herself enough credit – she's actually got a lot better with that.
"She's very clear about what she wants, and what she expects. I enjoy that. You don't have to guess her moods too much, and when you speak to her, she's always very upfront with what she's feeling. I find it nice and refreshing really, that candidness."
Case in point: wicketkeeping. Mooney leaves no room for uncertainty when she says it remains a goal to ultimately take the gloves for Australia. Right now, she accepts the pecking order and has only admiration for the skills of the incumbent, Alyssa Healy, but with a four-year age gap between the two (Healy will be 30 next month), time is on her side.
"That's my dream," says the 26-year-old. "(Healy's) 'keeping has gone from strength to strength in the last two years, I reckon. Maybe that's because I've been in the team, and pushing her a little bit just from a training sense.
"And that helps me as well. I obviously want to wicketkeep for Australia one day, so I can watch what she does, we can do a little bit together, and it's good to have someone to work with.
"I grew up running fine leg to fine leg in my brother's team for a bit, then got thrown the gloves when I was a 10-year-old because I was the best catcher, and I've enjoyed it ever since.
"I feel like I've got the capacity to have a big impact on the game with my wicketkeeping, but I'm also working out how to do that in the field as well. I'm pretty fortunate that the selectors and Motty have shown faith in me, they've said, 'We like your wicketkeeping, we're going to stick with 'Midge' (Healy), but we back you as a batter and a genuine fielder.
"But definitely, one day I'd love to wicketkeep for Australia. Exactly when that might happen at this point, I don't know, so right now for me it's about runs and then making an impact in the field."
In the café, Mooney spots recently-retired Heat captain Kirby Short, who she describes as one of "my people"; a loyal coterie with whom she has shared the ups and downs of her life and become much like a second family since she moved to Brisbane from Hervey Bay as a teenager. The pair hug, and talk briefly, before Mooney returns. It prompts the inevitable question: Might she be Short's replacement as Heat captain? True to type, Mooney is forthright in her response.
"I would love to captain one day, but at this point I think my personality probably isn't a great fit to captain the Brisbane Heat," she says. "Especially after the example that Kirby set in terms of what leading a group successfully looks like – those are huge shoes to fill.
"I'm sure whoever does it will do a great job, but for me, the timing probably isn't great, especially while I'm still trying to work on myself."
Mooney made her Queensland debut more than a decade ago now, just four days after her 16th birthday. She was barely 20 when she captained her state to the Twenty20 Cup in February 2014, and maroon blood runs rich in her veins now. She doesn't see herself playing for anyone other than Queensland in the WNCL, but the Big Bash – in which she is off contract with the Heat – is another matter.
"The beauty of the WBBL is it opens up lots of opportunities, and I'm probably at the point where I have to make a decision around what kind of impact I can have on a group, and how I can start contributing a little bit more to the next generation," she says.
"If I don't feel like I can do that at the Brisbane Heat then yeah, if an opportunity came up to go somewhere else and do that, I'd probably jump at it.
"You don't know what you don't know; I've played at Brisbane and Queensland for 10 years, so just being around a different environment, different coaches, seeing how a different program works (could be beneficial).
"I haven't really been offered anything yet. If I was, great, I'd have a big decision to make. There'd be a lot of things to weigh up."
Just recently, Mooney spoke about her ambition with a friend. She knows it is what has gotten her to this point in her career but equally there have been moments where it has almost tipped her over the edge. Still today she is intermittently told by coaching staff to ease back with her relentless training for fear of pushing beyond breaking point.
"We talked about 'When is enough, enough?'" she says. "You just sort of keep going, just never satisfied it seems. It's good and bad I think."
Mooney has this World Cup front of mind as her chance to make the biggest statement of her career. But next year, there is a 50-over World Cup in New Zealand. She will be 27. The opportunities to prove herself – to be the best – will continue to present themselves for as long as she is playing for Australia.
During her journey of self-improvement over these past 18 months, she has been trying to tell herself to "stop and smell the roses". Too often, she knows, that task has fallen on 'her people' as she becomes distracted by aspiration and the inevitable complications of life.
"I'm really lucky to have people to remind me to realise how amazing these experiences are," she says, "and how difficult it is getting to this level and staying there.
"So there's a balance, and I'm lucky I've got people to remind me of that."
She stands and walks back across the café, stopping to pat a border collie on the way. The next month of her life looms as a momentous one. It is a chance to be great, but it is also just another end ahead of a new beginning, and what will be, will be.