July 9, 2017

Meg Lanning, superstar

Australia's captain is talented, ruthless and utterly dominant. Young girls no longer need to look to men's cricket for role models
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"I won't hit you too hard as long as you rocket along" © Getty Images and Cricket Australia

There is a sense of purpose, an attitude, a reason for each step. It isn't walking or strolling out to the middle to toss the coin; it's a statement of intent. Every move shows ruthlessness; it reeks of this professional inner drive, a competitive bustle of someone who will do everything they can to win.

The attitude, the purpose, looks identical to someone else. "Ricky Ponting was my hero growing up. I love the way he batted and took the game on a lot. I'd mimic him in the backyard."

Now, Meg Lanning mimics him in the middle.

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Lanning is always in a rush. At 14 she was playing in her school's first XI with the boys, at 16 she was representing Victoria, at 18 Australia, and at 22 captaining Australia to win the World T20. She is the youngest to make a hundred for Australia and is Australia's youngest captain. The only thing that is stopping her rise is a lack of jobs to aspire to after this - maybe PM or Supreme Allied Commander.

Lanning uses her feet, she uses the crease, she uses the whole damn ground. Good luck stopping that

She's in a rush when she bats as well. From 2012 to the start of this World Cup, there are only 14 women with a strike rate of over 80 (with a qualification of 300 runs); Lanning is second on the list with a strike rate of 97. She also averages 56 in that period, has made the most runs, and hits a boundary every 7.5 balls. In List A cricket she has scored a 190 and she holds the record for the highest score in T20Is.

There are other stars in the women's game - the all-round talents of Ellyse Perry and Natalie Sciver are incredible, and the pure batting talent of Mithali Raj is obscene - but no one is more likely to destroy you in an ODI innings than Lanning. When Deepti Sharma spoke to ESPNcricinfo, she brought up Lanning. "I like the intensity she brings to her game. It is as if she acquires a different personality upon entering the field - you know, a powerful attitude."

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When you watch Lanning bat, you see angles and timing. Through the off side, she doesn't slash or caress the ball. There are few jabs or slaps; it's this long, languid effortless shot that is like butter. It's like her and the ball have a pact: she isn't going to hit it too hard, and in appreciation of that, the ball is going to rush off to the rope as quickly as it can.

There is nowhere that Lanning doesn't score. That is what the best players do, use the entire surface. When the field is stacked with a fielder at point and backward point, and the bowler is bowling full and straight left-arm orthodox around the wicket, Lanning can, and does, gives herself room and depth in the crease and guides a cut shot between the two fielders, like they are not allowed to move. On the leg side, she frequently exploits the gaps that women's teams give you at fine leg - she moves across the crease and scores there. Sweeping or glancing. If you stack fielders inside the ring on one side of the wicket, a common tactic in women's cricket, she just finds what to other players would look like non-existent gaps.

At 22, Lanning captained Australia to a World T20 title © Getty Images

Through covers and mid-off she drives forcefully. She works the ball well through midwicket. And when she wants a six, she'll get down on her knee or clear her front leg and go over long-on. She uses her feet; she uses the crease, she uses the whole damn ground. Good luck stopping that.

Her record is as good against pace as it is against spin. She makes more hundreds than fifties, and she averages 70 batting at three. Whatever teams need to do to stop her, they haven't found it yet.

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"In this format, hundreds win games for teams," says Lanning. But when you push her on why she has so many, she doesn't seem to have an answer. The great Charlotte Edwards and the great Belinda Clark played 309 ODIs between them, and in all those games, they made 14 hundreds. Lanning has 11 from 60. She is the only woman with more than ten. She is only 25 years old.

When you talk to her about batting, and especially how she is so damn good at it, she usually just defers and speaks of the team, the help from her coach Matthew Mott, or even how women's cricket itself has evolved due to them being allowed to become better athletes. It's never about her, and yet it is always about her. She wins major awards like she's a kid at a school that gives out trophies for turning up. She's won Belinda Clark medals, the Wisden award, and the ICC award in T20 and ODI cricket. If she keeps dominating like this, she'll be able to win trophies with her name on them well before she has retired.

There are two kinds of Australian captain - the rare "happy-most-of-the-time, strategic, thinking captain" and the hard arse. Lanning is a hard arse

But when you try and nail down how she manages to be at once the second-best striker and best scorer in the game, she says, "You look to make small changes all the time. There's no hiding these days, there's footage of all the games. So you need always to be evolving."

