Me and my mates: Meg Lanning with the Australia squad after winning the 2020 T20 World Cup
Me and my mates: Meg Lanning with the Australia squad after winning the 2020 T20 World Cup
The Australia captain talks about her batting ambitions, how she has matured as a leader, and watching Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy grow into superstars
Meg Lanning, the Australia women's captain, says she is a "pretty guarded" person, but that on her journey to multiple World Cup triumphs and batting records over nearly ten years, she has made a conscious effort to open up and take the time to enjoy her game. Over a video call, she spoke to us about the highs and lows of her career, the people who have contributed to her success, and the younger group of Australian cricketers who will be ready to take over from her.
How do you look back on the roller-coaster ride that was Australia's T20 World Cup campaign earlier this year?
Roller coaster is a very good way to put it (laughs). There were many ups and downs throughout the tournament, but it was nice to put on our best performance in the World Cup final in front of 86,000-plus people. Even thinking about it now puts a smile on my face. It was such an amazing night: the match itself, the build-up, and the Katy Perry concert afterwards just topped it all off.
Did reflections about that night come up often in the team's WhatsApp group during the pandemic-induced six-month break?
It does come up occasionally, yes - if somebody's a bit down or struggling, it's been nice seeing some footage of us celebrating. We really had an amazing night. We didn't ever think it would happen and that we'd be a part of it, so we certainly reminisce about it a little bit. When we do retire and move on, that's probably something we're going to look back on.
The Australian team spent that night at the MCG after the game. Can you walk us through those moments?
Oh, we had a great night. It was just about chatting to friends and family and past players and enjoying the moment. The change rooms were full of people closest to us, who have been on this journey with us. We did get on to the pitch at some point in the night. We sat in a circle and chatted and sang a song out there. We took it all in and realised we played at the MCG in front of 86,000 people and played the best game we've played in a few years.
"I've always wanted to win at anything that I do"
"I've always wanted to win at anything that I do"
You're only 28 and your achievements in your near-ten year international career have been astounding. Five World Cup titles, for which you have led the team in three; the 2015 winner of the ICC ODI Cricketer of the Year and the Wisden Leading Woman Cricketer in the World titles; three Belinda Clark Awards; most ODI hundreds; being the youngest Australian - male or female - to score an international ton. Have you been able to reflect on how eventful this ride has already been?
Ten years sounds like I am getting a little bit old (smiles), but it's flown by. It feels only yesterday I made my debut, a new, fresh face in the squad, looking up to players like Shelley Nitschke, Lisa Sthalekar, Alex Blackwell - playing alongside them and being quite nervous coming into the side.
I've been lucky to be involved in a really successful period for the Australian women's team. I came into a team that had made winning a habit and really striven to be professional, probably ahead of the time where cricket was actually considered professional here in Australia. They gave everything they had. [I'm] lucky enough now to call cricket my job; as such, it doesn't feel like a job. Hopefully, ten years down the track it will be even better for those coming through now.
My family, including my four siblings, have been very supportive of me right from the start - all the way back to when I was playing against my sister [Anna] in the backyard all the time and having battles there. Mum and Dad really encouraged us to play sport. That was something I loved as a kid. It didn't matter what sport. My brothers and sisters were the same and all have been very supportive of me. They were at the World Cup final, my little niece and nephew as well. They love watching me on the TV and getting involved. It was great to see them get right behind me and give me the freedom to chase my dreams.
Among those who played the game before you, who are the players who have been pivotal to your growth as an athlete and the person you are today?
I'd probably go back to my state cricket with Victoria. Kelly Applebee, who was in some Australian squads a little while ago - I played a lot of state cricket with her. She was a great cricketer and dominated domestic cricket, and was on the cusp of the Australian level as well. She was always willing to take me under her wing a little bit. She saw I had a little bit of potential but was pretty raw in terms of cricket and off the field as well. She is someone I speak to even now - a lot about cricket and off the field, trying to develop as a person, trying to make sure I've got a good mix and a good balance of cricket and things outside of it. She was really important and still is - someone I always love having a chat to.
"The biggest thing I've learnt over the years is to trust other people and use their ideas and strengths because that's where you do get the X factor"
Belinda Clark is probably the other one who took over the captaincy at a young age - very similar to me. I speak to her a little bit about her experiences. She's done extremely well in her time after cricket as well. She's made a lot of progress for the women's game.
What was it like receiving the T20 World Cup trophy from Clark on International Women's Day at the MCG?
