But, with the scoreline now a more competitive 6-4 in Australia’s favour, McGrath says the players’ eyes have not deviated from the prize, and they will not be satisfied with a mere retention of the Ashes.
“I don’t think that’s enough,” McGrath said in Bristol, on the eve of the first ODI. “We want to win every game of cricket. Yes, first and foremost, we want to retain the Ashes, but we want to win these three games coming up. Winning 8-8 doesn’t sound as good as winning them outright.”
Since securing beating England in the final of that tournament, at Auckland in April 2022, Australia have only played three more ODIs – each of them an emphatic win over an outclassed Pakistan in January. However, McGrath is confident that the more drawn-out nature of the 50-over format will give the matchwinners in their line-up all the more time to produce their very best.
“It’s where we’ve been so successful in the past,” McGrath said. “You’ve just got so much more time. You can build your innings a bit more, and we’ve had players cash in and score those big hundreds with players supporting them.
“From a bowling point of view, you can build a bit more pressure, work batters out a bit more … we’ve just been consistent in that format. And we play that team-first [brand of] cricket, so players coming in know exactly what they need to do for the team, and then play their role to the best of their ability.
“The 50-over format is one we’ve been really consistent and really good at, so from there it’s about fine-tuning and playing a little bit more fearlessly.
In the last five years, India are the only team to have toppled Australia in the ODI format, and that result – a gripping two-wicket win in a dead-rubber third match in September 2021 – arguably helped to sharpen Australia’s focus going into the World Cup the following spring.
England, by contrast, last beat Australia across 50 overs in the 2017-18 Ashes, but despite eight subsequent defeats – up to and including the last World Cup final – McGrath said her side would never under-estimate the threat that Heather Knight’s team would pose, especially after their T20I showing.
“Every time we play against England, it’s really good cricket, really hard-fought,” McGrath said. “We get pushed every time we play against England, and they were better than us in the last two games, and we’ve got to acknowledge that and fix some areas of our game.
“No game against England is ever easy. It feels as if, every time we play each other, it comes down to the last over. All four games in this series have all been close, or had some key moments to determine the game, so we’re excited for some more good cricket.”
That rare sensation of defeat, however, has obliged Australia to embrace their vulnerability on this tour, with McGrath admitting to some honest chats in the dressing-room in the aftermath of the T20I losses.
“People put their hand up when they’re not playing at their best,” she said. “We help each other problem-solve, because everything’s team-first. We put egos aside and we try to help each other improve, and that’s been a strength of this side for so long.
“Win, lose or draw, we are always looking to get better. So, yeah, it’s not ideal to lose but there’s always some positives to take out of it, and we’ve had some really good chats as a group.
“Individually, we’ve discussed our batting, bowling and fielding plans, but at the end of the day, it just comes down to playing some fearless cricket,” she added. “If there’s something you’re thinking about, or a plan you want to put in place, you’ve just got to be confident and go ahead and do it.
“The truth is we weren’t at our best [in the T20Is] and we have to find a way to fix that. Even if we’d have won some of those games, it’s still about having those chats because we want to be the best team in the world in every format. We want to keep evolving.
“It’s not nice that we’re losing, but it felt as though there were some moments where we perhaps might have got into our shells a little bit. We’ve just highlighted that maybe we’ve been off the mark there a little bit, so we’re pretty keen to be on the front foot.”
An added factor in England’s revival has arguably been their vociferous support for this series, with an average of 20,000 fans attending the three T20Is, and further full houses anticipated for the ODIs in Bristol, Southampton and Taunton. But, with the growth of the women’s game a huge subplot in this series, McGrath has been delighted with the turnout, even if the cheers haven’t always accompanied her own performances.
“The crowds have been a real highlight,” McGrath said. “We’ve really embraced it. We’ve loved playing in front of packed houses. We’re hopeful that they continue, because we’ve heard there’s really good ticket sales coming up.
“It’s awesome to see the support they get, it’s awesome to hear how loud it gets. And I think it’s pretty cool with the [Barmy Army] trumpet going in the background. We all enjoy playing cricket when you get to play in some really nice iconic stadiums with a packed house.
“They let me have it when I dropped a catch,” she added, referring to a bad miss off Sophia Dunkley in the second match at The Oval. “But that’s part of it.
“We’re just focused on ourselves. We’re pretty comfortable with what we do and how we go about our cricket. There’s a lot of external things that goes on with the Ashes, a lot of chat, a lot in the media, but first and foremost, we’re just focusing on ourselves. Sticking with our batting and bowling plans, and then going out there and playing some really good cricket.”
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket