Jhulan Goswami remembers pausing to take a closer look at this new top-order Australian batter more than a decade ago. “The girl had huge potential, I thought,” the former India seamer tells The Hindu on phone. “I found out her name was Meg Lanning.”
By the time Lanning announced her retirement from international cricket — last week, at the age of 31 — she had done enough to be remembered as one of the greatest batters of all time.
Her greatness won’t be disappearing entirely from view, however. She will continue to play franchise cricket, including the Women’s Premier League. This is good news for her admirers, which includes Ian Bishop, who said, “There are a handful of batters in the game that made me stop what I was doing, just to watch them play. Meg Lanning was one.”
In addition to her prodigious ability with the bat, Lanning was also an exceptional captain. Among the many highlights of her leadership career has been Australia’s three-year unbeaten run in ODIs, beginning at Vadodara in the summer of 2018.
One recalls Alyssa Healy — who is likely to take over from Lanning — betraying a smile, at the post-match press conference shortly after her 115-ball 133 in the last of the three-game ODI series helped Australia complete a clean-sweep. “There was a little bit of revenge,” said the wicketkeeper-opener.
She was referring to Australia’s shock defeat to India in the 2017 World Cup semifinal at Derby, caused largely by Harmanpreet Kaur’s epic 171 not out off 115 balls. Some five years later, in an interview at Mumbai during the WPL, Healy told this correspondent how that innings changed the Australian team.
Lanning too made a reference to it during the presser in which she announced her retirement, at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. “The 2017 World Cup didn’t go to plan,” she said. “But, you look back on that and you learn so much. I learned so much. We probably wouldn’t have had the success that we had if that moment hadn’t happened.
“It was awful at the time, it was a really good reality check and [it contributed to] the successful five years post that. It was a bit of magic coming together and I’ve probably never experienced that before or after, in terms of everything coming together. The group really stood up through that period.”
That group of players under Lanning would go down in history as one of the greatest teams in sport. Besides that incredible run of ODI wins, the Women in Yellow won the T20 World Cup in 2018, 2020 and 2023, the ODI World Cup and the Commonwealth Games gold in 2022. There has been an air of invincibility around the team, reminiscent of Clive Lloyd’s West Indies team of the late 1970s and 80s.
If Lloyd’s team had a group of extraordinary men like Gordon Greenidge, Viv Richards, Jeff Dujon, Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner, Lanning’s side had extraordinary women like Beth Mooney, Healy, Ellyse Perry, Ashleigh Gardner and Megan Schutt. Lanning has also been the best batter of the team.
As Jhulan pointed out, Lanning gave early warnings about her precocious talent with the bat. She was 18 when she scored her maiden international hundred, in her second ODI, at Perth in 2011, against England.
Lanning would go on to make another 14 hundreds in ODI cricket, in which she scored 4,602 runs from 103 matches at an average of 53.51. She played in 132 T20Is, made 3,405 runs (average 36.61, strike rate 116.37) and hit two hundreds and 15 fifties. She featured in only six Tests, because women rarely get to play the most elite of cricket’s formats. She has a Test average of 31.36, with a highest score of 93.
She played some lovely strokes while she made all those thousands of runs. No one in women’s cricket cuts or pulls the way she does. Not many could pace an innings like she could, time after time.
“She is undoubtedly one of the best batters I have ever bowled to,” says Jhulan, who took 355 wickets in an international career spanning over two decades. “Meg would pick your length sooner than most batters, and she was so strong square of the wicket. She was difficult to bowl to, but I enjoyed the challenge.”
Jhulan also has great respect for Lanning as a captain. “It would not have been easy to lead a team containing so many big stars,” she says. “But she did a great job.”
And she seemed to have enjoyed doing it. “Women’s cricket hasn’t seen a captain like Lanning, and I could only think of another Australian, Belinda Clark, who too was an exceptional leader,” says former India captain Shubhangi Kulkarni. “I was a bit surprised that she has quit international cricket at such a young age.”
But Lanning had taken a six-month break after leading Australia to the Commonwealth gold last year. On her return, she had said that the break had helped her prolong her career. She then withdrew from the Ashes tour due to medical reasons. That meant the final of the T20 World Cup against South Africa at Cape Town in February this year was her last international game.
That was her fourth T20 World Cup victory as a captain. She was also part of World Cup-winning teams in 2012 (T20) and 2013 (ODI). She took over as captain from Jodie Fields in 2014 and formed a solid partnership with Matthew Mott — who joined the team the following year — and went on to build the all-conquering team.
Giving it her all
The inaugural edition of the WPL saw Delhi Capitals benefit from her leadership qualities. She led the franchise to the final and was the leading scorer of the tournament.
“She was one player we were keen to get at the auction and was of course the obvious choice as captain,” says Biju George, the fielding coach at Capitals. “She has been the best captain I have worked with, male or female. Nor have I seen many committed cricketers like her. She would be there at the gym on the match day and would be ready for her early-morning run on the following day.”
Lanning clearly wanted to give her best to whatever she did. She said in Melbourne, “I am not someone who can do things half-in, half-out.”
She never did, as the world has found out, for over a decade.