'My injury layoff improved me as a leader and as a person'

'We need to play aggressive cricket consistently' - Lanning (5:20)

Australia women's captain Meg Lanning talks about her recovery from injury, captaincy style, and Alex Blackwell's impact on her career (5:20)

There's cricket. There's women's cricket. And between the two dwells Meg Lanning.

In her seven-year international career, her accomplishments blur the differences between the men's and women's games. In 66 ODI innings, she averages 53, the best in the women's game, and has 11 hundreds, the most in the format. Her hundreds come every six innings, the most frequent in the game after Virat Kohli's 5.71. She holds the record for the highest women's T20I score, already has three Belinda Clark Awards, and holds the distinction of being the youngest Australian - male or female - to lead the country in ODIs or to score an international century in the format.

Lanning knows the impact she has had. "I'm a really competitive person, so I think that is something that comes across quite openly," she says when we meet in Mumbai during Australia's tour of India.

"A really important part of elite sport is to make sure you're in the contest all the time. The other thing is the way I go about my cricket: it's [about] always trying to move the game forward and have an impact on the game. I like to think that the people coming into our team really feel that it's an important part of playing."

Among her wide-ranging feats, making "big hundreds" in ODIs at No. 3 is an acquired ability she values highly. "I sort of pride myself in making sure when I get a start, I want to go on with it."

How big is a "big hundred" for her? She allows herself an unreserved smile. "Pretty much what wins us the game, I guess."

On Australia's last bilateral series in India, in 2012, 19-year-old Lanning made a rampaging 128, but her scores in the recent three-match ODI series in Vadodara weren't big. Australia whitewashed India, but she managed only innings of 33, 24 and 18.

"The real key for me is making sure that the game's exciting and it's a great product to watch, and ensuring that people want to come and watch women's cricket"

Lanning, who turns 26 this week, during the T20I tri-series featuring India and England in Mumbai, had an emotionally taxing seventh-month layoff due to a shoulder reconstruction surgery.

"It was a tough seven months. I sort of knew it was going to happen. I thought I had prepared myself, but it was very different when I got into the thick of it. Watching such a big series as the Ashes from the sidelines was tough.

"Initially I wasn't sure whether I wanted to watch all of it, not being a part of it, but I'm a bit of a cricket snuff. I found myself wanting to watch all of it and I was around the squad for the Test match as well. I was also really keen to try and help where I could."

It's little surprise that she found her time away from cricket difficult to deal with. Since her international debut on December 30, 2010, Lanning has featured in 70 of 76 Australia T20Is, 66 of 74 ODIs, and three of four Tests.

"I never had really been injured before in cricket, never missed cricket." The hiatus, she says, gave her an opportunity to look both within and without, cultivate greater empathy, and evolve into a more competent leader.

"The good thing to come out of it is that I feel like I have improved, especially off the field as a leader and as a person. It's given me a chance to step back from the intensity of international cricket, just to see what I could do better or differently. In the long run, when I look back [on this period], there will be some positives that come out of it.

"It's really easy when you're in the thick of international cricket to get caught up in the next training or the next game. I've been really lucky. I came into the squad really young, did quite well, and [have] never been dropped, never really had to deal with anything too difficult, so this gave me a chance to understand what it's like to be slightly on the outside.

"It's not an easy place to be. That's the biggest understanding I got - how the players in the team are feeling and thinking in that position."

Even though her figures on her return to the side have been somewhat underwhelming, you could glimpse her imperious form in shots through the last two weeks. There was that straight-faced ruthlessness, during the second warm-up match, in the six she hit over bowler Anuja Patil's head and the four consecutive boundaries she hammered to get to her fifty.

You also saw it during a menacing display of technical brilliance when she muscled three pulls past a diving midwicket in the second ODI, and lofted Ekta Bisht inside out twice over cover in the third.

She started the one-day series by getting her 3000th ODI run, in only her 64th innings - the third fastest by any batsman after Hashim Amla and Belinda Clark.

