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Meg Lanning stands front and centre to the growing professionalism of women’s sport. The Big Smoke chats with our only successful test captain.
Throughout her adolescence, Meg Lanning’s talent saw her playing in boys’ teams. Fast forward to 2016, and there are those who say she still should be, given the current problems with our men’s team.
The opening batsman for Victoria and Australia, Meg has smashed several records, which we will get to, and has been the prime mover in our Commonwealth Bank Southern Stars, currently ranked number one by the ICC.
Our “other” Test Captain shares similarities with a legendary one from the past as Lanning exhibits more than just a few of Steve Waugh’s attributes: her extremely competitive nature, miserly yet dynamic stroke play at the crease and her leadership.
In her typical understated manner, Meg demands attention through her ability, her “let the talent do the talking” temperament and her status of being regarded the best in the women’s game, hence her nickname “Megastar”.
This obvious talent has played a key role in women’s cricket entering the mainstream. However, when pressed, Meg believes that something else is at play.
“Over the past four years there has been a massive shift in women’s cricket and this has been caused by the WBBL (the Women’s Big Bash League) which now has an eight team competition with mainstream TV coverage,” Lanning says.
It is a revolutionary time for women’s cricket, and Meg represents the first wave of our women professionals. Alongside her Cricket Australia contract she has another with the Melbourne Stars in the WBBL and is a commentator on Channel 9. Meg also has a management company DSEG looking after her interests.
The emergence of Meg’s rise began in a familiar fashion. Her father Wayne was a keen cricketer, so the Lanning household was fed a staple diet of cricket, be it backyard or television. Meg’s sister Anna, two years younger, also loved the game. In the grand Australian tradition of the Chappell brothers, the Waugh twins, the Husseys etc, their home in Thornleigh on Sydney’s north shore became Meg’s battleground.
You see, Meg hates losing at anything with a passion and beating sister Anna for runs and wickets was where her famous fighting spirit took its first steps. However, it goes both ways as Anna loved nothing better than beating big sis and is a representative cricketer in her own right, playing for the Melbourne Stars. But Anna has a bigger goal:
“My dream is to play for Australia. And obviously it would be pretty amazing to play with Meg at the highest level.”
If you happen to be the parents of a young cricketer, you know of the many hours spent on a Saturday sitting watching your child. It takes serious commitment and patience, yet Sue and Wayne excelled, taking their girls to cricket fields all over Sydney and giving tips on ways to improve. Meg knows what her parents gave up for her and Anna.
“My folks were fantastic and they are the two people in the world I look up to more than anyone else,” Meg says. “If not for them, Anna and I would not be where we are today.”
It was in her early high school years that Australian cricket became aware of this tenacious batsman named Lanning, M. At 14, she became the first girl to represent the Association of Victorian Public Schools, in a boy’s representative team.
This continued for a couple of years until she was 17, when Meg returned to playing with and against other young women cricketers. Coincidentally in the One-Day Arena and the Big Bash, Meg wears the number 17 on her shirt, and although she puts it down to the fact that her favourite number 7 was already taken, one would assume the number 17 still represents the first of many milestones reached.
Reaching milestones seems to be a regular occurrence with Lanning, as even a brief glance over her achievements quickly turns to an Herculean slog. At 18, Meg became the youngest Australian to score a One-Day century scoring 113 not out; a year later in 2011, she broke the record for the fastest century by an Australian, racking up her ton in a mere 45 balls against NZ in a One-Day international. When prompted Meg calmly says, “It was just one of those days.”
In November of 2012, Meg broke the record for the highest individual score in the Women’s National Cricket League, smashing 175 from 142 balls; in 2014 against Ireland in the 2014 ICC Women’s World Twenty20, Lanning scored 126 runs from 65 balls; in October 2016, she surpassed her own record by scoring 190 runs in 153 balls against Tasmania. Eight days after posting this record, Meg smashed 241 not out off 136 balls for Box Hill Cricket Club in the Victorian Women’s Cricket Association, the highest individual score in Women’s Premier First’s Cricket.
Younger sister Anna is impressed by her big sister’s form and composure when out in the middle. “She’s the best player in the world and I’d rather be playing with her than against her, that’s for sure.”
On her way to the crease, Meg likes to clear her head and think about composure, but there is a lurking menace behind the dial and an intent to take control of the attack. The first few overs is all about getting her eye in, seeing the ball out of the bowler’s hand and feeling the speed of the ball off the pitch.
The focus then shifts to cementing the rhythm of her shots as well as winning the mental game with the bowlers. There are plenty of mind’s eye exchanges with the bowlers who are looking for any signs of weakness in the batsman, from confidence to gleaning she may not like a rising ball and so on. Meg likes to get on the front foot straight away.
“Early on, it is all about giving nothing away, projecting an inner calm and strength, working on your shot making rhythm and telling your opponents with your body language that you own the pitch.”
Her goalsetting then kicks in with the first challenge to make it to 20 not out. If she achieves that then her confidence starts to rise with the cherry getting bigger by the ball. Meg ups the ante and goes in search of a half century, and opposition teams beware if she reaches the half ton, as it can end in tears for them while applauding yet another Lanning century.
Meg’s other advantage is her ability to hit a six with timing and rhythm rather than relying on brute strength – something her T20 strike rate of 117 endorses. While in Test Matches and One-Day games, Meg can build an innings by opening the batting, the T20 big bash requires a different mindset.
“The big bash is helter skelter and the constant thing on your mind is the fear of run outs,” she says. “They can happen off any ball and I have found if I go with my instinct I get home but if I try to second guess a situation its usually curtains.”
Which brings us to the question: what is the advice Meg Lanning lives by?
“Listen to different people, look for advice and take away their best thoughts. Everyone has something to help you achieve and it is all about living by them.”
Meg Lanning is a wonderful asset to the growth of Australian Women’s Cricket and you know that after all the centuries, batting records and awards as a player, she will be at an oval somewhere helping a young girl get her eye in and to dream of taking on the world wearing a baggy green just as she has.