That was special - to see the past players out there, their reactions to our success. They had done a lot of hard work before us, with probably not as much recognition. They really laid the foundation for us to be on the field on that day. Belinda Clark did pass on the World Cup to me. I remember seeing her up on the stage before we got our medals. We sort of locked eyes and you could see just how proud she was of our team. That was a really cool moment - to see that smile on her face.
Your first taste of leadership at the international level came when you replaced Jodie Fields, who was injured, as captain for the 2014 Ashes. You're still the youngest across genders - at 21 years and 200 days - to lead an Australian team. How did that early initiation shape your approach towards leadership?
It's no secret that when I stepped into the role of captain, I didn't have any prior experience in the role. I really didn't see myself as a leader all the way through my pathway cricket, and growing up, I hadn't been in any leadership positions. It wasn't something I thought was suited to me. I was initially made the vice-captain but unfortunately Jodie Fields got injured and I was thrust into the role pretty quick.
To be honest, I had no idea what I was doing [when I was made the captain]. I was making it up as I went along. What I've learnt over time is the on-field stuff - the [ability to make] tactical decisions, reading the game, and things like that - comes with a bit of experience, but that was the easier part. The bit that required me to learn more was the off-field relationships, building trust and belief within your team. It's just a different way that everyone goes about it. Trying to understand individuals and allow them to feel really comfortable within the team environment is when you get the best out of them.
Lanning with her second Belinda Clark award and the former Australia captain the trophy is named after
Robert Cianflone / © Getty Images
Lanning with her second Belinda Clark award and the former Australia captain the trophy is named after Robert Cianflone / © Getty Images
Cricket is a game where you've got individual flair, so you want individuals to bring their strengths to the table. My biggest challenge over time, and something I'm continuing to work on, is building those relationships and trust within the team to try and get the best out of everybody.
The core of the Australian teams you've led for the best part of your career has consisted of several highly successful individuals - superstars all, yourself included, some of them captains of title-winning WBBL sides. What has your mantra been for managing diverse temperaments?
Everyone has their strengths. I am not good at everything. There are other players within the team who do certain things better than I do. It really is a collaborative approach. I've got the captaincy tag, but a lot of the things we do are built from the group. I guess I lead a little bit from the front and show the way, but we've got so many leaders within our team that it would be silly to do things my way and not take into account anybody else's views, because that way you're probably limiting yourself and your team. The biggest thing I've learnt over the years is to trust other people and use their ideas and strengths because that's where you do get the X factor.
What has it been like to watch from close quarters the evolution of allounder Ellyse Perry, who captained you at the regional Under-12s, and Alyssa Healy, the premier wicketkeeper-batter in the women's game at the moment?
Ellyse did captain me at year five at a regional team, Sydney North; we opened the batting together. I didn't really know who she was except for the fact that she was supposed to be amazing. I don't think she got out the whole tournament. She was predominantly a bowler early on in her career. I remember in 2012, at the T20 World Cup in Sri Lanka, she actually never put the pads on through the whole tournament (laughs). So it's all changed very quickly.
It's not through luck. It's been through hard work and dedication. She hits thousands and thousands of balls - makes me go crazy. But she just loves it, really wanting to keep getting better. The results speak for themselves. She deserves everything that comes her way. [She is] a big-game player as well. You can rely on her when we get to the knockout stages of tournaments. You just know that she's ready for those moments, and as a captain it makes me feel very comfortable to have her in our side.
"I've got a batting coach who I've had since year nine. He really drilled into me from early on to always look to score. It wasn't necessarily about having the perfect technique or making it look good, but about its effectiveness"
Alyssa Healy - her game over the last probably two-three years has gone to the next level. She was always so talented, someone you watched and just wondered why she didn't make more runs because she just looked good. I'm not sure what shift she's made, but I'm very pleased that she's made them for our team's sake. She's recently become very reliable, and even just as a person within the team, she seems really comfortable. She speaks up. She shares her opinion. It's not always the same as everybody else's, but I think it's really important that people are willing and able to share what they think and challenge things. I see her smiling all the time when she's out batting or in the field. That's reflected in the performances.
The successes of the Australian teams you've been part of have also helped drive the discourse around mental health in recent years - Nicole Bolton's and Sophie Molineux's breaks from the game being two such notable instances. As a senior player and captain, how do you go about talking to your team-mates on this subject?
It's a very important part of our set-up now - mental health and well-being, trying to get a better understanding of it. Now we're in a much better spot as a side in terms of chatting about these things. If we're struggling with something behind closed doors, we're able to express a little bit better. We've certainly seen that within our squad. You mentioned Sophie Molineux, who took a break from the game. Everyone supported her, and that's a really important thing. My job is one with everybody else's: to let them know that we're here to support them, back them all the way, make sure that if they're not feeling at their best, we're here with them.
