There is, perhaps, a case to be made that Meg Lanning has one of the easiest leadership roles in cricket. Look at the talent that Australia possess, with match-winners all through the squad. Some not even in the squad. It is, without doubt, the best group of players in the women’s game.
On Sunday, Lanning led Australia to their third straight ICC Women’s T20 World Cup title. Sample this for a stat: Out of eight editions of this tournament, Australia have won six. They have completed more hat-tricks (two) than any other one team has won the title (England and West Indies one each).
Australia, in women’s cricket, are in a league of one. They have been so for a while, and continue to occupy that exalted position.
But look at it this way. Imagine waking up every day knowing you are the leader of the team that simply doesn’t lose often at the biggest of stages. Imagine you are the figurehead for the side who just can’t afford to lose. Or expected to lose. Elite sport is filled with glorious uncertainties. And someone like Lanning is tasked with leading a team to defy that adage.
Which is why it is no mean feat that Lanning has forged this all-time great Australian side, who went on to win their second straight World Cup title without losing a single match. That impact is not lost on her teammates.
“When she retires, hopefully not for a few more years and hope you’re listening Meg, I think she’ll go down as one of the greatest leaders not just in cricket but in sport,” player-of-the-final Beth Mooney said in the post-match press conference on Sunday in Cape Town.
“I think she’s got an immense cricket brain. She’s cool, calm and collected under pressure and she’s got empathy as well, she understands how people feel in certain situations because she’s been there before and she’s experienced a lot as a person and as a leader, as a person, as a cricketer. So absolutely she’ll go down as one of the greatest ever for our team and we’re very lucky to have her.”
Without her leadership coming into the equation, Lanning is anyway guaranteed to be considered one of the greatest batters in the game. No woman has scored more ODI centuries than her (15), a record she is likely to retire with. She is only the second woman to cross the 3400-run tally in T20Is. She belongs to an elite group of batters with two centuries in the shortest international format. Numbers, and the aesthetics of her square cut and flick alone, are enough for Lanning to be considered an all-time legend.
But, as Mooney put it, what Lanning is doing as the leader of this side will (or should) go down in history of sporting achievements in the world among examples for sustained brilliance at the highest level.
The pressure that comes up with such intense leadership responsibilities and having to carry it for as long as she has had to, meant Lanning took a break from the game after Commonwealth Games in 2022. At various times, there were reports in Australian media even mentioning the possibility of her not coming back at all. But the 30-year-old took her time off, worked in a local cafe even, travelled a bit and returned with a drive to dominate once again.
In the age of social media, Lanning is still rather reserved in the public eye. She is not very active, or expressive, on Instagram, for instance. In her own words, she has always been guarded and played her cards close to her chest. But the break helped her refresh and reset.
“(Working in a cafe) gave me a bit of a different perspective on things, going in not really knowing what the day was going to look like,” Lanning had said in January, speaking about her return to the game.
“It could be busy, it could be quiet, and just having different conversations with the customers and things like that, I actually found that really, really cool. Having that little bit of freedom and less structure around what I was doing and going with the flow a little bit more and not getting too worried about things, I really enjoyed that.”
Listening to Lanning in press conferences, one would not for once think ‘well here’s an all-conquering leader who has won it all’. Repeatedly, she insists on being grounded. She never takes winning for granted. She has immense confidence in her team, in her band of superstars that she is always protective and appreciative of, but that is never at the cost of belittling her opponents. There is an aura that comes with being so successful, but there is never any arrogance.
Before the final against South Africa this time, Lanning was asked what did it mean for her to be here now and to have the chance to lead Australia in another World Cup final, months after deciding to step away for her break.
With a smile on her face, came the reply: “It’s really exciting, I can’t wait to get out and play. These are the games that you want to be involved in. It’s just an exciting time for the team. World Cup finals, you have to make the most of them, you never know when your next chance might be so, yeah, I’m staying sort of super relaxed, enjoying the opportunity, really embracing it and everything that comes with it.”
Here’s the captain of the team who has won every major title on offer since the 2017 ODI World Cup semifinal exit. And Lanning was still insistent on staying in the moment, not getting carried away by their dominance.
It would seem that Harmanpreet Kaur innings changed so much for Australia than it did for India. It led Lanning, along with her deputy Rachael Haynes and coach Matthew Mott, to take stock and form a winning machine that went on to break the world record for most ODI wins on the trot, lose just one match across formats in an entire calendar year. And even under new coaching staff, Australia carry on seamlessly without any signs of transition at all.
“Obviously they are a world machine,” South Africa captain Sune Luus said of Lanning’s Australia after the final. “I think the level of professionalism is insane and I think, their team, the world has been looking up to for a very, very long time and they’re the best for a reason. I think, if you look at the structures and pipelines – everything is just lining up and everything is in order. So, I think that’s something definitely as a country we’re striving for.”
On Sunday, Meg Lanning became the first captain (male or female) to lead her side in 100 T20 Internationals. And at the end of the evening, she became the captain with the most ICC titles. She took her number of wins as captain to 76 out of those 100. Let that sink in. A stunning win-loss record, and certainly helped by the quality of her side and the structures in place in Australia. But under Lanning’s leadership, all those strengths of Australia have combined beautifully to create this winning machine. By resetting her own career, she continues to lead this side that is redefining greatness in cricket.