Meg Lanning's legacy

Girls no longer need to import their heroes; they have Meg Lanning

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"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."

That is what Meg Lanning told me in 2017. But she didn’t need to, I could see Ponting in her eyes when she played.

When Lanning grew up, she did so at a time when women’s cricket was hidden, amateur and barely thought of. Then, the men’s game was what people turned to.

But now think of Lanning and her batting.

The ball is on a length and outside the off stump, Meg Lanning is quickly on the back foot, cutting between the fielders at point and backward-point to find the boundary.

It’s a shot you’ve seen her play a thousand times, in domestic games, franchise games and internationals. You’ve seen it so many times, maybe the point boundary should be renamed the Meg corner. Fitting then, that this was how she’d score her last boundary in the green and gold.

This was at the 2023 T20 World Cup final in Cape Town. When Lanning lifted the trophy at the end of the landmark tournament in South Africa, her fifth World title as Captain. She was still in her prime in terms of age, in ODI cricket she was coming off a 53/84 year, her sixth time beating 50 and 80.

In T20Is she was at 39/114 in 2023. A low strike rate year, but the year before was 53/133. There was no reason to leave. There was no reason to believe that was the last time we’d see her in the Australian jersey.

Nine months later, on November 8, Lanning stood in front of a small group of journalists at the MCG and announced that she would be stepping away from the international game for good. At just 31 years of age, in her words, she had lost the spark and the motivation required to perform at the elite level.

She finished with 241 internationals under her belt, a shocking 182 of them as captain of one of the most dominant teams in international cricket history. She leaves behind a legacy of relentless excellence, unwavering commitment and unparalleled success.

There were early signs of what was to come – Lanning represented her state Victoria at just 16 before making her debut for the Southern Stars, as the Australian Women’s side was known back then, at 18. That means she had been a professional for 15 years, a thing we forget, as many female athletes develop quicker, and so have been in the system for a long time by the time they hit their 30s.

She announced herself to the world with an unbeaten hundred against England in just her 2nd ODI as Australia chased down 214 with 9 wickets in hand. It made her the youngest to ever hit a ton for Australia.

This innings was a harbinger of things to come as she would go on to score 17 centuries across formats in International Cricket. 10 of those, including that first one, being in chases. For context, she’s scored them at a similar rate to Virat Kohli, who has the most number of centuries in chases – 27 in 152 innings.

A few years ago, Lanning featured in a Cricket Australia video where she was asked to build the perfect batter. She picked a combination of Virat Kohli, Ricky Ponting and Ash Gardner – of course, she spoke of each of their trademark shots, but the three attributes she really emphasized – Kohli’s competitiveness, Ponting’s authority and Gardner’s aggression – are interesting, because doesn’t that describe Meg Lanning? She might be her own perfect batter.

She is ultra-competitive. When she walks out to the middle, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that she is out there to win – it doesn’t matter who the opponent is or what the game is.

Some of you might remember an incident involving Stafanie Taylor at the 2017 World Cup. Taylor told Lanning and the match referee that she would have a bat after winning the toss, but then informed Ian Bishop, the host of the post-toss interview for the broadcast, that she was sending the Australians in.

It was probably a slip of the tongue but Lanning was having none of it, especially because she had wanted to field first too.

An animated discussion between captains and the match referee followed and Taylor was told she’d have to stick to her original decision, according to the playing conditions. It left a lot of viewers bemused – Lanning could have let it go, but she didn’t, because she was there to win.

Lanning’s walk out to bat is quick, it’s purposeful – she doesn’t smile at the opponents or umpires. She chats with her partner, takes her guard and is off.

One of Lanning’s most iconic knocks also came in that 2017 World Cup against Sri Lanka. A cakewalk for the Aussies on paper, but a certain Chamari Athapaththu had other ideas. The left-hander played what many at the time called one of the greatest knocks in ODIs, pumping the most highly-rated bowling attack in women’s cricket at the time, to all parts on her way to 178. From what was expected to be a one-sided affair, Australia now had a game on their hands.

Lanning was at the crease in just the 3rd over of the chase, with Australia in trouble on 5/1.

Dot, dot, boundary. To point, of course, that’s how her innings began.

While Athapaththu’s knock had wreaked chaos and destruction, Lanning’s was just languid authority. Despite Australia needing a record chase in World Cups to win, while Lanning was at the crease, they were in charge – there were no doubts about whether they would win, only about how many of those runs would come off her bat, with her scything cuts and buttery drives. She finished with 152 not out – her highest score in ODIs, yet it seemed like it was just another day on the cricket field for Lanning.