We've got important things in place: a sports psychologist, personal development managers to help us off the field as well. That's the great thing about cricket; it's a sort of family. Sophie had 15 [people] right behind her, supporting her to make the best decisions. It would be the same for any other player. The fact that people are willing to chat about it more, put their hand up and say, "Hang on a second, I think I need to take a step back" shows that there are good processes in place and it continues to be that way.
Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Girish TS / © ESPNcricinfo Ltd
Have you had to confront any mental-health concerns yourself?
You definitely have your ups and downs away from cricket and at cricket. I haven't had anything specifically to deal with - been lucky that way. That doesn't mean it's not true that some days I'm not as happy as others or I'm not missing family or home. Everyone has something going on to a degree. It's just about making sure you've got that framework in place within the team and outside of the team to have people to talk to. I feel like I've got a pretty good set-up in place in terms of the mix of people involved in the team but also away from the game. If I am not as sparky as I normally am, I can have a chat and sort things out. It's important for everyone to recognise that and be okay with that. You can't be a 100% going all the time; it's just not going to happen.
You have previously said the seven-month injury layoff following the 2017 ODI World Cup was an especially mentally taxing period. Do you consider any other phases in your career as having been difficult?
I'd probably go back to 2016-17. We were pretty successful through that period, but as a team we didn't win the big moments, the big games, the World Cups - which was sort of an ego jolt. Especially after the 2017 World Cup, losing to India in the semi-final, when Harmanpreet Kaur played an amazing innings and knocked us out - that was probably the lowest point. I was also injured at that time. It was a double whammy. That was a period when I mentally struggled the most in dealing with the issues I was facing and as a team as well. As a captain, a lot of the time you take responsibility for the results. If they are not going your way, you tend to take them pretty personally.
I certainly had a bit of time to reflect on what could have been done a bit differently moving forward. I didn't enjoy it [the layoff] at the time at all. There were some good lessons in there for me as a captain and person as well, just to be able to see things from a slightly different perspective and be slightly on the outside rather than looking game to game, series to series. It gave me a new look at things.
Did it help you understand yourself and your team-mates better?
Up until that point, I had been lucky to not have been dropped, or been outside the team, so I couldn't quite empathise too much with those who had been dropped or weren't picked in the side. So [the layoff] gave me an idea of what it was like to be in their position and it's certainly helped my captaincy - to be able to have that empathy and understanding of players, to be able to have the hard conversations with people. Maybe before that I avoided it because I didn't quite know how to say how they were feeling. I didn't want to say the wrong thing. It just armed me with the ability to listen and understand a little bit more. Overall, [in hindsight] a little mid-career break is a good thing (smiles).
"I'd love to play a Test match in India. That would be really cool and a really good challenge"
You used your time away to lay the foundation for what might become a post-game career. How far has that coaching course come in the two years since?
(Laughs) I'm very close to finishing it. It's a Level 3 High Performance coaching accreditation. I've done a fair bit of practical work over the last few weeks with the Covid-19 restrictions. We haven't been able to bring any coaches in, especially in Victoria, so I took on a bit of a role with the Australian Victorian players, in terms of running the sessions.
It was a good eye-opener, in terms of what goes into coaching. It's not as simple as writing the names down on a piece of paper, in terms of which nets they are in. You've got to organise things and deal with it not going according to plan. I'm enjoying it at the moment.
Who are the coaches who have had the most impact on you?
I've got a batting coach, Steve Maddocks, who I've had since year nine, so it's been over 15 years with him now. I'm usually on and off [with him], going back to someone who knows what it should look like when it's going right, and just a little bit of advice or thought on different things. It makes a massive difference. And he really drilled into me from early on to always look to score. It wasn't necessarily about having the perfect technique or making it look good, but about its effectiveness. That certainly helped me develop my game. Talk about my assertiveness - that's where part of it comes from.
And then Matthew Mott, my coach at the Australian level at the moment. He came in 2015, when I was still very young as a captain, and he's had a lot of experience with international teams, the IPL, and in the UK as well. He had a lot of experience in coaching teams and he's a really good relationships person as well. So both from leadership and our batting perspective, he's played a really big role as well.