The reconstruction of the shoulder, Lanning says, still makes her "a little bit nervous" diving around. During the series, she used her left hand for much of the carrying and dragging of the bat while running between the wickets, and even while high-fiving team-mates.

"I'm about seven and a half months post-surgery now, so batting's been really good. Fielding is not quite back to 100%. It will take another six to 12 months for it to be completely normal."

At a time when Australia have picked a robust mix of young talent, coming in via the Women's Big Bash League and the WNCL (the 50-over domestic league) and appointed former Australia allrounders like Ashley Noffke and Shelley Nitschke in coaching capacities, Lanning says her role in nurturing talent fits organically into the team management's scheme of things.

After wrapping up her own training in the nets, she almost always lines herself up next to Noffke or Nitschke to watch youngsters like Belinda Vakarewa, Ashleigh Gardner, Nicola Carey or the uncapped Sophie Molineux go about their business.

"The key is to make everyone feel comfortable, want to be around the group. I think we've got a really good set-up. The players coming to the squad deserve their spot. The main thing for me is to maximise the impact that they can have.

"Firstly, you've got to ensure that they are comfortable in the environment and willing to be themselves. I think a really important part of a team is making sure you're working towards a common goal, but everyone's different and you want to try and embrace that as much as you can. That probably is my biggest role - off-field is really big, and then the on-field stuff sort of takes care of itself."

"I think we've got a really good set-up. The players coming to the squad deserve their spot. The main thing for me is to maximise that impact that they can have"

In comparison to current vice-captain Rachael Haynes, who led the side in Lanning's absence in a few World Cup matches and in the Ashes, the captain describes herself as being less planned.

"I plan a little bit, but most of it's on the run and adapting to what's happening in the game. I think cricket's a funny game where you can plan all you want but often the plans actually never happen in the game, so it's very important to adapt.

"Rachael's probably a lot more planned than me and we deliberate, which means we'll work well as team. I don't think it really matters what your style is as long as you stick to it all the time, especially under pressure, if you can. That's when you get most effective."

Lanning and Australia are missing a mentor on this trip after Alex Blackwell, the side's most capped international player, retired last month. Blackwell was Lanning's deputy when she first became captain.

"I sort of came into the captaincy having not done much before at all, so she played a big role for me there, and we were different again, which worked well. She challenged me and would ask questions, but at the end of the day she would back my decisions when I made it, which was really important. Off the field, she was a great role model as well. The kids coming in loved spending time with her. She would always add some funny things as well. She's had a great career and she's certainly going to be missed within our team."

When Lanning was appointed captain, many felt that Blackwell had been overlooked for the captaincy. Asked whether Blackwell had been suitably rewarded for all her on-field accomplishments, Lanning said her former deputy "has been a great not just for Australian cricket but for world cricket".

"I guess winning the World Cup last year probably would have finished it off, but I think she's had a very decorated career and she's been an important part of our side, on and off of the field, over a long period of time." Blackwell represented Australia in four 50-over World Cups and five World T20s. "We've lost a lot of experience there, so it's a big hole to fill. But Alex has gone out on top, I guess - she was still really playing well."

In the last two years, Australia have relinquished their world titles in both limited-overs formats, but Lanning is upbeat about their chances in the World T20 in West Indies in November.

"Now there's a number of teams who can win any tournament, we need to be playing more aggressive cricket and consistently, so we've spoken about that a lot and as a team over the last few months.

"I thought the Ashes was a good starting point for us. We're aware that we need to be playing very close to our best to beat every team out there. It's no longer sort of 80% is good enough. We need to be as close to 100% as we can be, and that's what we're working towards."

How big does she want her legacy to be?

"I guess with the women's game moving forward, the players who are playing now are really leading that charge, and are going to have a really big impact on where it ends up when we retire and where it moves forward to.

"My philosophy of playing cricket has been very competitive and wanting to push the game forward a lot, and I suppose the real key for me is making sure that the game's exciting and it's a great product to watch and ensuring that people want to come and watch women's cricket."