Lanning leaves a legacy of generational change and success

November 12, 2023

She led Australia to an era of unprecedented success and maintained herself as the best ODI player in the world

Lanning leaves a legacy of generational change and success

Meg Lanning has five international wickets.

On the day of her shock retirement from international cricket, Cricket Australia posted highlights of four of her five international scalps on social media. The footage looks like something from a bygone era. It is grainy, shot by a single camera that is miles up in the stands. She took her first wicket in 2012 and her last in 2016 and the footage looks the same.

If you search for highlights of her first international hundred, in just her third game as an 18-year-old in 2011, you won’t find them. There are highlights on YouTube of her fifth ODI century, a magnificent 135 not out against the West Indies in Bowral, the home ground of Sir Donald Bradman. There were cars parked just outside the picket fence, only metres beyond the rope. But again, it is from a single camera that isn’t even behind the bowler’s arm. It’s at deep cover. The only difference between that and watching Bradman’s batting highlights from the 1940s is that Lanning’s are in colour.

Fast forward six years to March 2020, and Lanning is standing in front of a record crowd of 86,174 at the MCG on International Women’s Day holding the T20 World Cup trophy aloft, after winning a final that was broadcast to millions around the world.

One of the promotional lines in the lead-up to that final was that ‘you can’t be what you can’t see’. In Lanning’s case, with respect to her own remarkable career, that is not necessarily true. But her greatest legacy might be ensuring that statement no longer applies to women’s cricket.

Lanning was born in 1992. She was five when Belinda Clark made a world record 229 not out in a women’s ODI World Cup game in India. She did not see that live and there is no footage of it to be found online. One of the few available pieces of footage of Clark, the woman whose name is on Australian female cricket’s highest individual honour, an award Lanning has won three times, is from a five-minute ICC Hall of Fame tribute video.

There are still photos of Clark batting in 1997 in the video, but the only live action is from the 2005 World Cup final. It is of Clark’s only three boundaries in a run-a-ball 19 against India in South Africa. Karen Rolton made a century in that game, yet there is no evidence of that online either.

Lanning’s hero growing up was instead Ricky Ponting. Like many of her team-mates, male cricket was the only offering on television during their formative years. In 2005, Ponting was in his pomp. Every single one of his 2833 international runs that year could be seen on Australian television. Five of his six Test centuries were broadcast free-to-air.

Like Ponting, Lanning was a prodigy. In 2006, Lanning became the first female to play in Victoria’s male public schools first XI competition for Carey Grammar. Four years later she debuted for Australia and eclipsed Ponting as the youngest-ever Australian to make an ODI century.

Her batting technique was not like her hero though. Lanning had low hands and a low back-lift compared to Ponting’s pronounced wrist cock. Lanning was still at the crease without much of a trigger movement compared to Ponting imposing forward press.

Their major scoring zones were different as a result. Lanning lashed anything fractionally short and wide square of the wicket through the offside, Ponting pulled the same deliveries powerfully through the legside.

But Lanning’s presence at the crease, the power of her ball striking, her steely resolve, her ruthless unrelenting run-scoring, and her irrepressible competitiveness were exactly like her hero.

Except, in some respects, she was better. Her list of career achievements is staggering. She is a true giant of Australian and international cricket having achieved unparalleled success.

Beyond the raw achievements though, there was something special about her ability to take her best performances in games that weren’t broadcast and replicate them in front of wider audiences as the women’s game has gained prominence.

Three years after that chasing century at Bowral was streamed online to an audience of family and friends, she made a stunning 152 not out in the 2017 World Cup against Sri Lanka where Australia were burning under the brighter lights of that tournament and the burden of expectation. Her team-mates were in awe of that innings given she was playing with a damaged shoulder. It remains the highest individual score in a run-chase in women’s ODIs.

Her record chasing in ODIs is unmatched in the women’s game. Her 10 centuries in successful ODI chases is twice as many as the next best female player. It’s more than Ponting could manage. Virat Kohli, Sachin Tendulkar and Rohit Sharma are the only players on the planet with more.

Lanning has scored ODI centuries in every calendar year she played bar the Covid-affected 2021. She has scored centuries in Australia, England, India, Malaysia, New Zealand and West Indies. She is without question the greatest female ODI batter of all-time.

Her T20 record does not look as impressive on paper but it does not do her justice, having played across an era where the format has evolved at light speed. Lanning can take enormous credit for expanding the horizons of female T20 batters. In the 2014 T20 World Cup in Bangladesh, she made the highest score by a woman in T20 international cricket of 126 not out, and the second highest by any player male or female at the time. It was a feat that went virtually unnoticed by the wider cricket community. Good luck finding highlights of it.

In 2019, in the women’s Ashes that was broadcast live on Sky in the UK and on Channel Nine in Australia, she broke her own record, thumping 133 not out at Chelmsford. There have been eight scores of 130-plus in T20Is since with Alyssa Healy’s 148 not out against Sri Lanka being one of them. And while Healy and Beth Mooney among others have taken the limelight in the big World Cup final victories since, Lanning has quietly helped get them there with crucial knocks in critical games along the way, showcasing her extraordinary adaptability and calmness under pressure.

As great as she has been as a player, her captaincy tenure will likely be her greatest achievement. Teams are shaped by the traits of their leaders. Lanning has shaped the greatest female team, and one of the finest sporting sides, of all-time in her image.

She captained almost without interruption from age 21 to 31 and grew with the role. From the nadir of the 2017 World Cup semi-final failure, she formed a triumvirate with coach Matthew Mott and vice-captain Rachael Haynes to guide the team to four successive World Cup titles.

Lanning’s team-mates speak glowingly of her calmness and consistency as a leader. She was meticulously planned but was prepared to use her gut instinct when needed. She backed her players without fail. She inspired them with her actions more than her words. But despite her quiet nature, when she spoke, they listened. Lanning also developed a sense of fun, which Australia have played with throughout their era of success, having started her captaincy career with the nickname ‘Serious Sally’.

There is a sense of sadness amongst her team-mates past and present, and the cricket community at large, that Lanning has called time on her international career at just 31. But in the context of being thrust into the captaincy at just 21 and guiding a team through the first decade of full-time female professionalism, it is no surprise that she has nothing left to give. She has not known anything else other than the never-ending grind of being an international cricket captain.

But while there is sadness, there is gratefulness too. Her peers the world over are in awe of what she has done for the women’s game. Her international career started out of sight and out of mind. She has brought it into the light with astonishing performances and amazing grace.

Kids can aspire to be Meg Lanning because they could see Meg Lanning. And what a sight she was in full flight. That is some legacy to leave. –Cricinfo

Lanning leaves a legacy of generational change and success