Explained: What the rest can learn from seven-time World Cup winning Australian women's cricket team

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Explained: What the rest can learn from seven-time World Cup winning Australian women’s cricket team
© Provided by Firstpost Explained: What the rest can learn from seven-time World Cup winning Australian women’s cricket team

A few months after Harmanpreet Kaur’s magnificent 171* in the semi-final of the 2017 ICC Women’s Cricket World Cup knocked Australia out of the tournament they expected to win, the team were still in shock. When they gathered to prepare for the following season, coach Matthew Mott knew it was time to rip the band-aid off. In a dark room in Brisbane, he got them to re-watch that match. A couple of hours later came tough, honest conversation – and catharsis. It marked the start of a journey for the Australian women’s cricket team, one that led to reinvention.

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In the five years since that day, the team have put together a new set of values to guide them. They’ve enjoyed a world record streak of 26 ODI wins, been beaten just twice in their last 42 ODIs, blooded new talent, won two T20 World Cups, and on Sunday, finally got their hands on that much-desired 50-over World Cup trophy too, the “final piece of the puzzle”.

Wicketkeeper-opener Alyssa Healy smashed the highest individual score in a World Cup final, men’s or women’s, as Australia posted 356/5 to beat England by 71 runs at Christchurch.

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It was a performance befitting the greatest women’s side of all time.

What makes this Australian team so dominant?

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Australia have always been a strong side – this is their seventh World Cup title – but the current side has made domination a theme. Their success is a combination of the players’ skills, team culture, and a professional system that fosters the development of both.

That Healy and her opening partner Rachael Haynes find themselves at the top of the table for most runs scored in any World Cup is testament to their skills and how hard they train. That they had the patience to weather a stern new-ball test to post 37/0 in the Powerplay before launching an assault in the middle and death overs is thanks to the team culture. That they remain in the sport as full-time professionals, even though they contemplated retirement around 5-6 years ago, is a sign of a system at work.

Since the 2017 World Cup, Australia have arrived at three values that define how they want to play their game: fearless, team first and evolve. These values are seen in their tactics, style, selection and flexibility.

As Ellyse Perry put it, this exercise brought “a shift in attitude and mindset to take the game on all the time”. Explained Healy, “We came together as a squad and said this is how we want to play our cricket from now on and we’re going to be the best team in the world.”

“We’ve said how we wanted to play and how we operate, and the thing that stands out is that we go out and do it,” added Meg Lanning. “It’s (about) taking the game on, it’s being brave … (It’s) not to get scared or fear the big stage and big moments. We want to be part of it and that drives us.”

This very ethos pushed them to raise their game through the 2022 World Cup and remain undefeated.

What have Australia done differently compared to other teams?

On the field, Australia’s numbers stand out. They score faster than any other team, and have the best batting and bowling averages. As England captain Heather Knight said after the final loss, “Something Australia do very well is that when they get a partnership together, they make it a match-defining partnership.”

Off the field, it’s down to a culture of excellence that permeates the system: Australia have invested more and invested earlier in women’s cricket than most other teams. They’ve dreamt big – such as planning to fill the MCG for the 2020 T20 World Cup final – and delivered. The Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL), which began in 2015, has become the premier T20 tournament for women in the world.

According to Cricket Australia (CA) figures shared last year, apart from the centrally contracted players, 98 women had a state contract, of whom 76 also had a WBBL contract. A landmark pregnancy policy for cricketers, as well as funds last year into “wellbeing programmes” to help players bring family with them on tour during COVID times are other player-friendly schemes.

While similar contracts and policies exist for some other teams, the scope of support for Australia’s female cricketers is unparalleled.

A pay gap between the Australian men and women still exists, and many state cricketers still can’t afford to pursue cricket full-time without another job, but CA and the Australian Cricketers’ Association have acknowledged there’s more to be done and base pay is increasing.

“Investment in women’s cricket is fundamental to the growth of the game overall,” Todd Greenberg, ACA CEO, insisted last year. That kind of commitment and respect to the women’s game, often missing with other cricket boards, is key to future success.

What can other teams learn from Australia?

Apart from the lessons in culture, investment and marketing, one of the big takeaways for other teams is how Australia put their succession plans in place, with the same fearlessness that guides the team on the field.

For example, Alana King, the leg-spinner, hadn’t played for Australia before January this year. She came in and took 3/64 in the World Cup final. Nineteen-year-old Darcie Brown had played four ODIs before this World Cup. Yet, her express pace harried batters and she took six wickets in two crucial matches.

Their performances are a reminder of the depth in the Australian side and the work done to get there. While many other teams have ‘A’ programmes, the WBBL gives the next generation of Australian players the competitive edge. The “ability gap” that exists elsewhere, which makes it difficult for domestic stars to immediately make the step up to international cricket, is lessened with a tournament like the WBBL.

“The base and platform we’ve got in domestic cricket is really strong,” explained Lanning. “The WBBL has played a massive role in setting players to come into international cricket and perform straight away. They’re under the pump in that competition and they’re put in big game situations, and that’s what’s required at a World Cup.”

Who can challenge the Aussies?

Right now, there’s daylight between Australia and the rest of the world. Perhaps England and India are in the best positions to challenge the Australian dominance, by shoring up their own systems back home.

Healy herself is backing India, especially with the recent announcement of a Women’s IPL in 2023. “It’s such an untapped market I feel in the women’s game,” she said after the semi-final. “With so many people surely they’re going to be unbeatable in sort of a 10-year time.”

Knight, meanwhile, expects England’s domestic system, which has recently seen the start of The Hundred and the introduction of domestic contracts, to show results in a few years. “Hopefully (we’ll) see more young players emerge,” she said. “Hardened cricketers because they’ve played cricket under pressure in big tournaments in big situations back home.”

The legacy of this World Cup, considered by players and experts to be among the most closely fought tournaments, might well be that it inspires the next generation to take on the might of Australia.

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