Raf Nicholson writes on Beth Mooney, who was named Wisden’s Leading Cricketer in the World (Women) in the 2023 edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

In January 2022, Beth Mooney was facing throwdowns from Matthew Mott, then coach of Australia’s women. As she tried to evade a short one, the ball bounced unevenly, sneaked under her grille, and hit her jaw with a sickening clunk. “I remember straight away spitting out blood and thinking it was bad,” she says. “I couldn’t move my jaw. Our team doctor came over, and I asked for water to rinse out the blood. I can’t even describe the pain.”

She was immediately sent for a scan, which confirmed her jaw was broken in two places, and she would need surgery; three titanium plates were screwed into place. It seemed certain she would miss the Ashes series – due to start in three days – and doubtful she would make the World Cup in March. But that reckoned without the determination of Mooney and Australia’s medics.

“We saw the surgeon. It was a Tuesday morning, and he said: ‘You can probably play on Thursday if you wanted, but you might still be feeling a bit groggy from the anaesthetic!’” She agreed to miss the T20s against England, but set her sights on the Test at Canberra the following week, and amazed onlookers by appearing in the nets so soon after her injury.

The Test would unfold as one of the most exciting in history, with England – set 257 – finishing on 245 for nine. But Mooney’s memories of the four days differed from her team-mates’, since she had to survive on a liquid-only diet: “Thick shakes, smoothies… we even found this place that does pureed dinners. Boring, boring, boring.” She still top-scored with 63 in the second innings.

The incident cemented her reputation as the hardwoman of Australian cricket. In the 2018-19 Women’s Big Bash League final, she had played the winning hand, despite battling nausea. And in December 2022, she spent the day before a T20 against India in Mumbai unwell in her room, then scored a match-winning unbeaten 89 off 57 balls. “Being ill probably helps take my mind off batting,” she says. “You’re not trying to score runs – you’re just trying to get through the game. It seems to work OK for me!”

Clearly, there were no long-lasting effects from the jaw injury. In 2022, Mooney averaged a phenomenal 100 in ODIs; hit 330 runs for only three times out at the World Cup, including a half-century in the final; finished as leading run-scorer, and won gold, at the Commonwealth Games; and was the linchpin of a side which lost just once, in a super over, all year. She struggles to pick a highlight: “I enjoyed myself a lot!” The rest of us enjoyed watching her.

The 2023 edition of the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack is out now