Meg Lanning: Domestic cricket crucial in rebuilding women's cricket post pandemic

Australian captain Meg Lanning speaks about cricket's recovery from COVID-19, bettering Ricky Ponting's record and preparations for the 2022 ODI World Cup.

Meg Lanning with the winning trophies at the conclusion of the third ODI between New Zealand and Australia on April 10 in Mount Maunganui. Lanning's Australian team extended the winning run in ODIs to 24 matches. - GETTY IMAGES

Meg Lanning’s aggressive approach that helped her lead Australia to 24 consecutive ODI victories, a world record, barely comes through when you sit down, albeit virtually with her for a chat. One of the most revered ambassadors of the game from the current crop of active players, Lanning has been the face of a women’s team that’s replicated the dominance of the men’s side from the new millennium.

The women’s side’s record incidentally eclipsed another Lanning’s idol Ricky Ponting held as skipper with 21 victories on the trot in the format back in 2003.

“I haven’t spoken to Ricky personally. I know he said a few words to the media ahead of the record-breaking game,” she says when asked if she had a chance to catch up with the legendary captain about overtaking his tally.

“For us, it’s an interesting record because we play a lot of T20 games in between the ODIs so we can get quite lost sometimes. The media let us know it was happening. After the series, we sat down and reflected on the achievement. It reflects on the consistency of the side and our performances. A lot of people have put in a lot of hard work along the way, besides the players involved on the field. Looking back, we’ll certainly be proud of that achievement,” she added.

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Lanning is at the helm of an Australian side that is currently sitting pretty at the top of the rankings in both ODIs and T20Is. Women’s cricket, however, is much more of a “global community” effort than the men’s variant.

“Women’s cricket is competitive but we do go about it differently when compared to the men’s game, which is fine. I think there’s a fine balance. Countries around the world getting stronger and this effort to facilitate that is important for women’s cricket to move forward. At the moment, we have Australia, India, New Zealand and England who are quite strong, not perfect, but stronger perhaps. We need the South Africa, Sri Lanka, West Indies, Pakistan to keep improving as well,” Lanning explained.

The 29-year-old underlined the role of the ‘stronger’ sides in helping other cricket-playing nations catch up. “We’ve seen that, especially in the International Women’s Championships. Sri Lanka are playing against England and Pakistan are playing against Australia a lot and these games will only make the teams better. Hopefully that comes back in after the World Cup, because it helps smaller nations face off against competitive teams and help the game better,” she added.

Speaking of the 2022 ODI World Cup, Lanning’s unit will want to cap this competitive cycle and its dominance with the title, despite healthy competition from a number of nations. Lanning is not one to get complacent.

“This is going to be a hotly contested World Cup with quite a lot of teams doing well on the world stage. We're looking forward to that. We are a driven group, and a 50-over World Cup is something we don’t have, and we want to do everything we can to win that trophy, just like everyone else,” she said.

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Lanning’s coaching credentials are handy tools in the bag for the skipper towards this end. “I did the three coaching levels with a few other players. It’s all about adapting to the squad that you’ve got, to the type of player you have and that really relates to leadership. At the end of the day, you’re trying to get the best out of your players so whether you’re in a leadership position or a coaching position, the same principles apply,” the Victoria batter added.

While it is premature to speak of Lanning’s retirement plans, she also acknowledged the opportunities this pathway has given her should she decide to go down that road after calling time on her career.

Meg Lanning with the T20 World Cup trophy after winning the competition in 2020. - GETTY IMAGES

 

Lanning’s more immediate concern though will be her time with Welsh Fire in the inaugural edition of The Hundred. This unique 100-ball format is an innovation she hopes will help women’s cricket get back some of its 2019-esque momentum.

“It’s all sounding very exciting for that competition. Last year, unfortunately, it couldn’t quite get off the ground but this year, they’re putting in a lot of hard work into getting it up and running. It’s a great opportunity for the women’s game in that it’s giving us another tournament that’s extremely well run and very competitive,” she said.

The Hundred recently announced, among other things, its decision to go with a gender-neutral term - batter - given the tournament has both men’s and women’s fixtures. Lanning lauded the development and said, “The main thing is we need to ensure young girls don’t have barriers to join and get involved in the sport. In Australia we have so many more girls’ teams now rather than people needing to play with the boys. Things like the language used are all important in this regard - like using batter instead of batsman. There’s a lot of people out there who love the sport and the more people who can be a part of it, the better.”

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The other minute change is better fitted jerseys and kits. “It didn’t affect me as much. I played in a lot of boys’ teams growing up, so I was happy to go with the flow. But many of the girls have spoken about it. We tend to see baggy outfits or ones that have an irregular fit, it’s not a great look either. We had a conversation with our supplier to arrive at better fit where we will be comfortable doing what we do as well,” she explained.

Getting back to on-field matters, at the franchise level, an idea that has floated around for a while, even catching the fancy of Indian Premier League franchise Royal Challengers Bangalore, was mix-gender matches. It hasn’t exactly caught Lanning’s fancy, however.

“I believe men’s and women’s cricket still need to be separate. If anything, we could have separate innings, where women play for 10 innings and the men play for 10 and then combine both,” she said, pointing to the subtle physical differences between both variants. 

“For instance, the pace that men bowl at, we’re not used to that all day every day and will take time getting used to. We’ll be fine eventually but it’s still a pretty big change. We should keep talking about ways to do different things but here I think keeping them separate and maybe combining them - that sort of thing could work?” she added.

Meanwhile, going back to the basics, Australia has been one of the few nations to keep the women’s cricket ecosystem alive and well despite the logistical and financial hurdles created by the coronavirus pandemic, setting a blueprint of sorts for other nations to follow. Lanning attributes that efficacy to a focus on the domestic system.

“We didn’t lose any domestic cricket and that’s really the pathway to get to international cricket, where younger players get a few games and gain some experience and perspective. Sometimes we tend to think of the national side and those contests but as long as the domestic cricket goes on, that will sort itself out.”

This interaction was facilitated by the Australian Consulate-General, Chennai.

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