Lanning on Ellyse Perry: "She's a big-game player. You can rely on her when we get to the knockout stages of tournaments. As a captain it makes me feel very comfortable to have her in our side"
© Cricket Australia/Getty Images
Lanning on Ellyse Perry: "She's a big-game player. You can rely on her when we get to the knockout stages of tournaments. As a captain it makes me feel very comfortable to have her in our side" © Cricket Australia/Getty Images
Last year you were quoted as saying, "I don't put in all the time and effort to be a good player; I want to be the best player." Where does this dogged competitiveness, a standout trait in your personality, come from?
A bit of it comes from growing up in a five-children family, having to compete a little bit with my brothers and sisters. I have always wanted to win anything I do - whether it's sport or not. It's ingrained in me. Also, if I commit to something, I want to put everything into it. I just want to be as good as I can be. It's difficult, but I've tried to enjoy myself along the way as well. I've found that if I am a bit more relaxed, I tend to perform better.
Do you ever feel laid-back?
(Laughs) In terms of cricket, probably not. It's a performance-based industry. Whether you like it or not, you're always measured on stats and wins and things like that. We're in an industry where winning is important, and I want to help our team win as much as I can, and that's by making lots and lots of runs.
How do you sustain the hunger to stay motivated to succeed over a decade?
I guess it's about the pride in my personal performance. I want to be one of the best players in the world, and I am trying to do everything I can do to achieve that. It doesn't guarantee anything, but I wouldn't feel satisfied if I wasn't putting everything into it.
In cricket especially, the moment you think you've got it all worked out, you go down pretty quick. You need to keep evolving, just changing little things to keep improving because there's no hiding anymore in the international game; everyone knows everything about you and your game and what you do, what your strengths and weaknesses are. Unless you try and stay ahead of that, you won't be successful. That's what drives me. I know other people are trying to work me out and slow me down a bit (smiles), but I've got to try and stay ahead of what they do.
"I want to be remembered as a good team-mate, someone who always tried to help the team win, help people improve on and off the field, someone people wanted to play alongside"
There seems to have been a change in your on-field personality from around the 2018 T20 World Cup in the Caribbean. You appear to have opened up a bit more, smiling and punching in the air in celebration more often. Have you consciously worked on it?
I guess the answer's yes. It's been part of me evolving as a person willing to share what I'm feeling a little bit more. I'm a pretty guarded person in general. In some ways, it's good - as a captain, it's really important to be level, not ride the highs or lows too much. At the same time, it makes it hard to relate to if that's the case all the time. I've been more willing to show my emotions a little bit more and I think that's helped build relationships within the squad. Sometimes once you have the captain's tag, it creates a bit of a barrier within the squad. I think it's helped me to relay a bit more to the team. I have made a conscious effort to enjoy what I'm doing and make the most of it because the end will probably come quicker than you think.
When you step back and think about what we're doing - we're playing cricket for our country, travelling the world, playing with our best friends - that's a pretty good set-up. But sometimes we can get a bit caught up in the pressure and wanting to do well, which is important, but you've got to enjoy it as well. So I've tried to make a conscious decision to do that, which has meant my emotions have come out a little bit more, which, hopefully, is a good thing.
Have you been able to identify potential successors to you as captain from the younger group of the current players?
Not specifically. We've got some really good senior players among us, but we're all around the 28-30 [age] mark. We've hopefully got three or five years ahead of us before we'd need to make too many changes. I think we will see the young leaders develop, and I am already seeing that, even though they are really young - Sophie Molineux, Tayla Vlaeminck, Georgia Wareham. We might not say right now, "Look, you'll be the captain", but you see little things along the way that make you feel we'll be in good hands. As a group we do focus on not dictating too much to the younger players coming in. We want to be able to let them express themselves, make them feel like they can contribute, help them with their leadership qualities. When the time comes, they'll pop up and do an excellent job.
You grew up admiring Ricky Ponting's assertive style of play, which is also a hallmark of your own batting. Does any contemporary cricketer, according to you, have that assertiveness on the field?
The thing about Ricky Ponting that I love is, it didn't matter if it was the first ball or the tenth ball. If he got a half-tracker, he'd whack it to the boundary. There was no, "I'm just going to work myself in; it's only my first ball" sort of thing.
"You need to keep evolving because there's no hiding anymore in the international game; everyone knows everything about you and your game and what you do"
Bradley Kanaris / © Getty Images
"You need to keep evolving because there's no hiding anymore in the international game; everyone knows everything about you and your game and what you do" Bradley Kanaris / © Getty Images
That's a really important part of my game as well - putting the bowler under pressure. We've got Annabel Sutherland, who's working her way towards it. She's really building nicely. You watch her game and know she can hit the ball hard now and is willing to take a few more risks and put the bowler under pressure. [I'm] looking forward to seeing how she goes.
