In the aftermath of Australia's T20 World Cup victory, coach Matthew Mott sat down to talk through the high point of his coaching career, dealing with pressure and the challenges the campaign threw up.
You were an assistant to Trevor Bayliss when he was New South Wales coach right at the start of your coaching career. Nice to have two former NSW coaches win each of the past three women's ICC events?
I'm incredibly grateful for my time with Trevor Bayliss. He just rubbed off on me so much in terms of just his calmness and [how] he was always understated. I was inspired by the way he coached - he let the players play and he just gave good messages when they needed to be said, and if it didn't need to be said, he didn't say it. I'm a little more on the talkative side than him, but there's certainly a lot of stuff that I learned from him and we're always in close contact as well. Even when we were over there for the Ashes, when he was the England [men's] coach, he came in and had a drink with the girls and shared some good messages as well. So always a close friendship and a strong mentor.
What are the parallels between your team and Bayliss' England in terms of the "take the game on" approach?
I think, going back to Trevor, the way England after their disappointment in 2015 tried to change the game up and take the game on - it didn't always come off, but if you stay true to it… I think Alyssa Healy's the perfect example of that. If you've got that rare talent that not many players have, as coaches and support staff you've just got to keep fostering that when the results aren't coming, because you don't want game changers to start second-guessing themselves. We had to hold the faith, and there were a lot of people talking about "How are you going to play?" There was never a doubt in our team that at some point she was going to hurt someone, and I think she did it a few times, ably supported by Beth [Mooney]. A different role, a bit more consistent over time, but they're just a perfect foil for each other.
"I think you look back and say, "What a great final", but we had no right to be there, unless that partnership [against Sri Lanka in Perth] happened. That just changed our whole philosophy for the tournament. It was almost like a lightbulb moment"
This was to be a seminal moment for women's sport. Did you talk about dealing with that pressure?
We talked about it a lot before the tournament. And we got in great people like Hugh van Cuylenburg from The Resilience Project [a company that runs programmes for schools and sports teams on positive mental-health strategies]. [Poet] Rupert McCall, Adam Gilchrist… [Golfer] Karrie Webb spoke to us about how she used to hate coming out to Australia with the expectation, and then she found a way to embrace that and enjoy it.
The beauty of this team was, we actually realised that we didn't react well in the first game and we were nervous. I was nervous, so I can imagine what the players were like. There was so much expectation and build-up into that game [the final], and we knew there was a lot at stake. For us to turn out at the MCG was potentially a game-changing moment for not just cricket but women's sport. So there was absolutely a burden there.
How we internalised that and actually helped each other out sort of happened after Perth [Sri Lanka game] and that partnership [of 95 runs] between Rach [Haynes] and Meg [Lanning].
I think you look back and say, "What a great final", but we had no right to be there, unless that partnership happened, and that just changed our whole philosophy for the tournament. It was almost like a lightbulb moment of "If we keep playing scared and timid, we're going to get these results", so I was really pleased with the batting group in particular that they galvanised and formed a unit and said, "We're going to commit to this. If it doesn't come off, it doesn't come off, but we're going to make sure we go down swinging at least."
That meeting after the Sri Lanka game, was it in the dressing room or back at the hotel? You'd done this before, after being knocked out of the 2017 World Cup by India, for instance.
We did it back at the hotel. The one after 2017 was more of a whole team thing. Traditionally what happens in cricket is, because you share so much information about bowling and batting is more of an individual pursuit, we rarely have actual batting meetings, they're normally part of the full meeting. But we called a batting meeting, which is rare, and we just opened it up and said, "How do you think we're going, what do we need to do to actually be the best we can be, and be true to ourselves?" And the honesty was incredible.
Players admitted "I'm nervous, I haven't been playing like I normally play." I should be doing this, I should be doing that, and Ellyse Perry at that meeting, because she goes in both meetings as an allrounder, she says, "We just need to make sure we've got soul in this group, and we look out for each other, be a little bit more overt with our body language and maybe the odd fist pump and something like that when someone's hit a good boundary." I think if you look back to us in the first two games compared to the last few, you definitely saw a greater appreciation of a partnership, and I reckon that was pivotal.
That change made a huge difference, and rather than being weighted down by that expectation of being the only one out there, I think the batting group said, "We're in this together and we've got this." It's amazing to look back on it now - it seems like it was natural progression, but at the time it was like "We really need to address this and we've got to be honest", and I think that honesty helped.
"I sent a text out to the group: 'I don't think I've ever seen a side so calm and ready before a big game than we are.' And it was not a lie, it was just so obvious that all the stuff that had been thrown at us had given us so much steel" Mott on when he knew the team were ready the day before the final
How has the support from Cricket Australia and Australian cricket more broadly for the team evolved?
Darren Lehmann was amazing and Justin [Langer]'s incredible. The amount of messages we got from the Australian men's team at this tournament - they were riding the wave with us. I was getting it all the time, whether it's [team manager] Gav Dovey or Frank Dimasi, the security manager, everyone was texting. [Chairman of selectors] Trevor Hohns, all of them. I think it helps a little bit that Starcy's obviously involved there [as Alyssa Healy's husband], so there's that tangible thing with the teams, but honestly they are so invested.
I remember they had a pre-season camp when Justin first came on board in 2018, and the boys are training alongside us. We had our 2km time trial, and the boys just joined in to help the girls around. The last lap's usually the hardest, and a couple of them on their own just got out and ran around with them. To me, that was such a great moment for both teams, and it feels like it's just one big family really.