But when you try and talk about how no one in world cricket can stop her, she pivots. "I think they are planning better for me, but not just for me" - no, it could never be just about her - "for all the players, there are plans in place, which challenges you to change your game. The WBBL and the Super League, you are playing against players from other nations, which works both ways. You just have to tweak a few things to stay ahead."

But when you factor in all that footage, the extra pressure of being the first real professional captain of the women's team, the games being televised and critically reported on, Lanning still seems to be evolving ahead of everyone else. "When you move into that professional sport space, individually and as a team, we're trying to embrace that pressure. This is going to be the most exposed World Cup there has ever been, and that creates pressure in itself."

But when you factor in the fact that, as I write this, she's averaging over 100 this World Cup, at a strike rate of 99, you have to ask, how the bloody hell are you so good, Meg? "I tend to keep things quite simple, and I'm generally quite a competitive person. I don't really think about it too much, I just go out there and score as much as I can."

© ESPNcricinfo Ltd

But when you think about Meg Lanning on the field, you see a ruthless, hungry and arrogant cricketer, the big bad monster of women's batting. Off the field, she just seems like a suburban Aussie girl: a bit nervous, a bit self-aware, and very guarded. There is no powerful attitude, almost no attitude at all.

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"Great to have the captains out here with me for the toss, and also the match referee, David Jukes," Ian Bishop says, smiling to the cameras. The coin goes up, Stafanie Taylor calls correct and turns to Lanning and tells her what she plans on doing. Lanning nods. Then Taylor walks over to Ian Bishop for the post-toss talk, and says she's going to bat, and then says she's going to bowl. It seems like a simple slip of the tongue.

Meg Lanning then comes over to Bishop and in her answer she says, "We were going to have a bowl, so we're looking forward to getting out there as a team."

"And there you have it," Bishop concludes, "the two captains and the toss completed out here in the sunshine, and we're hoping to have a good one."

We got a good one, a good fight. Lanning is furious. She stands in the middle of the ground with Taylor and Jukes. Taylor looks confused, Jukes looks out of his depth. Standing a safe distance away are the West Indies and ICC media managers. While all this happens Lanning points, shouts, remonstrates. She's bullish, loud, angry, and there is no doubt she's not going to back down.

There are other stars in the women's game, but no one is more likely to destroy you in an ODI innings than Lanning

Later she will say, in a matter-of-fact way, that she was only trying to find out whether they were batting or bowling. If that's how angry she gets after a misunderstanding on what her side is doing, you'd never want to get on her wrong side.

Taylor pleads that she just made a simple mistake, she misspoke. Lanning won't have it, and the playing conditions are on her side. Lanning wins, and she doesn't care if it looks ugly. She cares that she wins.

There probably isn't a real template for Australian captains; maybe it's more about those who come after being inspired by those before. But it seems like there are two kinds of Australian captain - the rare "happy-most-of-the-time, strategic, thinking captain" and the hard arse.

There is no doubt of which Lanning is; she is a hard arse.

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To see a glimpse of Lanning at her most natural, there is a video that Cricket Australia put up where she is miked up as she does centre-wicket practice. She isn't taking it that seriously, and there is a looseness that you almost never see from her.

Like most great batsmen, Lanning hits to all parts of the field © Getty Images

"Bloody deep cover," she howls as one of her well-timed shots goes out to a sweeper. She laughs after another shot, and then turns to the keeper and says, "I'm not even thinking where the fielders are." "Aaahh, it's not a good shot if it goes straight to the fielder," comes in exasperation.

But the most illuminating moment is when she's at the non-striker's end, batting with Nicole Bolton. They meet in the middle to chat about the last ball. Bolton is unsure if she has played the right shot; Lanning is sure she didn't. "Yeah, but if mid-on is up, then you can back yourself." Bolton is still a bit hesitant. Lanning isn't: "That was the length."

Lanning is three years younger than Bolton, but it doesn't feel like it. From the moment Bolton and Lanning enter the game, you know who is the master and who the apprentice. Lanning's age doesn't matter; she's the boss.

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Perry is walking down the wicket, looking back over her shoulder to see where the ball has gone, and then looking back at the striker's end laughing. Even she can't believe what she is seeing. This is one of the best athletes in sport. She bats No. 4, takes the new ball, kicked the goal of the tournament in a women's football World Cup, and won a cricket World Cup with a spell bowled with a broken leg. And she can't believe what Meg Lanning has done.