On the point of your dominating style of play, people say that the region between point and backward point should be named the "Meg Lanning corridor". How do you keep finding those virtually non-existent gaps there?
(Laughs) Even when I don't try to hit it to point, it tends to go to point anyway. It must be something to do with my wrists and quick hands; it gets through the ball. Often when they try to put two, three or even four fielders there, I see it as a challenge than a deterrent, which is probably to my detriment sometimes, because I keep getting fielded.
I think it comes back to backing your strengths. I just feel if the ball is there to be hit to point, I'm going to hit it there. If I hit it well, I get it in the gap and I'll get a boundary for it. You've got to have a few other options as well, because teams have worked out pretty quick that I like to hit there. And just being able to shift it a little bit is really important. But you got to back your strengths.
What's your favourite shot other than the cut?
The lofted drive over cover off the spinner. When that comes off, you feel like you're in pretty good nick, in good control.
"Alyssa Healy's game over the last probably two-three years has gone to the next level. She's recently become very reliable, and even just as a person within the team, she seems really comfortable"
What style of bowling do you like facing more: spinners or pace bowlers?
It sort of depends on the day and the wicket. We're lucky in T20 cricket and one-dayers, for example, that we don't tend to get a lot of real spinning decks. The spinners don't enjoy it too much; it slides onto the bat a fair bit better. From a batter's perspective, the more pace there is on the ball, the quicker it comes, the quicker it can go off the bat. That's always enjoyable, facing really good pace bowling. They can challenge you, so it's good fun.
Who are the best spinner and fast bowler on the international circuit today?
Sophie Ecclestone from England has been quite dominant over the last few years, especially in T20 cricket. She is taller than most spinners, so she gets really good bounce, so that's a good challenge.
In terms of pace, I'm going to stick with the Aussies because I face them in the nets a bit. Tayla Vlaeminck is a bit scary in the nets. She's injured at the moment, which is unfortunate, but when she gets fit and has a really good run in building her strength, she's going to be really exciting to watch, and I'm glad she's on my team and not the opposition.
You've played only four Tests in all these years, all against England. How many more do you think you could realistically play through the rest of your career and against what oppositions?
Unfortunately, it's hard to see us playing any more Test cricket at the moment. Obviously, there's been a focus on the shorter formats, especially the T20s, and that makes sense. The T20 format has been amazing for the women's game. We'd love to play more Test cricket. I'd love to play a Test match in India. That would be really cool and a really good challenge. I think India would play really good Test cricket. South Africa, New Zealand are probably the sides you think about first.
I really liked the format of the Ashes [the multi-format points-based series], so if there was a potential to replicate that with some other nations, it would fit really well. But unfortunately I don't see us playing too many more Tests, but we'd certainly love to.
Twenty-one-year-old Tayla Vlaeminck, who has broken bats while bowling during training, has impressed Lanning with her pace
Quinn Rooney / © Getty Images
Twenty-one-year-old Tayla Vlaeminck, who has broken bats while bowling during training, has impressed Lanning with her pace Quinn Rooney / © Getty Images
The WBBL has revolutionised the women's game. How much has it played a part in your own evolution as a batter and captain?
I love the WBBL. It's a very fun part of the summer schedule and everyone looks forward to it. It's been great for me personally and Australian cricket. It's really provided a platform for women's cricket, improving the profile off the field and the quality of cricket on the field. It's the premier T20 women's competition around the world; it's something that people want to be a part of.
I usually get the chance to open the batting in the WBBL, which means you face the bowling with the field up. I want to make most of the powerplay, so trying to evolve my game in that respect is important and something I try to do.
Captaincy as well - you've got internationals coming in you don't usually work with; you've got younger players. So [it's about] just trying to work out how each player operates, how much information you need to give them. Some players know their plans and will dictate what they want to do. Some players like a little bit more instruction.
The other thing is bringing your team together in a short space of time. You've got players coming from different countries, different states, and it's important to get the team to gel in a really short space of time.
What kind of legacy do you hope to leave behind?
As a batter, I want to be the best in the world. There's a lot of other really good batters out there who want to do the same thing, so I'm giving my best shot.
I want to be remembered as a good team-mate, someone who always tried to help the team win, help people improve on and off the field, someone that people wanted to play alongside, and who inspired others. That's important - how your team-mates view you. And I hope that they will view me as someone they wanted to play alongside.
Annesha Ghosh is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
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