February 24, 2017

'If you hit anything square, mum wouldn't be happy'

Brittany Mitchell
Meg and Anna Lanning talk about backyard cricket, their idols growing up, and how the women's game has grown

Meg Lanning: "I certainly loved batting growing up; that was the real thing I enjoyed" © Getty Images and Cricket Australia

Meg Lanning is considered the best female cricketer in history, she captains the national team and has just won a third Belinda Clark Medal - the highest honour in Australian women's cricket. It would be easy for such a talented athlete to believe her own hype, but Meg Lanning's younger sister Anna makes sure to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground.

Meg made her Australian ODI debut in 2011, at 19, and her Test debut in 2013, since when she has developed into one of the most recognisable players in world cricket, but Anna Lanning says "she's pretty humble herself, she doesn't really like the limelight, and I think that shows in her cricket and everything like that".

"She's obviously done really well for herself and I don't think that anyone else could lead the country better," Anna, herself a player with Victoria in the Women's National Cricket League and Melbourne Stars in the Women's Big Bash League, tells ESPN.

Growing up as typical Aussie children, Meg and Anna each got their taste of cricket in the backyard; Anna has been following in her older sister's footsteps ever since Meg first picked up a cricket ball.

"I probably started playing competitively first, we played a lot in the backyard early on," Meg tells ESPN. "I played in some regional teams in Sydney where we grew up, and I think Anna came along and watched and sort of saw how much fun it was and how much we enjoyed it. So that's where it sort of started I guess."

"Brett Lee was my hero when I was a bowler"
Anna Lanning

There were definitely more than a few smashed windows, but it was in the backyard that Meg and Anna chose their respective disciplines of batting and bowling.

"Sometimes there was brothers and an older sister as well as five of us who would join in and play [in the backyard]," Meg says. "We were all very active and wanted to play to run around as much as we could, so we just loved playing any sport and cricket was one we enjoyed at the start and continued on with.

"I actually started my career as a bowler, as hard as that is to believe now given how we've come out, but we'd take turns. I certainly loved batting growing up; that was the real thing I enjoyed so we had some good contests, that's for sure."

Women's cricket was not televised while they were younger so the Lanning sisters grew up worshipping the work of many of the Australian men's players; Meg spent years mirroring her game on that of five-time Allan Border Medal winner Ricky Ponting, and her third Belinda Clark Medal saw her move one step closer to her idol. Now, however, she herself is the inspiration for young female aspiring cricketers.

Having grown up competing in the backyard, Meg and Anna now play together for Melbourne Stars in the WBBL © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

"I supposed I did watch a lot of men's cricket and Ricky Ponting was my hero growing up," Meg Lanning tells ESPN.

"I guess now the great thing is that the young girls coming through can watch their heroes and female cricketers on TV rather than it being just men's players; I think that's the best thing about the WBBL.

"It showcases the best women's players in the country and around the world, and really shows young girls coming through what the pathway is."

Anna, meanwhile, was happy to emulate her favourite player, Brett Lee. Even attempting his famous lengthy run-up in the backyard.

"Hit the nail on the head there, Brett Lee was my hero when I was a bowler," she says. "Like Meg said, it's great to see now that young girls can watch their female heroes on TV in whatever sport that may be [AFL, cricket, netball].

"Up in Sydney we had, it was just concrete, basically just the size of a cricket pitch, so it was a bit hard to get the full-on run-up there. It taught us to play straight because it was just windows across the house, so if you hit anything square, mum wouldn't be happy."

"Everyone in our family is very competitive and enjoys sport so that was just what we grew up on"
Meg, on the sporty culture in the Lanning family

A family of five children, Meg and Anna sometimes had their siblings out in the backyard playing alongside them; but it's been their family support - and competitiveness - that has truly helped them rise throughout the cricketing world.

"They've been great supporters of us, they were quite competitive at sport growing up so they sort of know what it's all about," Meg says.

"Our family has been great supporters of both of us; that certainly makes it a lot easier in being able to go out there and enjoy yourself knowing everyone is behind you off the field. It's nice to have that I guess, and sport's in the family so they enjoy it as well.

"I mean they did a lot of sport. Lots of swimming, and me and Anna would often go to their training and play other sports while we waited for them to finish. That sort of helped drive our love for sport early on; everyone in our family is very competitive and enjoys sport so that was just what we grew up on. "

Meg Lanning: "I've had to learn on the run a bit, but I think that's really helped me [...] I've really enjoyed captaining so far" © Cricket Australia/Getty Images

Named Australian captain at just 21 years old, Meg Lanning had to learn on her feet when it came to taking on the leadership role.

"It wasn't something I'd given a lot of thought to when I took over. I'd only just sort of got the vice-captaincy and Jodie Fields got injured so I had to step in pretty quickly; that in a way kind of helped me because I hadn't really given a lot of thought to it or about my style of leadership.

"I've had to sort of learn on the run a bit, but I think that's really helped me and every day is different on the field and off the field ... there is always a lot to learn. I've really enjoyed captaining so far."

Anna's journey hasn't seen her in the green and gold uniform yet, but the 22-year-old made sure to step out from behind big sister's shadow by travelling to England to further her cricket education.

"It was cool," she says. "I was away for five months ... the first time I've been away from home for that long. So it was just an amazing life experience and to play some cricket against some really good English players was awesome for my cricket."

Brittany Mitchell is ESPN Assistant Editor

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