The ball that made Perry awestruck was the fifth of the 44th over against Sri Lanka. It went for six, Lanning brought up her 150 and won the game. All you could do is marvel and laugh.

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The first heroes of cricket in Australia were English. Grace and the overarm bowlers were the players who inspired Australian men to pick up the game. Australian cricket was still in development, and how could you see Grace and not be inspired by that level of genius? Because of the way women's cricket has been ignored, patronised and mismanaged, many of the women playing today have male players as their heroes. It's not a surprise that Ponting was Lanning's.

"You look to make small changes all the time. There's no hiding these days, there's footage of all the games. So you need always to be evolving"
Lanning

There are some great names among Australian women's captains - Karen Rolton, Lyn Larsen, and Belinda Clark. But that is what they are, names. Names on scorecards, names in the occasional match report, names you kind of remember.

Lanning is not just a name; she's a face, a star, a constant presence. While women's cricket coverage isn't yet everywhere, with a functioning internet connection you can follow Lanning on Twitter, read about her on all the women's cricket blogs, and watch the many games that are live-streamed.

So what would a young girl think, as she turns on the TV to watch some cricket, and isn't watching the men but the women, and not just any women but Lanning smoking another hundred with her powerful attitude and purposeful steps? How could you see Lanning and not be inspired by that level of genius?

Girls don't need to import their heroes anymore; they have Meg Lanning.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • slipca2157807 on July 15, 2017, 15:07 GMT

    @ HARISH - You say "best one day top order in the last six years - Alma, Kohli, Lanning AB De, M. Raj" None of the others could be described as "superstar", so why Lanning?

  • dayaku2216664 on July 14, 2017, 7:45 GMT

    Lanning is phenomenal, but it would be great to see greats like Lanning be less ruthless. They are the ambassadors of the game, right? But all things said and done, Lanning is special. A quote my father who is a keen follower of all forms of cricket of all ages and gender said when he predicted English would win when they got Lanning:

    [Only] As long as there's Lanning at the crease, anything can happen.

  • Harish on July 12, 2017, 9:44 GMT

    Best one day top order in the last five six years - Amla, Kohli, Lanning, AB De, M Raj.

  • Keith on July 11, 2017, 12:50 GMT

    It's good to see an article like this, drawing attention to a great women's player.

    Perhaps soon we will see women's cricket in the mainstream, just like women's tennis is. Players like Meg Lanning should help.

  • izzido8204666 on July 11, 2017, 2:06 GMT

    If only there was no discrimination between men and women's cricket Meg Lanning could easily walk into this current Australian men's cricket team not only as a middle order bat but also as captain of the side. With such an impressive record the likes of current cricketers like Amla, Kholi and De Kock it's a shame that such talent is wasted. If it is brute force that is lacking to score runs she doesn't need it because she times the ball so well that it speeds to the boundary light a rocket. I have never seen someone time the ball so well even badly handicapped with an injured arm as evidenced in the match between Australia and England. If Ricky Ponting was good enough to captain Australia then Meg Lanning is just as good and a carbon copy of Ponting in her strokeplay and timing.

  • sudeep on July 10, 2017, 12:12 GMT

    @TimmyJ - Unlike softball (or baseball) cricket is not about brute strength. The simple fact that you are allowed to pitch a ball with an expressed seam before it reaches a batter makes this game more cerebral. And the American women along with US Soccer are discovering now that the modern game of soccer is not only about power, speed and athleticism. No wonder they were blown away by the technical ability of a team like France in this year's She Believes Cup. The entire US system is crying for technical players as rest of the world is catching up very quickly. Specially after their pathetic performances in the U17 and U20 World Cups last year.

  • Tim on July 9, 2017, 17:16 GMT

    Really like to see how some top American women softball players would do at cricket. I think in a pretty short time they could become to cricket what American women are to soccer.

  • Kumar on July 9, 2017, 16:43 GMT

    Heading is something and content is something else.

  • crowsf7183701 on July 9, 2017, 14:41 GMT

    We're certainly entering a golden age of women's sport in Australia, with the aflw exceeding expectations and the likes of Lanning and Perry raising the profile and the standard of women's cricket, it's never been a better time to be a female athlete in Australia.

  • Alex on July 9, 2017, 5:54 GMT

    Hey kimber , write about solomon mire. He brutalise cricket ball like warner and sehwag did but he hit sweetest of sweetest spot. i can hear it from half the way from earth.

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