Lanning’s aggression simmers under the surface – it’s not brute force, but it can hurt you just as bad. A lot of people talk about her 133 not out at Chelmsford in 2019 – a knock at what was then England’s ‘fortress’ and one that ground out any English hope of an Ashes win.

But not many can remember the 103 off 50 she made against New Zealand in 2012.

In an age before live broadcasts were given for Australian Women’s games, a 20-year-old Lanning put on a show for the crowd in North Sydney. Her hundred came off 45 balls – still the fastest in Women’s ODIs. This was just one of the many many instances where she took a bowling attack apart piece by piece.

In 2014 she averaged 50 in T20Is, basically the same as Charlotte Edwards. But she did it at a strike rate of 145, the next best was Ellyse Villani with 122. She wouldn’t go on to define the new style of women's cricket, in part because she didn’t look like the power hitters that followed. But she scored at genuine 2023 speeds a decade earlier.

Lanning has broken so many records and passed so many benchmarks set by her predecessors that you almost don’t appreciate just how good she was. There have and probably will be more technically sound players, even batters more elegant or powerful than her, batters with more runs and more hundreds, but have we and will we ever see a superior batter in the Women’s game?

8,352 runs, 17 hundreds and 38 fifties. The only women’s cricketer with the combination of an average above 50 and a strike rate above 90 in ODIs, the only women’s cricketer with more than five hundreds in ODI chases – as a batter, she is everywhere – in every record list. All of this was achieved in just 241 games at the age of 31. She was a great by her mid-20s.

A lot of people probably look at the Australian side Meg Lanning inherited from Jodie Fields and think it’s no surprise that she’s had so much success. You look at the players, infrastructure, system and you start to underestimate the enormity of what she has achieved as leader of arguably the most dominant cricketing team in history. You’re tempted to think that anyone could have been as good with a team that good.

Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images

But don’t forget that with that quality, comes great expectations. She and coach Matthew Mott looked confused after Harmanpreet destroyed them in 2017. Anything other than a win is failure to this side – that’s a huge amount of pressure to function under for years. It’s maybe the reason why we are seeing Lanning retire at just 31.

Her captaincy record is, frankly, ridiculous. Australia won 76% of T20Is when she was captain and had an 88% win rate in ODIs under her. There is nobody, certainly not amongst full member countries, who can match this insane level of success. Under her, Australia set the world record for most consecutive wins in ODI cricket with 26 victories between 2018 and 2021.

And let’s not forget the global tournaments, where it really matters – Lanning stands alone with 5 World titles as Captain and that’s not even counting the Commonwealth Games gold Australia won in 2022. They literally had to invent new competitions for her to conquer. She is more than qualified to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest Captains in cricketing history.

Lanning, like many cricketers of her generation, grew up with male cricketing idols – not because there weren’t great female cricketers in previous generations, but because you only really saw the men play. There’s a saying that you can’t be what you can’t see, but Lanning in a sense became what she couldn’t see and because she did, her simply existing, will inspire new generations of girls and boys to take up cricket.

Lanning’s legacy should not be confined to just her numbers as a batter and as a captain.

Outside the field, she was a vocal advocate for equal pay and thanks to her team’s efforts on the field, pay parity is slowly turning from a pipe dream into a reality in Australia.

Under her, Australia has also embraced their responsibilities as ambassadors of the game. They dominated their opposition, but you’ll often see them spend hours talking to fans after the games, donating equipment, and taking hundreds of selfies.

And this generosity with their time isn’t reserved just for fans – there’s a beautiful photograph floating around Facebook of Lanning speaking to a group of Pakistani players following a game at the North Sydney Oval earlier this year. You can see how every Pakistani player is hanging on to every word Lanning has to say. She is their GOAT.

Courtesy - Australian Women’s Cricket Team FB page

There are some great names among Australian women's players and throughout the world throughout history. But that is what they are, names. Listed on scorecards, names in the occasional match report, and names you kind of remember.

Lanning is not just a name; she's a face, a star, a constant presence. So it doesn’t matter if you are a woman from Pakistan or a girl from Box Hill, if you turn on the TV and you see Lanning smoking another hundred like she owns backward-point, you are moved.

She is not just a great cricketer, but the spark that lights the match. The professional who took over the World. For all of her trophies, perhaps the biggest impact is simply that when young girls search for a hero, for a generation there was one on TV, making runs, winning world Cups.

When she was growing up, she looked to the men’s game for inspiration. But girls don't need to import their heroes anymore; they have Meg Lanning.