The sign of a true leader is how they respond in the dark days and if we didn’t know it already, Thursday’s performance proved Meg Lanning was born to carry the orders.
With her side pushed to their limits in the pressure-cooker of a World Cup semi-final against South Africa in Sydney, the Australia skipper once again stood up when her country needed it most.
Her unbeaten 49 set the Aussies on their way to Sunday’s Final against India at the MCG, their 134/5 enough to seal their spot at potentially the biggest day in their history. The Player of the Match then snaffled two catches and rotated her bowlers superbly to withstand the Proteas’ late pressure and let the whole of Australia breathe a sigh of relief.
We can look long and hard, but it’ll be difficult to come by a better captain’s performance in this year’s tournament than that. But Lanning has always been the proven pressure player, just ask Beth Mooney and Megan Schutt. “She’s the ultimate clutch player,” said opener Mooney.
“She’s got this steely look in her face and when you’re in the opposition, as I have been in WBBL and domestic cricket. It’s not a good sight to see.” Schutt added: “She’s a true leader and it comes out in her cricket in moments like that.
“She’s just so determined to do things and set the bar high for us. She’s an outstanding leader, an outstanding batter and thank God she’s on our team.”
Take a look at her T20I knockout record, and you’ll see that Lanning saving the day was never not in the script. In the nine semi-finals and finals she has been a part of since the 2012 event, Lanning has smacked 322 runs, putting her top of the scoring charts - with England’s Charlotte Edwards coming in closest in second with 175.
The scariest part is, she’s yet to turn 28.
The Australia captain’s ability to perform brilliantly under pressure has set her apart during her illustrious career – but now she’s about to face her biggest test yet. A home World Cup is a once-in-a-career opportunity and winning it is an even rarer feat, Lyn Larsen and Michael Clarke the only Australian captains to have done so on home soil.
And even then, they didn’t have the pressure of performing in front of a potential record crowd for their sport. If Lanning can wow the Melbourne crowds with another performance under the pump against India on Sunday, it will be testament to her true brilliance as an all-round cricketer.
Having risen through boys-only teams, Lanning made her mark on the world stage as early as 18 years old with a scintillating century against England at the WACA in just her second game for Australia.
From that very moment, Edwards knew it wouldn’t take long until she ended up second to Lanning in the T20I knockout ranks. “I just instantly thought ‘this girl’s going to break every record going’,” said the former England skipper.
“I’d heard a little bit about this young batter who was up-and-coming and the first game I think she’d got a few but in the second game I realised why everyone was speaking so highly of her,
“She’s just so desperately disappointed every time she gets out. You can see that real hunger to score runs and be successful, and that’s what’s really struck me.”
While she’s one for heroics, Lanning’s time at the helm hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Her side lost the Women’s T20 World Cup 2016 Final to the West Indies, before being knocked out of the 2017 50-over World Cup in the semi-final stage to India.
But knowing what’s at stake for Australia in front of what could be a record-breaking crowd for women’s sport at the MCG, Lanning will certainly not want to let this one slip away. And if this year’s tournament has taught us anything, India will be no pushovers.
Having spoiled their opening day party, Australia will know that more than anyone, and they’ll be crying out for their captain to step up more than ever before.
(This article first appeared on the International Cricket Council website)
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