Haynes' selflessness at heart of Australia's T20 triumph
There was one act from the team that stood out for Matthew Mott and summed up the spirit in the Australia side
Selflessness is the sort of buzzword that often flies around 21st century sporting teams, alongside others such as culture, execution and process. To the words must be found examples of the traits in action, and in the midst of Australia's triumphant World T20 campaign, the vice-captain Rachael Haynes provided an example that stuck in numerous minds in the team in the hours and days after they lifted the tournament trophy.
Opening the batting in T20, or at least coming in while the ball is still new, is a coveted position, and the Australian squad chosen for the Caribbean contained no fewer than eight such players. When, midway through the tournament, the coach Matthew Mott and the captain Meg Lanning were pondering a batting order reshuffle, they went to Haynes and offered her the chance, as a player in form, to move up from No. 6. To her enduring credit, Haynes knocked the chance back, stating that her role as a middle order fixer was critical.
A couple of games later, when Australia appeared to be struggling to cobble 120 against West Indies in their critical semi-final in Antigua, Lanning's dismissal brought Haynes to the crease for an unbeaten innings 29 that, while not enormous in terms of runs, took the team from a barely defendable total to a match-winning one. It's a tale that speaks volumes for Haynes, Lanning and the culture of the team that was feted in a public reception at Federation Square in Melbourne on Thursday.
"Internally we kept thinking 'she's in such great form, should we move her up the order and make sure she's facing more balls', but she herself said 'that's my role, I'm really comfortable', so it was huge," Mott told ESPNcricinfo. "The icing on the cake was Rach coming in and doing that at the end and got a lot of momentum back at the back end of the innings, which is huge in T20, if you can go into that break with a bit of a kick along. But she just played it so well.
"Traditionally we're not great in cricket statistically at recognising key performances. That's something we really worked hard on - we have our own internal measures about a player's impact in each game, and someone like Rach's innings rates really highly in our group. Alyssa Healy did a great job at the top of the order but equally it was those contributions at the end that probably get you from 120 to 140 and put it out of a team's reach.
"Meg was very frustrated when she came in, at the break she was quite cranky and I said to her 'I don't think you realise the impact of that innings, it has set us up', and while it wasn't a fluent innings, it was a really smart innings, she read the game well and we fashioned out a score."
Paradoxically, given how well the Australia women's team has fared over the past year relative to the men's group, It was a brief secondment to the T20 team in New Zealand, where he witnessed career opener Aaron Finch drop down to the middle order to make room for D'Arcy Short, that had Mott discussing it as part of his subsequent plans with Lanning.
"Everyone wants to open in T20, it's the best place to bat, but I was lucky I went away with the men's team to New Zealand and saw first-hand Aaron Finch bat at No. 4," Mott said. "I thought that just sent such a great message - it's not in your best interests but it is in the team's, so we tried to bring that in and the players really embraced it, Meg and Rach in particular drove that really hard.
"We have eight openers in our squad who open for their WBBL franchises, but to me the selfless nature not just of Rachael but of Meg, Ellyse Perry and people like that to bat out of their most preferred positions was a key turning point for us as a team."
For Haynes, the acceptance of a task different from her past roles echoed how she had re-emerged as a mature cricketer and leader after a career of early promise for Australia had been obscured somewhat by three years out of the national side. Called back in 2017 with leadership in mind - Lanning was beginning to struggle with a shoulder problem that would require surgery - the second chance arrived at a time when Haynes was ready not only to play, but to set an example.
"It has been really cool. Standing up on that stage when we won the final, I never expected I'd get the opportunity to do that again, so it was a pretty special moment," she said, having been part of another trophy-winning team in India in 2013. "It makes you realise how hard it is to actually get there and win something like that.
"The circumstances when I got re-selected I was pretty fortunate I think, two injuries to pretty senior players in Alex Blackwell and Ellyse Perry, but sport's like that. Sometimes you just need a bit of a moment and a bit of luck and it can turn really quickly, even when things are seemingly going well, then all of a sudden things can change but I think I was fortunate in that respect. Literally when I got selected back in the team I got a phonecall on the Thursday and was playing cricket for Australia on the Saturday. I got a 50 in that match and then as they say the rest is history."
As captain and deputy, Lanning and Haynes are contrasting characters - Mott talks about the former being "off the cuff" and the latter far more "considered" - but between them and other senior players such as they have created an atmosphere of accountability and honesty that will carry the team strongly into the future.
"They complement each other very well, and Meg feels really well supported by Rach throwing ideas at her here and there," Mott said. "One of the things we always talk about is surrounding yourself with people who disagree but aren't disagreeable. She does that really well. A lot of the things that could potentially get in our way, they shut it down pretty quickly. Just little things about dress codes and stuff like that, not over the top.
"But if a player is maybe getting ahead of themselves, it might just be a quiet chat over coffee and discussing what their role is in the team and making sure they're aware of that. They're really good around selection as well when we've had to make some tough calls, supporting players and making sure they understand what their route back into the team is."
The flow-on effect was then seen at the pointy end of the tournament, not least when Georgia Wareham, one of the team's youngest, conjured a run out early in the final to unbalance England and settle what had been, up to that moment, very visible nervousness among Lanning's team. "I think you know you're doing reasonably well when young players come in and do well straight away," Mott said. "I got a note from someone saying isn't it amazing when all those jitters were out there in the final, the one person who settled things down was Georgia took her time and got a direct hit run out. From the moment she did that, everyone just relaxed."
Looking back over the past 18 months, Haynes reflected that the road to the T20 World Cup had been chosen in the aftermath of an unsuccessful 50-over campaign in England last year, when effort started to be made to turn those aforementioned buzzwords into consistent and accountable behaviour. "It's something we've worked really hard on and I think particularly after we lost that semi-final in England, our team came together after that and sat down and got really clear on what we stood for as a team," she said.
"I know people sometimes put the boots in a little bit to team culture and words and those sorts of things, but it's become really meaningful for us, what we stand for, and the type of team we want to be, and also how we connect with the general public and yeah so on the field you see our skill, how we've developed athletically, all those sorts of things, but there's a lot more layers to it than that. The word that gets thrown around about our team is fearless ... it means something to us and we've brought that to life.
"We're just honest with each other. We talk about how we're feeling, we are prepared to have conversations that at times could be uncomfortable and I think that's a sign of a pretty good environment that if someone can stand in front of the team and say 'I'm a bit nervous about this' and 'what if we don't win', I think our team's come such a long way in that respect. It's just an environment where people can be themselves and also get the best out of themselves."
In a year of Australian cricket's introspection, Haynes' is a tale for many to think about, at all levels of the game.
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @danbrettig