English cricket is seeking solace after the debacle at Lord’s but while the men were left bruised and battered by Mitchell Johnson, for the women, who begin their Ashes series on Tuesday, the name that strikes fear into the hearts is Meg Lanning.
Lanning, the Australia captain, is no ordinary cricketer: Words such as “freak”, “superhuman” and “megastar” attach to her all too readily as this batsman breaks records for fun.
At the age of just 18 years and 288 days, Lanning, now 23, became Australia’s youngest ever centurion, regardless of sex, when she hit a ton in an one-day international against England in 2011.
Ranked No 1 T20 batsman in the world, Lanning has also racked up the highest individual women’s innings in a T20 international, scoring 126 runs from just 65 balls against Ireland last year. In being made captain of a feisty national team last year she became the youngest ever person – male or female – to captain Australia. Since then, Lanning has led her team to a third successive T20 World Cup victory and to the top of the ICC Women’s One-Day Championship. Not a bad CV.
When any team plays Australia, it is without exception that Lanning’s wicket is the one which is the most prized and during today’s ODI at Taunton, which kicks off the Ashes series, it will be no different.
So does Lanning feel obliged to perform as Aussie captain and talisman? “I don’t really feel any extra pressure,” she tells me this week. “Personally, I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform and that’s always there.” Lanning is both a pragmatist and a perfectionist – to her the task at hand is a simple one. “I certainly don’t think that I am the best player in the world. I think that I’ve got a lot of work to do in being really consistent and maintaining that level.”
Early this year Lanning was named Wisden’s inaugural Leading Woman Cricketer in the World, but even with perhaps the highest individual award that cricket can bestow she insists she is just a cog in a bigger wheel. “That award came out of the blue a little bit,” she says. “It’s a huge honour to be given that award. I enjoy contributing to team success and that’s what I try and focus on. Individual awards come along and it’s nice but I’d rather be part of a team success.”
The one success to have eluded Lanning is winning the Ashes and to right that wrong she will have to shine in the multi-format series which is unprecedented on a number of levels. It is the first since England women turned professional last year; the first to have every ball covered live on TV; the first to be played at international men’s grounds across the country; the first where a Test win counts for just four not six points.
The last change is something that the Australia coach, Matthew Mott, considers to be “fairer”. It is also the first since both Australia and England launched T20 leagues: the Women’s Big Bash in Australia and England’s Women’s Cricket Super League.
Lanning, especially, is excited by this new dawn. “These are great initiatives,” she adds. “T20 is the format of the game that appears to be the most marketable moving forward.”
Although Australia have won three successive T20 World Cups and also hold the One-Day World Cup, a trophy that they took from England, who triumphed back in 2009, England hold the Ashes having won the last two series, in 2013, and then again in 2013-14. Australia have not won on English soil since 2001.
Lanning believes that Australia, however, have a few tricks up their sleeves. Speaking about the teenage pace sensation, Holly Ferling, who at only 19 is already a veteran of two Ashes, Lanning says: “Holly is really important to us – she’s got a little bit of extra pace and bounce. Anyone that can bowl a bit quicker is going to be a bit dangerous.”
Add to this the likes of Kristen Beams, the 30-year-old leg-spinner, Ashes debutant and X-factor of the squad, who took three wickets in Sunday’s warm-up against the England Academy, and you’ve a force to contend with. That’s before you mention the big-hitting, fast-bowling Ellyse Perry, who smashed 93 not out in the same match at the weekend.
England believe they’ve got the players to stop Australia, with captain Charlotte Edwards describing the squad as “the most competitive environment I’ve been in since I’ve played.” The only problem for England? They’ve dropped their leading spinner, Danni Hazell, who played for the England Academy in that warm-up match. Hazell, who hasn’t been selected for the ODIs, trapped Lanning lbw for a second-ball duck.
Three Aussies for England to fear
Meg Lanning (23)
Debut: T20 v New Zealand Women, Nelson, Dec 2010
Best Test / ODI / T20 scores
48 / 135*/ 126
Kristen Beams (30)
Debut: ODI v Pakistan,
Brisbane, August 2014
(Yet to make Test debut)
Best ODI / T20 bowling
2-32 / 3/16
Ellyse Perry (24)
Right-hand bat, right-arm fast-medium
Debut: ODI v New Zealand Women, Darwin, July 22 2007
Best Test / ODI scores
71 / 90*
Izzy Westbury is the captain of Middlesex Women