There is still, in some quarters, talk of "cricket played underwater" and "wouldn't beat a men's underage team". How do you take the final step to eradicate that entirely?
I think the final is a perfect example. That was just a great example of cricket. Alyssa Healy's hitting balls 83 metres, and just the style we played - and India are a very good team as well. I just think moments like that in the public eye have got to help. I think the more publicity and the more exposure the players get - they don't want to be compared to the men's game; it's a game in itself.
I think the players are fully aware that the pace isn't the same and all those sorts of things, but I still think cricket watchers watch the game and can admire the skills for what they are. Alyssa's was just as pure a batting as you can hope for. You're going out in a World Cup final, you've never played in a crowd like that and you whack 14 off the first over and three sixes in a row with proper cricket shots. I just thought it was an amazing showcase for the game, and we're just so proud they went out and played in that free spirit.
Alyssa Healy's smile during the anthem before the final looked to be a moment where observers could see the team was in a good head space. Was there a moment you thought that yourself?
I actually thought it the day before, and I sent a text out to the group, and it was genuine - "I don't think I've ever seen a side so calm and ready before a big game than we are." And it was not a lie, it was just so obvious that all the stuff that had been thrown at us had given us so much steel, and we felt like this was our time and we also felt that India hadn't played for seven days, they had a washout, so they were going to maybe be wondering where they were. It wasn't spoken about, but it looked like everyone was out there to celebrate what was going to be a magnificent day. And there was not one bit of nerves. I didn't sense any nerves the day before or on the day, I just sensed excitement and that something special was going to happen.
What about changing up bowling plans with the injuries you had? You couldn't just bomb teams with pace.
We certainly planned for Tayla Vlaeminck to try and take the competition by storm. We were going to try and manage her through. Certainly against India we saw her as a real wild card, x-factor player. To lose her at the start of the tournament - definitely we had to rejig our plans. And it might have looked funny from the outside but I always thought Molly Strano was the unluckiest cricketer not to be in our squad. We saw her as a real threat in the powerplays. In the Australia A series, she knocked over Shafali Verma four times, so we saw that as an important match-up. It might've looked as though we just threw it all together at the end, but you know you're going to get at least one injury in a World Cup, and Molly was always a chance to come in, and she's a bit of crowd favourite as well, so you always want personalities like that to come in.
"I actually joke about how it's like the stock market - you win a World Cup and your stocks are up and then if we'd got washed out in that semi-final, all of a sudden it's a different conversation"
For her to bowl the first over of the tournament was extraordinary, and she bowled it well. But I just think one of the beauties of this team is that good players are missing out, so we are blessed with a lot of depth, and one thing we did do even six months out was have some contingency factors in there. We've learned through mistakes before that Plan A's good, but you need B, C and D, and I think that's something we did as a whole group really well, it was like "If that happens, this can happen."
We just felt like the 14 we had here was enough cover, a lot of allrounders who could do different roles, and it was just about fitting little pieces into the jigsaw and doing the match-ups. Meg was exceptional at bowling them at all the right times as well. We communicated a lot around that. It wasn't like it wasn't planned for, but it honestly couldn't have gone any worse for us!
Speaking of which, Sophie Molineux's thigh was an issue throughout, which put more pressure on your balance.
She had two corked thighs and honestly, I thought she was pretty much done for the tournament. The scan I saw looked horrific, there was a lot of blood around her leg, and we just thought, "Absolutely no chance of getting her back out there", but credit to our medical team - they kept the faith, kept her around, and as soon as she took that first wicket in the final, I think everyone just went, "You beauty!" She only got declared fit at 9.30am on the morning of the final. When you see her dancing that night you find that hard to believe!
What are the goals ahead for you? There is a Commonwealth Games in 2022 in Birmingham, as well as the regular global events.
I would love to do the Commonwealth Games. It'll be interesting to see the timing of everything - that'll be at least seven years [in all] and you've got to ask the question whether a new voice is required or not. I think certainly the next thing on the eyeline is the [50-over] World Cup in New Zealand, and we've got some unfinished business. We didn't like the way we finished the last World Cup and I think we want to do a lot better in this one. So that's a big one for me on the radar. Then after that it's just wait and see if CA still want me and it's working well, and I'll confide in players like Meg and Rach Haynes and see if it's still resonating well, and if it is then that's great, if it's not, I'll have to look for other opportunities as well.
I've never really had a future plan or anything like that. A lot of things have just evolved. It's a family-first thing. We love living in Brisbane - it works out really well for us, our young fella's in school there and he's entrenched, so anything outside of that would have to be pretty attractive to take us away from there.
Going back to Bayliss - he found himself without a full-time job after finishing with Sri Lanka in 2011. Are you inspired by how he came back to prominence?
I speak to a lot of coaches about this and just how fickle our game is, unfortunately. We are judged on results. Sometimes you might coach well and not have the right team, and other times you get lucky as a coach. I actually joke about how it's like the stock market - you win a World Cup and your stocks are up and then if we'd got washed out in that semi-final, all of a sudden it's a different conversation. I've been around long enough to know it's a pretty fickle industry, Trevor went back to be a real estate agent after doing so well with Sri Lanka, and a few years later gets the opportunity with England and look where that went.