The orchestra conductor: Captain Lanning more at ease calling the shots than facing the crowd

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Cricket Australia took a risk in appointing Meg Lanning as captain at the tender age of 21. She paid them back by being the most successful leader the game has seen.

Lanning had not even captained her club when she became the youngest player to lead their country but Julie Savage, the chair of the selection panel at the time, had learned from watching her since she was a junior that the young star with the cover drive to die for had the character to match for the job.

Meg Lanning was emotional as she announced her retirement from international cricket.Credit: Getty Images

“It was her decisiveness under pressure and ability to make good decisions under pressure that stood out,” Savage told this masthead on Thursday. “It turned out to be a very good decision.”

Lanning will be remembered alongside Mark Taylor, Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting as leaders of Australia’s golden eras, albeit without the earnings from the game to match.

Even with the proliferation of World Cups, it will take some time for a player – male or female – to match the five world titles Lanning has won as captain. Her record is a testament not only to her length of tenure but the quality of the teams she led.

To place Lanning’s near 81 per cent winning record as captain in perspective, Ponting won 68 per cent of his matches as skipper, Steve Waugh 66. Of course, Australia’s women had the structural advantage of being the first in the world to become full-time professionals, but the men’s teams were also well served by academies their rivals adopted much later.

Lanning was a winner who through her skill, competitiveness and sportsmanship became a role model at a time when the profile for women’s sport grew. Her career straddled times when the national women’s team went from niche to mainstream.

An intensely private person, Lanning was one of the three faces of the women’s game in this country, alongside Ellyse Perry and Alyssa Healy.

If Perry was the pin-up on the front of magazines, and Healy the natural extrovert who revelled in the spotlight, Lanning was the orchestra conductor: more at ease calling the shots than facing the crowd.

By her own admission, Lanning found relationship building the more difficult aspect of leadership but in Alex Blackwell and later Rachael Haynes had vice-captains stronger in those aspects.

Somewhat fittingly, her retirement press conference, called with less than two hours notice to media, was conducted in the understated surrounds of the MCG concourse and not inside the grand arena – scene of her greatest triumph in the 2020 Twenty20 World Cup final – which was being prepared for the late football great Ron Barassi’s state funeral.

Though she shunned the limelight, Lanning never shirked her responsibilities, knowing the role she played in inspiring young girls and boys to take up the game she has loved all her life. She laughed when asked if she would miss speaking to journalists but addressing media was never her strong suit, though she grew in confidence.

“I’m a pretty private person, I’ve always kept things pretty close to my chest,” Lanning said.

“That is part of the role. It is something we speak about as a team, making sure we are having a positive influence on everyone around us and to be able to use the platform and privilege to make sure it’s a good thing. We’ve embraced it as a team.”

Lanning was part of the first generation of national female players to become full-time cricketers, though not all at domestic level have that privilege.

Unlike her male colleagues, Lanning is not set up financially for life through her deeds on the field. It was not until after the cricket’s bitter pay war in 2017 when her national contract reached six figures, though a $192,000 deal for three weeks’ work in India’s Women’s Premier League (WPL) is a handy start to her international retirement.

She leaves at a time when Australia’s best female players can earn $800,000 to $1 million through their central contracts and match payments, and deals with the WBBL, The Hundred in England and the Women’s Premier League in India.

“From where the game was when I started the opportunities for young girls to play the game, they were few and far between,” Lanning said. “I played all my junior cricket in boys’ teams and now there’s so many options for young girls and boys to play.

“I hope young girls have followed my journey a little bit and been positively influenced to go out there and chase their dreams and see what’s possible.”

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