At this point of 2020, many of us have inevitably found ourselves in an awkward Zoom call. You know the one. It’s normally with a large group, and for whatever reason, no one really knows what to say.
Well, it may be comforting to know it happens to all of us, including the Australian national women’s cricket team, who have found themselves separated, in different parts of the country for months now.
“What we tend to find is that if we have a whole squad meeting over Zoom, nobody really talks,” Meg Lanning, captain of the Australian side, told Women’s Agenda recently.
“Meetings can be a bit awkward when you’ve got really big numbers.”
This reality is just one of the many challenges Meg Lanning has faced recently, trying to keep the national squad connected amid border closures and social distancing restrictions.
“It’s been about finding the right balance between keeping people connected and in touch and overwhelming people by giving them too much information,” she says.
“We formed some small groups of four or five people within our team to catch up with a bit more regularly than the whole squad. That seems to be going well.
“The WhatsApp group has been given a good run as well.”
When Meg Lanning was 21, she was selected to be captain of Australia’s national cricket side, becoming the youngest cricket captain in Australian history. It was the first time she’d ever taken on a leadership role, and as she admits, she was thrown in the deep end a little bit.
“My first leadership role was captaining Australia and it’s definitely not something that came naturally to me,” she says.
“Through all my junior cricket, and even in school, I was never in any leadership positions. I was normally pretty happy to go along as part of a group.”
The growth of women’s cricket and her long-held captaincy has seen Meg Lanning emerge as a household name.
And what she’s worked out over her seven years as captain, is that the off-field relationship she has with her teammates is the most important thing. Understanding players as people needs to come first.
“Once you build a relationship and trust with your teammates and those around you, then you’re going to get a much better result and be more successful. That’s what I put a lot of my energy into,” Lanning says.
Lanning is currently based in Melbourne and during the COVID-19 shutdown, has found herself with some extra time on her hands. A rare occasion for one of Australia’s best cricketers.
Since May, she’s been doing the first subjects of a graduate certificate in management, an online course with the Australian Institute of Business. Lanning says it’s given her something to focus on and helps her to feel productive while she’s training less than usual.
“It’s perfect timing for me cover off this quieter period that I’ve had during Covid and it’s allowed me to extend myself.”
At 28, Lanning still has several years up her sleeve playing wise but getting her head around the business world is something that really attracted her to doing more study.
“In the back of my mind, I’m definitely trying to work out what I want to do once I’ve finished my playing career down the track,” she says.
With all the months she’s been separated from her national teammates this year, Lanning says she feels really lucky they managed to get the T20 World Cup final in before the Covid-19 restrictions came into place.
A jaw-dropping 86,174 people packed into the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the highly anticipated final against India, setting a record for the largest crowd ever at a women’s sport event in Australia and the highest for a women’s cricket match globally.
“It was the last big sport event before Covid-19 restrictions came in,” she says.
Winning the final in front of a record-breaking home crowd is something that still makes Lanning smile every time she thinks about it.
“That final was everything that we wanted it to be. We played our best game of the tournament on the biggest day, which was a pretty amazing feat from the team after we struggled our way through the early part of the tournament.
“We were nearly out of the tournament very early on and to find our form throughout that tournament was a pretty big step for the team. We actually just got to enjoy the final and we were pretty relaxed and wanted to embrace the whole occasion.
“I think you could tell in our performance that we were really looking forward to being involved in something that was really special.”
At this point of the pandemic, Lanning doesn’t know if there’s been any momentum lost for women’s cricket, and women’s sport more generally, during the shutdown. She’s just excited to get things back up and running.
And it looks like her side has an advantage. Recently, Australian sports fans reported they felt the most emotionally connected to the Australian women’s cricket team, of any national sporting team in the country.
The research comes from True North Research, who conducted a survey of sports fans to establish which national teams produce the greatest levels of pride, trust, enjoyment, respect and bond.
These are all qualities Lanning and her team display in spades, and there’s little wonder why Australians feel this way.
After every game, the team signs autographs for an hour or so. It’s something that’s actually booked into their schedule and it gives them a chance to meet a lot of their fans. Playing at smaller venues helps too, Lanning suggests, because it means fans are really close to the action.
“With the men’s cricket, they are in such big stadiums, they’re probably not quite as accessible as we are and we feel like that is a really big advantage for us and we all really enjoy it,” Lanning says.
“People feel like they can meet us, and that helps to create the connection.
“We want to build up that fan base and try and inspire the next generation, not only to come to watch us, but to be involved in the game anyway they can.”
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